The problems of binge drinking and the hook up culture are well-known, widespread, and detrimental to the educational mission of any university. Moreover, these behaviors should especially concern Catholic universities, which seek to develop the whole person—socially, morally, and spiritually.
Every Catholic university, as a university, is an academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protections and advancement of human dignity.… Students are challenged…to continue the search for truth and for meaning throughout their lives, since “the human spirit must be cultivated in such a way that there results a growth in its ability to wonder, to understand, to contemplate, to make personal judgments, and to develop a religious, moral, and social sense” (c.f., Gaudium et Spes, 59).
Beyond the classroom, Catholic universities have a pastoral concern for student development:
Pastoral ministry is that activity of the University which offers the members of the university community an opportunity to integrate religious and moral principles with their academic study and non-academic activities, thus integrating faith with life…. Pastoral ministry is an indispensable means by which Catholic students can, in fulfillment of their baptism, be prepared for active participation in the life of the Church; it can assist in developing and nurturing the value of marriage and family life, fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life, stimulating the Christian commitment of the laity and imbuing every activity with the spirit of the Gospel.
Moral development in the Catholic intellectual tradition is linked to true human happiness. But what is happiness, and how can we find it? The answers to these questions provide the proper intellectual context for considering the common practices on America’s Catholic campuses.
Choosing True Happiness
Drawing on the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer identifies four levels of happiness in his book, Healing the Culture. Level one happiness is bodily pleasure obtained by drink, food, drugs, or sex. Level two happiness has to do with competitive advantage in terms of money, fame, power, popularity, or other material goods. Level three happiness involves loving and serving other people. And level four happiness is found in loving and serving God. Although we may desire each level of happiness, not every level provides equal and lasting contentment. The key to Spitzer’s work is the desire or need to move up the “happiness ladder,” at least to the point of moving from level two to levels three and four.
In life, we are often faced with a choice between one level of happiness or another. For example, the Olympic athlete chooses success in athletics (level two) over pleasures of the body (level one), which might be found in abusing drugs or alcohol.
One can attain more level one happiness by sleeping late on Monday morning, but would sacrifice level two happiness by not be able to earn money at work. On the other hand, one could gain more of a level two happiness by cheating others out of their money, but would be sacrificing a level three happiness by unfairly using them rather than helping them. Since daily living often requires a choice of one activity over another, practical wisdom is the virtue that enables one to make decisions which will lead to true happiness.
The first and lowest level of happiness — pleasures of the senses — has several advantages. It is based on our animal instincts. It arrives quickly, can be intense, and can leave almost as fast as it arrives. Additionally, we build a tolerance to activities that bring us this level of happiness requiring more to achieve the same degree of pleasure. Such pleasures can lead to addictions; and to the addict, enslavement in the pleasure is opposed to true level one happiness. This superficial happiness is easy to attain, but our own human instinct provides us with a desire for something more meaningful and important in life.
The next level of happiness provides greater meaning and significance than the first. It involves a desire for success—not just keeping up with the Joneses, but surpassing them in money, fame, popularity or status. We celebrate such achievements as a culture: the valedictorian, the star athlete, the millionaire. But such success can lead to a superficial happiness related to the degree of success. Personal success can quickly lead to a satisfaction at this level with no desire to move past the ego.
There is nothing inherently wrong with worldly success (level two) or with bodily pleasures (level one). Rather, when these become the ultimate goals of life, they trump the higher levels. Happiness, Aristotle taught, is activity in accordance with virtue. In order for us to be objectively happy, we need to engage in activities that accord with virtue, especially the virtue of love. As C. S. Lewis said, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” Without seeking higher levels of happiness, even if we subjectively feel good (for a while), we are missing out on objectively being happy.
The two great commandments given by Jesus: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37,39), point to the two higher levels of happiness. If we truly love God, we will also love people, for they are made in His image and likeness. We cannot truly love God without also loving our neighbor. Indeed, the teachings of Jesus point us toward higher levels of happiness by guiding us toward this love: “A new commandment I give to you, love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). Levels three and four happiness seek what is truly good, true human flourishing and happiness.
Commenting on Aristotle, who argued that human happiness necessarily involves friendship, St. Thomas Aquinas added that we can be friends not only with other human beings, but also with God. Psychological research confirms this ancient wisdom. The happiest people have meaningful work that serves others acting in accordance with virtue; and have strong, loving relationships with their family, friends, and God. On average, people who practice their faith report greater happiness than those who do not. Practice of common religious teachings, such as practicing thanksgiving and forgiving those who trespass against us, bolster well-being and strengthen relationships — leading to greater happiness.
It is in this context that we can better understand the ethical problem of binge drinking and the hook up culture. Both seek satisfaction at level one or two happiness in such a way as to undermine level three and level four happiness. Students can foster level three and four happiness not simply in volunteer projects but also in the classroom; but by developing their minds, students become better prepared to make a positive contribution to the well-being of others and to society. On the other hand, excessive use of alcohol hampers intellectual excellence, because students who binge drink are more likely to miss class, fall behind in schoolwork, and have health problems that interfere with academics. Binge drinking is the leading cause of death in young adults and leads to hundreds of fatal injuries each year and more than 1,399 unintentional, alcohol-related fatal injuries among college students in 1998 alone. Alcohol abuse leads to student health problems, including suicide.
