Catholic University Trusts Its Students

When President John Garvey of the Catholic University of America (CUA) courageously announced this week that he would end the university’s 30-year experiment with co-ed dorms, he offended modern sensibilities.

ABC News interviewed college students who — although not CUA students, and therefore not affected by the CUA policy — seemed insulted by what appeared to be disrespect toward young adults.

“If students want to drink, they’re going to drink,” said one. A female who lived in a co-ed dorm with co-ed bathrooms said, “It turned out fine.  A lot of my best friends are boys.  By the time people go to college, they’re mature enough to live with the opposite sex and not have it be a big deal.”

Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both, writes that co-ed dorms are one reason that young people today have such a “depth of… understanding of the opposite sex.  I can’t help but believe those qualities will help sustain their intimate partnerships in the future.”

Stepp believes that responsible female students need promiscuity to make their way in the world: “Women are more comfortable expressing their sexual desire openly, and feel right in doing so. Women also cite the goals of professional training and career as reasons they prefer casual sex. Relationships can be viewed as impediments.”

This is the wisdom of the age: Casual sex among college students is healthy. And students are going to drink or have sex if they want to, whether in single-sex or co-ed dorms — because risk-taking is healthy, too.

These reactions remind me of the dismissive response last year from some Catholic educators when Georgetown University researchers reported significant dissent and declines in religious practice among Catholic students at America’s Catholic colleges and universities. Don’t blame us, they said. Must be the secular influences on students before they arrive on campus… and anyhow, we can’t really expect young adults to live up to Catholic standards.

Asked by Catholic News Service (CNS) why only one-third of Catholic students on Catholic campuses disagreed with homosexual “marriage,” the Georgetown researchers blamed the culture: “This issue more than any other may be strongly affected by the millennial generation’s post-materialist view regarding marriage and sexuality.”

The study also found that, among Catholic students at Catholic colleges, Mass attendance declined significantly, and nearly one in eight left the Church before graduation. CNS asked the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) for an explanation:

“Disturbing as these figures are, they should not be a surprise and should not be interpreted as a specific outcome of students’ attendance at a Catholic college or university,” said Richard A. Yanikoski, president of the Washington-based ACCU.

Yanikoski said the decline in Mass attendance and religious identity is often caused by weakened family life and diminished religious activity among Catholic families, ineffective catechesis in parishes, understaffed faith formation programs for youths, a sexually provocative culture, and reaction to the sex abuse scandal.

“Catholic campuses serving a broad cross-section of students can only do so much to redress such a collection of antithetical influences,” he said. “We know full well that our own capacity in some ways is weaker now than it was when priests and vowed religious were more numerous on our campuses.

It seems that defenders of the status quo simply can’t accept that campus life has any impact on students’ behavior — and also cannot trust students’ ability to behave.


It is President Garvey — not his critics, and certainly not most of his peers in Catholic higher education today — who places real trust in today’s students by proposing the shift to single-sex dorms. He believes self control is possible, just as CUA’s leaders did for decades prior to 1982, when co-ed dorms were introduced.

Moreover, he trusts education. It is shameful, even embarrassing, when Catholic educators make every possible argument to suggest that their actions and policies have absolutely no impact on their students.  Could St. Elizabeth Ann Seton have imagined a day when Catholic educators — and even many parents — simply throw in the towel and leave students to the influence of secular culture?

To their horror, President Garvey has the facts on his side. The social science data supports his decision, and Americans are increasingly aware that something has gone terribly awry in our “liberated” culture.  Indeed, CUA’s return to single-sex dorms could very well be heralded 20 years from now as a watershed moment in the renewal of Catholic higher education.

On Wednesday, the Cardinal Newman Society’s Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education released a report by sociologist Anne Hendershott and Nicholas Dunn, finding that the campus “hook-up” culture can lead to serious “psychological, spiritual and physical damages.”

“Sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies and abortions — as well as a long list of psychological costs including poor self-esteem, depression and sadness — have been correlated with the emergence of the hook-up culture on campus,” they write.

