The experience of living in a dorm can be broadening and help a student mature. It can also expose a student to influences and risks that can derail a whole college career. For some students, especially those from cultures where behavior is prescribed and proscribed, the presence of others engaging in actions that go against everything that they have been taught is quite disturbing. Parents, too, maybe uncomfortable with the atmosphere in a dormitory, especially if they visit on a weekend.
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Let us be honest. Co-ed dorms make sexual activity exceedingly easy. Despite the sort of incest taboo that tends to develop, whereby one’s dorm-mates are off-limits because they are in some sense like sisters and brothers, sex is happening all over the place. Even if you have decided to hew to a policy of celibacy and abstinence, you cannot stop your room-mate, or the kids next door, from engaging in whatever activities they choose to.
At the very least, you are going to see members of the opposite gender in a state of dishabille. Maybe even more undressed than that. You are going to hear things as well.
This can be very embarrassing. It can be distressing. It is certainly distracting. For some, it is disgusting and makes relations among room-mates and dorm-mates very strained and difficult. Consider two women from Puerto Rico, educated in convent schools, who found themselves housed with two very different women, one a big city girl from a prep school, the other from a small public school in a very rural community. These two women were very active.
They pursued this mode of life from different motives, to be sure, but the parade of partners in and out of the suite was demoralizing to the two convent-trained room-mates. They left in the middle of the semester, preferring the inconvenience of a move, and giving up their desirable suite in a special themed dorm to being reminded constantly of their neighbors’ vastly different values.
The language heard in dormitories is often very strong. The music, if it is the popular material, reflects the values and attitudes in the media, and maybe downright foul in the words used. Movies that neighbors select, as well as the television programs they watch, also reflect the current society, i.e., crude, sexist, misogynistic, and violent.
Although most campuses now have prohibitions against alcohol in dorms, and illegal drugs are always verboten, these items make their way into rooms and create problems. One parent, disturbed by the drug dealing of her son’s room-mate, and the university’s stance that they could not search a room without a warrant, took matters into her own hands. She appeared at her son’s room to “check on his underwear and sock supply”. She – oops – “accidentally” opened the roommate’s drawers and found a major stash. She alerted the college, and her son finally got a new room-mate for the rest of the year.
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Universities have also taken the issue of attacks on students very much more seriously in recent years. While some parents suspect that the incidence of muggings and rapes is being under-reported, it is certainly true that campuses are better outfitted with call boxes all over the place. This is not a problem that can be ameliorated by moving off-campus, especially since campuses and their environs seem to attract this kind of crime.
The decision whether to live on or off-campus may be shaped largely by the rules of the college, especially in freshman year. Later, parents and students may want to seriously consider the opportunities for off-campus life if the dorms seem too disruptive to study and sleep. A group of like-minded students can successfully create an oasis of calm together near the college and offer mutual support and help, while reassuring parents that their offspring are somewhat shielded from unpleasant influences.