Although there is widespread acknowledgement that binge drinking undermines the academic and ethical mission of universities, it is less recognized that the hook up culture also hinders achieving that mission. The hook up culture hampers intellectual excellence in numerous ways. Sexual promiscuity is related to depression and lack of focus on academics as well as the distractions of pregnancy and pregnancy scares. Sexual promiscuity increases the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted infections, endangers health, and distracts from an academic focus. Anne Hendershott notes that women are particularly at risk:
Nearly all of these studies suggest that women are at substantially more risk than men for feeling upset about the experience of engaging in casual sex. Glenn and Marquardt (2001) found that many women felt hurt after hooking up and confused about their future relations with the men with whom they hooked up with. Bisson and Levine found that it may be the combination of mismatched expectations and the lack of communication about the meaning of the encounter that leads to negative outcomes for some students. Research by Paul and Hayes (2002) found that for some of these relationships, it could be that the situations were unwanted or forced. When women feel pressured to engage in a casual sexual relationship, or if there is alcohol involved, there are more likely to be negative outcomes. One research team (Grello, 2006) found that students’ feelings of regret after hooking up were related to more depressive symptoms.
In addition to academic growth, most Catholic universities also aim to foster the ethical development of students so that they are men and women for others with a sense of human solidarity. Binge drinking inhibits this development with an egocentric focus toward self, not exocentric toward service for others. In the Catholic intellectual tradition, both hooking up and binge drinking are serious sins, undermining love for God and neighbor. In their article, “College Students and Problematic Drinking: A Review of the Literature,” Lindsay S. Ham and Debra A. Hope highlight numerous findings that point to the negative effects of excessive drinking.
- Binge drinkers are more likely to commit crimes related to sexual assault and vandalism.
- Binge drinkers are 25 times more likely to commit acts that they later regret, e.g., engage in sexual activity that is unplanned and/or unprotected; and get in trouble with law enforcement (Wechsler et al, 2002).
- Binge drinkers negatively affect many other students who are subject to interrupted sleep, “baby-sitting” drunken students, insults, humiliation, unwanted sexual advances, assault, and rape (Hingson et al, 2002).
The hook up culture inhibits ethical development through a focus on private indulgence of using other people for pleasure, rather than on loving, committed relationships. Using other people for sexual pleasure, and then discarding them, is seriously damaging to level three and level four happiness. The hook up culture even impinges upon other students who choose not to hook up, especially roommates who get “sexiled” from their own dorm room to facilitate such activities.
The ramifications of unhealthy behaviors in both drinking and sex go beyond the physical, psychological, and social damage to the individuals partaking in the activities. They affect the entire campus community by undermining the reputation of the institution, damaging the relationship to the local community, increasing the operating costs of the institution, lowering the academic quality of the university, and diminishing the institution’s ability to attract and retain excellent students and faculty.
While there is no perfect solution to these problems, meaningful and significant reductions of the extent of both are possible. Let us examine first educational strategies and then institutional strategies for dealing with both problems.
The first six weeks of the college experience are extremely important in establishing a student’s habits and identity. “The first six weeks of enrollment are critical to first-year student success. Because many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life.” Habits take root and patterns of behavior become established during this crucial period. Prior to arriving at college, high school students become socialized about what to expect through movies that depict university life as primarily revolving around wild parties and only marginally about academic or social development. These media depictions feed into what social psychologists call “pluralistic ignorance,” in which a majority falsely assumes that everyone else accepts a particular social norm. Students, especially first-year students, believe that college students binge drink and hook up much more than they actually do.
Since students, especially first-year students, deeply desire to fit in socially, they look to social norms to define acceptable behavior. Studies have shown that the drive to “fit in” can motivate even more powerfully than the fear of potential risks and dangers. “We may be willing to give up our vices and cultivate new virtues if we believe that it will more firmly secure us a spot in our most cherished tribe.” These students, looking to fit in, drink and hook up to satisfy this misperceived social expectation about what is normal, acceptable, and typical. Often, students behave in ways that are contrary to what they actually want because of these (often inaccurate) social expectations. In the words of one study,
Male and female residents overestimated the alcohol use behavior and related attitudes among their floor mates. Results also showed that perceived norms were strongly related to individual drinking behaviors and permissive attitudes toward drinking. Moreover, feelings of connectedness to one’s residence hall were found to moderate this relationship. These findings identify a salient reference group to target in initiatives aimed at utilizing normative feedback to reduce alcohol-related risk in the first year of college.
Among other causes, pluralistic ignorance drives excessive drinking and hook up culture.
In order to combat pluralistic ignorance as well as inform students of the dangers of binge drinking, educational efforts could be made before the students arrive on campus. In tours of campus, student campus guides should be clear and consistent about university policy so that prospective students are made aware that this college is not a “party school.” This initial clarity may deter at least some students who are seeking an “animal house” experience rather than an academic experience from enrolling. The fewer such students who enroll, the better for the campus climate.
All incoming students might be required to take an online course that educates them about the dangerous effects of alcohol and drug abuse and combats widespread misperceptions about alcohol abuse on campus. One such course, “AlcoholEdu” is a web-based 2-3 hour alcohol abuse prevention program used at more than 500 universities nationwide. Independent research indicates that the program is successful in reducing:
alcohol problems in general and problems in the physiological, social, and victimization domains during the fall semester immediately after completion of the course. … AlcoholEdu for College appears to have beneficial short-term effects on victimization and the most common types of alcohol-related problems among freshmen. Universities may benefit the most by mandating AlcoholEdu for College for all incoming freshmen and by implementing this online course along with environmental prevention strategies.
Similar online programs can be instituted to educate students about the dangers of sexual promiscuity as well as to dispel the myth that “everyone is hooking up.”