Among the studies that the authors cite in support of single-sex dorms is a 2009 study published in the Journal of American College Health and touted by President Garvey. Researchers Brian Willoughby and Jason Carroll found that students in co-ed halls were more than twice as likely to engage in binge-drinking and more than twice as likely to have three or more sexual partners in the last year. Testing whether the results were affected by self-selection — i.e., students more prone to sexual activity and drinking choose co-ed dorms — the researchers found minimal impact.

The impact of single-sex dorms is common sense, and it’s a change that is long overdue. Contrary to those who think it insults young adults to insist on a wholesome environment, single-sex dorms convey the message that college leaders trust students to live responsibly when not beset by temptation and an assumption of bad behavior.

Calling young people to lives of virtue is hardly an insult. It’s a challenge that I hope CUA students will readily embrace.


Patrick J. Reilly


Patrick J. Reilly is founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization to advocate and support the renewal of genuine Catholic higher education.

  • Deacon Ed

    We hold modern-day academia in too high esteem. CUA’s Garvey might be among the first to restore it (read his inaugural address; it’s nothing short of inspiring).

    We seem to view academia as a societal insitution that is impregnable to the forces of moral decay in our society. We will not live long enough to see it, but if things don’t change, institutions of “higher” learning will be subject to the same devolution as other societal institutions. Let’s pray that our Church stands strong against these forces and is able to once again save Western civilization from its own moral decay. The jury is out. (Bishops, we are looking to you to lead the charge…)

  • Roy M. Poste

    If is uplifting to read CUA has courageous leadership to return one element of common sense to campus life. We can share this news with others. Use the change to speak words of support to our neighbors. This is how the culture can be transformed. Stay the course President Garvey.
    Can someone expand on what is meant by the phrase “post-materialist view regarding marriage and sexuality”? Thanks.

    • Patrick

      ** Can someone expand on what is meant by the phrase “post-materialist view regarding marriage and sexuality”? **

      That marriage is not for economic or social stability (that would be materialism), but rather for one’s personal satisfaction. The idea is that since we have a lot of money we can be more “free” sexually.

  • I lived in graduate student housing at CUA from 2004-2005. I was in an all-women’s dorm, and the all-men’s graduate dorm adjoined. Oddly, I found, the women’s floor key would work for entrance to the men’s side, but not the other way around. However, it did send a message that men were not welcome uninvited on the women’s side, and women went to the men’s side at their own risk.

    There were male overnight guests in my dorm, as I’m sure there will be with all of the housing going back to single-sex. They probably can’t do much to stop it, but I’m glad they’re not condoning it. Kudos to President Garvey – this won’t win him any popularity contests with students, but the parents paying the bills will probably be thrilled!

  • As someone who lived in coed dorms (on a coed floor with coed bathrooms) in the 80’s, I saw first hand the damage that “hooking up” causes. Needless to say, my husband and I have hoped our children would think twice about attending colleges with coed dorms. I was thrilled when my son decided on Thomas More College of Liberal Arts as they have single sex dorms with no co-visitation allowed. This has allowed him to concentrate on his studies while also pursuing healthy relationships~ including a wonderful girlfriend!
    My thoughts and prayers will be with President Garvey as CUA takes this bold step!

  • Tom

    I’m a life-long Catholic and one sick to death of the rot in our faith. I applaud President Garvey and at the same time must heap shame on his cowardly, sinful predecessor. But the question I have for the USCCB–as CUA is the flagship BISHOP’S university–is just what in hell took so long? Leaders? Huh! If it weren’t for Pope Benedict I don’t believe ANY change would be happening.