Once students arrive on campus, the educational efforts could be reinforced, especially for those most at risk: freshmen, athletes, and Greek system members. Posters can be put up in every dorm which advertise important facts about drinking in order to combat pluralistic ignorance. Pre-arrival surveys can be conducted on students. Once data has been collected and tabulated, internal marketing activity can stress for example, “89% of students at [your school] drink less than 3 times a week.” Ideally, the information should be quite specific, even broken down by dorms: “92% of women in [specific dorm name here] drink twice a week or less.” “77% of [specific dorm] men drink 6 or fewer drinks a week.” “81% of [specific dorm] women drink 4 or less drinks when they drink.” For further examples of such posters, see the link below.
Education in chastity
In order to educate students about the dangers of the hook up culture, the Love and Fidelity Network developed poster campaigns to educate in chastity.
The approach of the Love and Fidelity Network, which richly emphasizes the dangers of the hook up culture, can be supplemented with efforts to combat pluralistic ignorance. Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker’s book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011) dispels numerous myths, that when believed, can prompt students into actions they would be less inclined to do. Rather than making informed decisions, students often act out of ignorance and mythical beliefs.
Many students believe the myth that everyone else in college is having sex and hooking up on a regular basis. In fact, one quarter of college students are virgins. Indeed, most college students are not in a sexual relationship, nor are they hooking up regularly. In fact, only one hookup per year is average for college students. Many students believe, “Only losers don’t have premarital sex.” In fact, those in college are more likely to abstain than those not in college. College virgins “tend to be a self-confident and accomplished lot.”
It is also a myth that students who choose to abstain lack sexual desire or are less physically attractive than other students. Indeed, in comparison with those who never attended college, college students and college graduates have fewer sexual partners. Many students believe is that sex is needed in order to start a long-term relationship. In fact, Regnerus and Uecker point out, “[Just] 8 percent of both men and women reported having had sex first—before sensing romance—in at least one of their two most important relationships so far. [So] 92 percent of young adults said that nurturing romance and love…before sex. It is difficult to make it work the other way around.” Properly informed students are better able to make choices condusive to their health and happiness if they have such information.
During freshman orientation, persuasive speakers (ideally other students or recent graduates) can explicitly address binge drinking and the hook up culture. These speakers could address the issue making use of contemporary research about the possible negative consequences of unhealthy choices as well as addressing the pluralistic ignorance that abounds on both issues. They should also discuss the university’s policy for reducing such behavior and correcting student misbehavior. During the course of the year, these themes could be emphasized by other invited speakers sponsored by student life, campus ministry. Ideally, student groups like FOCUS or the Love and Fidelity Network can sponsor events and speakers.
When suitable, faculty in appropriate classes can be encouraged to present information on the detrimental nature of binge drinking and casual sexual encounters. Such topics can be addressed in an academic way particularly in classes on moral philosophy, moral theology, sociology, psychology, and health. In a less formal setting, “Theology on Tap” may further contribute to informing students.
There may also be utility in distributing having booklets, pamphlets, brochures, and on-line media available for students treating these issues. Jason Evert’s booklet Pure Love (available in both secular and Catholic versions) makes a case for chastity. The U.S. Department of Health issued a brochure Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol’s Impact on Your Health. Seeking to accentuate the positive, I authored a booklet, How to Stay Catholic in College. If made widely available in the student residences, this reading material may help students make better decisions.
Around Valentine’s Day, a theme week could be organized to foster discussion on love, dating, and authentic understandings of femininity and masculinity. Similarly, colleges can recognize and foster National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week with education, sober events.
Institutional changes can occur within the university to foster an environment which positively reinforces a campus culture conducive to academic excellence and ethical development. Three institutional strategies may help. First, in order to make a significant difference, a many different groups—both on campus and off campus—should cooperate to enhance the campus culture including campus ministry, resident life directors, and local law enforcement. “[T]he use of comprehensive, integrated programs with multiple complementary components that target: (1) individuals, including at-risk or alcohol-dependent drinkers, (2) the student population as a whole, and (3) the college and the surrounding community.” Finally, an institution of higher education can reduce rates of binge drinking and hook up culture through instituting single-sex housing.
It is best to begin with clear expectations of student behavior. The Code of Student Conduct should establish public regulations governing student consumption of alcohol as well as sexual behavior. Depending on the school, it may be suitable to have a dry campus, but if not, the expectation of responsible drinking should be made clear to the students. In terms of sexual behavior, these codes should indicates that marriage between one man and one woman is the only suitable context for a sexual relationships. Sexual activity of any kind outside of marriage are inconsistent with the teachings and moral values of the Catholic Church and are prohibited.
Studies indicate that active participation in religious services is linked to decreased rates of both binge drinking and hook up culture. Campus ministry, priests, religious, and other active Catholics on campus can invite and encourage student participation in religious services. As new students arrive on campus, such key leaders could be present in the dorms, greeting parents and students, making themselves as helpful as they can. Friendly invitations, wallet-size schedules of Masses and liturgies can be extended to Catholic students. Ideally, priests, religious sisters, or other committed Catholics would be present in the student residences. For non-Catholics, information can be shared about nearby religious services. In each student residence, campus ministers can make sure that Mass times are posted and advertisements (particularly early in the year) widely distributed to make students aware of liturgical opportunities. Competing events should not be scheduled during important university-wide events, like the Mass of the Holy Spirit. Resident assistants should set an example with regard to attendance at these liturgical celebrations. Campus ministry, priests, and religious on campus can also address issues of substance abuse and hook up culture both in the pulpit and in pastoral settings, and help fortify students to reduce unhealthy and ethically problematic behaviors. Greater religious involvement is linked to lesser levels of binge drinking and hook up culture.
Staff from student life should be careful, especially in the first six weeks for freshman, to have healthy programming available. Students should get into the habit early in their college careers of thinking of Friday night as bowling night, pool night, intramural night, anything other than party night.
It is essential that there is strong enforcement by resident assistants, campus security and police (especially during the first six weeks) of legal drinking limits. Many authority figures on campus “turn a blind eye” and ignore underage drinking. After every weekend, piles of empty beer cans are in the garbage outside freshmen dorms implies a tacit consent and cooperation with immoral and (for students under 21) illegal activity. Strict, swift, and consistent enforcement of legal drinking limits (including minor intoxication and minor in possession) during the first six weeks of the semester can have lasting beneficial effects. Police should check for drivers under the influence leaving and arriving on campus as well as minor intoxication, minor in possession, and public drunkenness. Resident directors and student life officials need to strictly enforce policies against underage drinking and overnight visitations. Student offenders might receive extra formation in drinking responsibly and, if needed, professional help in dealing with alcohol abuse and/or drug abuse. Resident assistants, often students themselves, often do not enforce rules “on the books” about underage drinking, excessive drinking, and having overnight opposite sex visitors. A common practice amounts to “don’t check, don’t report,” where only the most obvious and egregious violations are reported. This is passive cooperation that undermines the university’s academic and moral mission. The tacit approval given by student resident officials is quickly recognized by students, often to their own detriment.
An important element of combating underage drinking is partnering with the local community. The local community often suffers the effects of excessive college drinking by students and may be motivated to help reduce the problem. Campus-community partnerships have helped reduce alcohol abuse among students.
[One] intervention included a social marketing campaign, with prevention advertisements in the school newspaper, ads posted in public areas on campus, and ads distributed as postcards. The message in the ads warned students that “Drinking Driving Laws Are Strictly Enforced in the College Area.” These advertisements were backed up by strong media coverage on the local community stations and in the college paper. DUI checkpoints were operated by the campus police, with assistance from local city police and the highway patrol. The results were promising. One of the universities showed a “considerable drop” in the students’ reports of driving after drinking.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that a multi-pronged approach is mostly likely to be successful.
Finally, universities must not be afraid of expelling or suspending serious offenders. Such strict action can be a deterrent to other students who quickly learn what behavior is and is not acceptable on campus.
A vital institutional strategy for reducing binge drinking and hook up culture is the institution of single-sex dorms. Research indicates that students in single-sex residences are significantly less likely to engage in binge drinking and the hook up culture than students living in co-ed student residences.
Let’s look at the connection between binge drinking and co-ed dorms first. Writing in the May 2002 edition of the Journal of Alcohol Studies, Thomas C. Harford and colleagues reported,
Another finding in the present study indicated that students living in coed dormitories, when compared with students in single-gender dorms, incurred more problem consequences related to drinking…. The reported differences in problem consequences extend previous studies of underage alcohol use in the CAS (Wechsler et al., 2000), which found that college students residing in coed dormitories and fraternity/sorority house, when compared with students residing in single-gender dormitories, were more likely to report heavy episodic drinking.
The American Journal of Preventative Medicine (2000) and Journal of American College Health (2009) have reported similar findings.
If students who enjoy risky behavior choose co-ed residences because they seek a more permissive atmosphere, then the differences between co-ed and single-sex residences reflect the kinds of people who choose them, rather than being caused by some difference between single-sex and co-ed residences. This explanation fails because in almost all cases, students did not select single-sex dormitories, but were placed in them by university officials. Since there was no selection, there can be no selection effect. Researchers found no differences in depression, impulsivity, extroversion, body image, or pro-social behavior tendencies between the two groups—all differences relevant to students’ likelihood to take risks.
Why do co-ed residences have more binge drinking? A plausible explanation is that co-ed living creates a “party” expectation that students fulfill. College males want to get females to drink more, facilitating hookups. College men themselves drink more as “liquid courage” to approach women and as part of the process of encouraging female drinking (for instance, with drinking games). In order to demonstrate “equality” with male students and so as not to seem prudish, college females drink more than they otherwise would. Single-sex residences reduce this binge drinking dynamic.
Not surprisingly, single-sex residences also reduce the hook up culture. In a 2009 study in Journal of American College Health, B.J. Willoughby and J.S. Carroll found that “students living in co-ed housing were also more likely [than those in single-sex residences] to have more sexual partners in the last 12 months.” Further, those students were “more than twice as likely as students in gender-specific housing to indicate that they had had 3 or more sexual partners in the last year.”
After controlling for age, gender, race, education, family background, and religiosity, living in a co-ed dorm was associated with more sexual partners. Indeed, two thirds (63.2%) of students in gender-specific housing indicated that they had no sexual partners in the last year, whereas less than half of (44.3%) of students in co-ed housing indicated zero sexual partners in the last year.
Naturally, some objections may be raised to establishing single-sex residences, especially concerns about enrollment. Students may not prefer single-sex residences, so if a university institutes them, enrollment could plummet. However, many universities already have a few single-sex residences, and there is no evidence these residences lower enrolment even in part. Other colleges, such as the University of Notre Dame, have only single-sex residences yet have no problems with enrollment at all. If a student wants a “party school,” it may be better for the university environment if that student is deterred from enrolling because of single-sex residences.
Indeed, single-sex residences may benefit enrollment. Many parents would prefer to have single-sex residences for their children. Single-sex residences lead to the perception and the reality of a safer campus, especially for female students. Lower levels of binge drinking and participation in the hookup culture may also lead to higher graduation rates and a more academic atmosphere on campus, increasing prestige, which boosts enrollment.
Another objection is that a university is not a seminary. Division of males and females may be appropriate at a monastery, but not in a residence for college students. Students seek to attend a Catholic university, not a Catholic convent or rectory. This objection is widely exaggerating the proposal to have single-sex housing. No one is proposing that student residences have compulsory times of prayer like a convent. No one is proposing that student residences have mandatory “spiritual direction” like a monastery. Student residences at universities are not seminaries, but neither should they be visions of Animal House. An Animal House environment is not conducive to intellectual or moral development. As students at the University of Notre Dame can attest, there is much fun to be had and no monastic atmosphere in single-sex residences.
By reducing levels of binge drinking and participation in the hookup culture, universities committed to the academic and ethical growth of students can better fulfill their mission. The time has come to stop bemoaning campus culture and to take concrete steps to improve the situation. A move in the right direction was undertaken recently by President John Garvey of The Catholic University of America. In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, President Garvey explained why the school is reinstituting single-sex dorms. Someone might respond by saying: “Single-sex dorms won’t stop drinking or ‘hooking up’.” Of course, no one claimed that single sex dorms eliminate or stop all drinking or casual sex, so this is an example of the straw-man fallacy.
Not everyone agreed with President Garvey’s decision. One critic objected to the change noting, “His [President Garvey’s] explanation for the change has a let’s-protect-the-women ring to it that is decidedly out of step with the gender roles and expectations of today’s young women and young men. Yet, Garvey said nothing in the essay about women being at greater risk than men in terms of binge drinking and hook-up culture. However, if he had, he would have been correct. Campus culture puts young women at greater risk than young men. An equal amount of alcohol affects females more than males, and sexual promiscuity produces asymmetrical gender effects in terms of sexually transmitted infections, such as HPV and pelvic inflammatory disease. And then there is the risk of pregnancy.
Some people are skeptical that separating the residences of men and women will make any difference. For example, a critic of single-sex dorms has written:
Nothing in my 20 years of experience writing about young people suggests that reverting to the old days of male and female dorms will substantially reduce the frequency of drinking or casual sex. … He cites unnamed studies showing that students in co-ed dorms report having more sexual partners and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol more often.
But studies do indeed justify Garvey’s view. Let me name a few:
- In the journal Environment and Behavior, Jennifer E. Cross and co-authors write,
Women living on single-sex floors are about half as likely to consume as much [alcohol] as their peers living on coed floors. … Women living on a single-sex floor are significantly less likely to consume as frequently as their peers on coed floors.
- In the Journal of Alcohol Studies, Thomas C. Harford and colleagues found:
Students living in coed dormitories, when compared with students in single-gender dorms, incurred more problem consequences related to drinking … The reported differences in problem consequences extend previous studies of underage alcohol use in the CAS (Wechsler et al., 2000a), which found that college students residing in coed dormitories and fraternity/sorority house, when compared with students residing in single-gender dormitories, were more likely to report heavy episodic drinking.
- In the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Wechsler and coauthors indicate:
Underage students who live in coed dormitories and fraternity or sorority houses are more likely to binge drink (OR51.7 and 6.2, respectively) than are students who live in single-sex dormitories.
- Finally, a 2009 study on binge drinking and hook-up culture in the Journal of American College Health by B.J. Willoughby and J.S. Carroll found that:
Students in co-ed halls were more than twice as likely as students living in gender-specific halls (56.4 percent versus 26.5 percent) to indicate that they consume alcohol at least weekly. … Students in co-ed halls (41.5 percent) were nearly two and a half times more likely than students in gender-specific housing (17.6 percent) to report binge drinking on a weekly basis.
Against this evidence, a critic of single-sex dorms cites a single anecdotal example: When women drink a lot, they do so with a group of women, at least as frequently, or more frequently, than with men. Author Liz Funk, a New York resident in her 20s who was raised as a Roman Catholic, attended a co-ed college with co-ed dorms. She remembers,
“Without the presence of guys, my friends and I had no problem throwing back three to eight drinks in a sitting. And on the occasions where accidents happened … it was always in an all-female context.”
This anecdotal evidence does little to cast doubt on the academic research pointing to less binge drinking and fewer casual sexual encounters in single-sex dorms in comparison to co-ed dorms. It is true that other factors are relevant in terms of college drinking:
Where college students live — or with whom — has less to do with how much they drink than with other factors, including the level of alcohol they saw consumed at home; the cultural assumption, endorsed by older adults, that drinking is a rite of passage; the lack of instruction in how to drink responsibly; the drink promotions offered at clubs and bars near campus; and little or no enforcement, by local or campus authorities, of the legal drinking age.
Of course, Garvey never said that the only factor involved in binge drinking is living environment. As a university president, many of these factors are beyond his control to change. But even if these other conditions are of greater importance, which may be right, it hardly follows that efforts should not be made to control the factors which can be controlled at the college level.
The critique continues: “Garvey believes that if women and men once again lived in segregated housing, they wouldn’t hook up as much.” But this is not a matter merely of belief, but of evidence. Willoughby and Carroll found that
students living in co-ed housing were also more likely than those in single sex residences: to have more sexual partners in the last 12 months, to have more recent sexual partners, were more than twice as likely as students in gender-specific housing to indicate that they had had 3 or more sexual partners in the last year. After controlling for age, gender, race, education, family background, and religiosity, living in a co-ed dorm was associated with more sexual partners two thirds (63.2 percent) of students in gender-specific housing indicated that they had no sexual partners in the last year, whereas less than half of (44.3 percent) of students in co-ed housing indicated zero sexual partners in the last year.
Does self-selection explain away these differences? In fact, self-selection cannot explain the differences in drinking and hooking up because, in almost all cases as noted earlier, students did not select to live in single-sex dorms but were put into these dorms by university officials. With no selection, there can be no selection effect.
The selection effect may begin to play a role now at CUA and other schools with single-sex dorms, insofar as some students who want to party hard in college may choose not to go to those schools. I certainly hope that this is the case — then these universities will have fewer students who contribute to an Animal House atmosphere. The fewer Animal House students who enroll at a particular college, the better for that college.
One of the few reasons given in favor of co-ed dorms is that they facilitate friendships with the opposite sex. As one critic wrote, “one contribution of co-ed dorms: the ease with which members of this generation relate to each other as friends, and the depth of their understanding of the opposite sex. I can’t help but believe those qualities will help sustain their intimate partnerships in the future.”
Single-sex dormitories hardly prohibit or deter young men and women from relating to each other as friends or from understanding the opposite sex. Single-sex dorms may even help. As President Garvey points out,
Shared living space might mean spending more hours with the opposite sex. But it often doesn’t foster the mutual respect necessary for real friendship. The prevalence of “hooking up” on college campuses is both a cause and a sign of this decline in solid friendships between men and women. When students “hook up,” they put sex before love. Our goal is not to make students think sex is bad. It’s not. But as those of us with a few more years of life know, when sex comes first, it’s often mistaken for love. Worse still, it can become a kind of recreational pleasure that lets people think they can live without love. Friendship between men and women – the kind that leads to healthy relationships and lasting marriages – requires that love come first.
Indeed, Garvey’s perspective found confirmation in the experiences of students who reported that co-ed dormitories actually undermine rather than facilitate co-ed friendships. In their article, “Hooking Up and Opting Out,” Lisa Wade and Caroline Heldman point out, “Students found that friendships were difficult to establish and maintain because many cross-sex friends were also past or potential sexual partners.” Co-ed dorm life made non-sexual relationships more difficult. They continue: “Because hookup culture positioned everyone as a potential sexual partner, friendships were sexualized. Female students reported that it was nearly impossible to have male friends.” To paraphrase one student, you can label it, “friends with benefits, minus the friend part.”
Single-sex dorms do not destroy the opportunities for opposite-sex friendships, but they do put an obstacle in the way of taking someone back to the dorm room for hooking up. This impediment may actually aid, rather than undermine, the fostering of meaningful intimate relationships both now and in the future. Indeed, as Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker suggest in Premarital Sex in America How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011), a man and woman who delay their sexual relationship are likely contribute to making their relationships last longer. They also note that young people who are veterans of many sexual relationships have a higher rate of divorce. Of course, students can learn from bad decisions, but the university should not make it easier to make bad decisions, especially bad decisions that can undermine the likelihood of satisfying marriages in the future. The desirability of sustaining intimate partnerships in the future (let’s call them “marriages”) — suggests that President Garvey made the right decision.
Ideally these single-sex residences should be places that foster communal academic and ethical development. One way of fostering this type of community is the “household” residential choice found at Franciscan University Steubenville and other Catholic universities. In these households, which students report have a family feeling, there is a shared spiritual, academic, moral, and social atmosphere which begins with the student life staff providing an “institutional culture of chastity” throughout the university. The institutional culture emphasizes the positive rewards of living well rather than simply the negative aspects of binge drinking and the hook-up culture. Small faith communities can help students to find shared values and support. It may also be suitable, on certain campuses, to establish “substance-free” residence options to ratify student commitment to substance-free living.
Significant reduction in both binge drinking and hook up culture is a worthwhile goal and an achievable goal. Such a reduction would increase campus safety (especially for women), foster a more academic environment, and support the spiritual and moral developments of students. Of course, perfect behavior and an absolute elimination of unhealthy activities is impossible, but we should not let the impossibility of the perfection deter us from pursuing a better course.
Appendix: Examples from Newman Guide Colleges
There are many ways to implement the strategies recommended in this paper, and many other strategies that might be considered. What follows is a selection of programs and policies identified during research for The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, which recommends 28 colleges, universities, and online programs for their strong Catholic identity. There are other good programs and policies to address binge drinking and the hook up culture at other Catholic and non-Catholic institutions. College officials would benefit from continual sharing of effective practices and observation of similar institutions.
It is interesting to note that while many of these strategies to promote sobriety could reasonably be employed to promote chastity—and pro-chastity programs and policies might be tweaked to promote sobriety—often colleges do not approach both topics in the same ways. An equal commitment to promoting both behaviors could quickly expand a college’s outreach to students without requiring much creativity.
Many of the colleges include discussion of chastity and sobriety during freshman orientation programs, including explanation of college policies. DeSales University starts even before students arrive on campus, requiring them to complete a one-hour, online alcohol awareness program.
Belmont Abbey College has a policy on Christian Sexual Morality that is explained to freshmen during orientation. According to the College: “In keeping with John Paul II’s theology of the body, we make clear that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed by those who have received the Sacrament of Marriage and for the purpose of the mutual good of the spouses and for bringing children into the world as a gift from God, in accord with Catholic teaching and Canon Law.”
Walsh University’s 12-week mandatory freshman credited course (General Education 100: First Year Institute) begins during opening weekend with a 45-minute presentation, “A Day in the Life of a Student.” The University explains: “Video vignettes performed by Walsh students depict choices every college student faces: academic, social, spiritual, physical. The vignettes provoke discussion of tools for self-awareness, personal responsibility, and critical thinking for making positive lifestyle choices. The vignette dealing with sexual choices discusses pro-abstinence. Most FYI faculty ask students to write reaction papers to the presentation, which sets out university expectations for student behavior aligned with the university’s mission as a Catholic university of distinction. Follow-up sessions occur in FYI under the topic ‘relationships’ and in residence halls, where the chaplain and others continue to promote chastity in leading ‘Let’s Talk Sex’ discussions by floor.”
The Catholic University of America provides “Alcohol 101” workshops in each first-year student residence hall within the first six weeks of the fall semester.
Lectures and classes
Several colleges present occasional speakers to discuss chastity, proper dating, and the role of marriage. Some of these programs are organized and repeated, such as DeSales University’s student presentation on impaired driving, “It’s Not an Accident, It’s a Choice,” and campus ministry programs “Off the Hook: The Hook-Up Culture and Our Escape from It” and “Single and Ready to Mingle: Campus Dating 101.” Ave Maria University, Mount St. Mary’s University, and others provide lectures and courses on the “Theology of the Body,” as taught by Blessed Pope John Paul II.
The University of Mary’s student health clinic sponsors a peer-education program, Health PRO (Peers Reaching Out), which sponsors numerous programs.
The Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Veritas Lecture Series, coordinated by the University’s student life office, addresses sexuality, dating, and marriage with discussion of related Catholic teachings.
Campus ministry at Mount St. Mary’s University sponsors a “Couples Ministry,” which organizes gatherings for couples who are dating to discuss their faith, as well as educational programs like “Healthy Relationships without the Baggage.” In “Love and Lattes” at the University of Mary, a four-week program sponsored by campus ministry, faithful Catholic couples talk to students about topics such as dating and chastity, faith and marriage, natural family planning, finances, conflict resolution, and parenting.
Priests and religious address moral issues during “Morals and Mocha” coffeehouse discussions at the University of Mary and “Theology on Tap” gatherings at pubs near the campuses of Aquinas College (Nashville) and Ave Maria University. At Thomas Aquinas College, the virtues of modesty and chastity are regularly addressed by chaplains in their sermons at daily Mass.
Several Catholic colleges welcome FOCUS missionaries (www.focus.org) on campus to lead Bible studies and promote chastity and sobriety through small-group activities.
A number of colleges declare themes for weeks during the school year to present programs and activities in support of sobriety and chastity. Ave Maria University has an annual “Love Week” in February, devoted to hosting events and lectures that foster discussion on love, dating, the Theology of the Body, and other Catholic studies on sexuality. The Catholic University of America recognizes National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, and Safe Spring Break Week with information distribution and campus-wide programming. The University of St. Thomas in Houston has an annual “Sexual Responsibility Week.”
Education for student offenders
When students violate campus policies, consequences can include education programs to help improve behavior. Ave Maria University purchased an online education module that provides basic alcohol information to students who violate the alcohol policy. According to AMU, “Through a review of topics related to safe consumption, characteristics of high risk drinking, positives and negatives of consumption, and social norms, students gain a better understanding of how irresponsible alcohol use can negatively impact their academics and personal lives. The anticipated outcome is that students will make better decisions in the future related to alcohol use.”
Likewise, Benedictine College will schedule an alcohol assessment with its counseling center if it has cause to worry that any student may have a problem with alcohol abuse. When students are found cohabiting in residence halls, the College may assign education initiatives or have the students meet with counselors, while losing the right to visitation even during daylight hours for a specified period of time.
Dress code to encourage modesty
Christendom College, like several other colleges, maintains a dress code for the classroom, Mass, lunch, and special events. “Usually this includes a dress shirt and necktie for men and a dress or blouse with skirt or dress slacks for women. A jacket is also required for men at Sunday Mass and for speakers’ presentations.”
Ave Maria University is less specific, but students must dress “with modesty and prudence.” The student handbook offers them guidelines for dressing with dignity.
Regulations on entertainment
Ave Maria University requires that movies and television programs viewed on campus “should be in good taste and not offensive to Catholic morals and values.”
Regulating sex, romantic behavior
Some colleges expressly forbid sexual activity outside of marriage. The Catholic University of America’s Code of Student Conduct states, as paraphrased by the University, “that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife. Sexual acts of any kind outside the confines of marriage are inconsistent with the teachings and moral values of the Catholic Church and are prohibited.”
Likewise, the University of Mary’s Community Standards for Students prohibits “sexual intimacy between persons who are not married to one another in the university’s residence halls.”
Christendom College has restrictions on public romantic displays of affection, and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts discourages “exclusive dating” during the first two years.
All of the colleges have policies on alcohol, often prohibiting possession by anyone under the legal age and sometimes prohibiting minors from being in a room when others are consuming alcohol. But at the University of Mary and some other colleges, alcohol is not permitted for any student. Christendom College forbids on-campus drinking but makes exceptions for students over the age of 21 at some campus events, such as St. Patrick’s Day festivities and musical performance nights, called Pub Night.
Residence life programs
Many of the colleges locate educational programs in the residence halls (see “Education” above). Benedictine College sponsors an annual Alcohol Free competition, inviting each residence hall to put on an alcohol-free event “which both serves as a model for how to engage in healthy activities without the use of alcohol and disseminates information about the dangers of abusing alcohol.”
DeSales University offers specialized “substance-free” housing for students who forego all alcohol and tobacco use. The University of Mary permits students to choose roommates who are committed to abstaining from alcohol even off campus, and these students are grouped together in the residence halls.
The University of Mary also has established Saint Joseph’s Hall, a 30-bed facility for men who have made a commitment to live a virtuous life and support other residents in that commitment. Living in the facility with students is the retired Bishop of Bismarck and the current diocesan vocations director. A similar facility for women has been established with support from Benedictine Sisters who live on campus.
Mount St. Mary’s University offers a variety of themed housing and living-learning options. Students participating in the Summit Housing initiative adopt as a rule of life a “healthy living commitment” through outdoor activities, service projects, and abstinence from tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
Training for residence life staff
Belmont Abbey College, like many of the colleges, ensures that resident assistants are trained in authentic Catholic morality. “All resident directors study the virtues, Ex corde Ecclesiae, the Rule of St. Benedict, the Pope’s Theology of the Body, and the documents on the dignity of the human person and the vocation of women.”
The Catholic University of America provides alcohol education and training for resident assistants, orientation advisors, and resident ministers each summer. “Residential staff are expected to confront disruptive and unhealthy behaviors including those related to sexual activity.”
Faculty, priest presence in residence halls
Some colleges ask priests, religious, and faculty members to live in residence halls to assist and supervise students. At Holy Spirit College, the student residences in a nearby apartment community are proctored by faculty members. Thomas More College of Liberal Arts has a Dean of Men and a Dean of Women who help promote chastity in the residences.
Peer clubs and programs
Some colleges have student clubs dedicated to promoting chastity through peer education, such as the Love Revealed club at Franciscan University of Steubenville. According to the University, the club “strives to enrich students’ understanding of the principles that uphold the goods of Marriage, Family, and Sexual Integrity.” The group emphasizes “that stable marriages and families and the moral character they cultivate are best supported by commitment to the integrity of sex and to the healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors that honor that integrity.”
At The Catholic University of America, student organizations such as Live Out Love, Vitae Familia, Students for Life, and CUAlternative “bring speakers to campus and host events that focus on love and relationships with emphasis on the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life,” according to CUA. “For example, the student group Vitae Familia hosted an event titled ‘Love. Relationships. College. How does college shape how you love?’ where two guest speakers addressed the importance of dating while in college.” Although Live Out Love focuses on teaching chastity to local middle-school and high-school students, it is student-led and engages CUA students in making arguments for sexual purity.
Students at Holy Spirit College likewise assist Moda Real, a virtue and modesty program for the Solidarity School and Mission, a Hispanic outreach program, that culminates in an annual modest fashion show.
Pro-life groups may help promote chastity. CUA’s Students for Life publishes a magazine titled The Choice: Pro-Life Answers to Today’s Tough Questions, including articles on purity and chastity, cohabitation, and natural family planning. The Crusaders for Life at the University of Dallas promotes Catholic teachings on chastity and abstinence.
Other groups may also address chastity. Kappa Phi Omega, the Catholic sorority at St. Gregory’s University, brings speakers on campus to address the impact that chastity and modesty have on our society. Even the Fra Angelico Art Club at Ave Maria University, which hosts events that examine true art and beauty, sponsors lectures on the Theology of the Body and an annual art exhibition to examine themes of love.
Campus ministry at Walsh University has a peer ministry program called Peacemakers, which trains upper-classmen to minister to students in the residence halls. In 2011-12 they helped organize monthly residence hall programs on topics including pornography (the University’s IT officers verified that residence hall hits on pornography sites fell 75 percent as a result), women’s dignity (attracting up to 80 women per session), and “Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Students in campus ministry also organized Theology of the Body discussions and assisted in the campus appearance of Christopher West.
Several of the colleges encourage students to participate in voluntary “households,” which are spiritual communities of men or women that gather together to pray, encourage one another in chastity and virtue, perform works of mercy, and host events on campus. The concept is especially popular at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where about half the student body is involved in any of 45 households.
Women’s and men’s groups
Ave Maria University has a Genuine Feminine Club of female students who foster the development of feminine virtues and organize the “Genuine Feminine Conference” each spring.
At The Catholic University of America, males students can join Esto Vir to strive together to live a life of prayer, brotherhood, chastity, self-sacrifice, and fortitude. Female students can join Gratia Plena, a sisterhood of Catholic women that meets for fellowship, prayer and faith formation.
DeSales University sponsors Philotheas, a student-led, student only group for women desiring to mature in their Catholic faith through spiritual, religious, catechetical and social experiences, and support. Esto Vir (“Be a Man!”) is a group of men, who through social, educational, and spiritual activities strive to live as men of faith and virtue.
At the University of Mary, the Knights of Virtue (for men) and Vera Forma (for women) focus on the development of virtue and holiness, studying Scripture and the saints from a Christian but not exclusively Catholic perspective.
Ave Maria University has an administration subcommittee specifically tasked with promoting chastity. The Student Activities Board, Student Government Association, Student Life Office, Campus Ministry, and Office of Housing and Residence Life all collaborate to develop initiatives to support and promote a culture of chastity.
At The Catholic University of America, the Alcohol and Other Drug Education (AODE) program is coordinated by the Office of the Dean of Students and supported by the Employee Assistance Program, Kane Fitness Center, Office of Residence Life, Student Health Services, and the Counseling Center.