  • ThirstforTruth

    Kudos to this courageous act on the part of President Garvey…he will win the un-dying support of Catholic
    parents everywhere for his brave decision to accept
    some of the responsiblity for what goes on under the roofs of CUA during his administration. For far too long the Administrators of colleges and universities have ignored that they share in the moral responsibility for what behavoirs occur on campus. They set the tone, the environment and the occasion for sin when this goes
    ignored and un-recognized. Students will pretty much accept rules if they are fairly and universally applied.
    Requiring some strong catechetical courses would not
    be a bad idea either for at least undergraduate degrees
    carefully taught by solid Catholic professors of theology and philosophy. Young women in particular need to be
    told often and clearly that their bodies are not commodities but rather the temple of the Holy Spirit..and
    the young men need to be taught rigorously that casual
    sex ( hooking up ) is contrary to what the culture teaches and why! Most campuses are just excuses for whore house behavior …and the education supplied is little worth the effort nor expense most parents foolishly supply!

  • ThirstforTruth

    Sorry….that should have read ” hooking up is contrary to what the Church teaches and why! They know all too well
    what the culture promotes but most little to no understanding of the theology of the body and it’s great beauty.

  • Brett

    I went to an undergraduate school that had traditional single sex dorms, with curfews for the women and no men allowed in the dorm rooms at any time. We had no rapes, or “unintended pregnancies” thatI knew about.
    I had a wonderful four years and have not had a problem getting along with men at any time by having my sexual growth “stunted” by living in a single sex dorm in college!! Congrats to President Garvey. I went to CUA grad school but lived off campus. I thought it was depraved for CUA to have co-ed dorms and I’m glad it has been changed. I mean, what is the big deal anyway?

  • Brett

    I just realized that one of my phrases in my comment was highly suggestive! What I meant to say was that
    men/women can learn about each other as human persons without living together in a dormitory in college!!!

    • Richard A

      “men/women can learn about each other as human persons without living together in a dormitory in college”

      Isn’t it wonderful how God provided every human being the opportunity to grow up in close contact with a real adult woman and a real adult man? Almost like He thought we would all benefit from twenty years’ or so practice relating to adults – with or without dormitories – before trying to make our way in the world.

      Personal experience outside the family can be really overrated in our culture!

  • nazario a. gonzales

    Free Love! Love is not free. There are consequences to free love and Catholic University is stepping forward not to condone a practice which is so damaging. It is damaging because relationships based solely on sex is self-destructive. Casual sex simply becomes a body function based on hormones and physical drives. Bang, Bang, thank you Ma’am/Sir.

    Around 1968, Rollo May, a prominent psychiatrist in the 60’s and 70’s wrote an article about free love and the negative impact on long-term relationships. May pointed out that the conservative, abstinence driven dating scene of previous generations enabled men and women to form deep, personal relationships and friendships leading up to long-lasting marriages. The argument opposing such archaic dating practices was that once sex was eliminated from the dating dance, then true love could be discover and established. This has proven not to be the case. When sexual attraction diminishes, a relationship most often ends leaving long term scars and fears of broken dreams.

  • Chris

    As a Catholic student at a school that’s going in the other direction (co-ed rooms), I’m proud that CUA is going back to single-sex dorms, and a little jealous, too. So much drama and damage are caused by the co-ed dorms, with no discernable benefit to anyone.

    Administrators think that if they just throw condoms and birth control at us, that’s trust and responsibility, but it isn’t. We’re basically being told “Okay little student-beasts, go off and copulate as much as you want, because we know you can’t control yourselves when you’re in heat”, and that is the true insult. All the men and women on my school’s campus have immeasurable dignity that is ignored and damaged as a result of the administrations acceptance of cultural norms as “healthy”.

  • Patricia Detterich

    All young adults need to read Lime 5 by Mark Crutcher. After reading in Chapter 1 about the horrifying psychological and physical damage inflicted on so many young women who for one reason or another found it necessary to abort the beautiful children created as a result of casual sex, I was ILL. Abortion brutalizes women and murders babies. If single-sex dorms save JUST ONE baby from abortion, then it is worth the change from co-ed dorms. My prayer is many more babies, their mothers and fathers will be saved from the tragedy of abortion. So MANY lives have been destroyed by casual sex.

  • Andy

    I applaud President Garvey and at the same time must heap shame on his cowardly, sinful predecessor.

    Any other slander you’d like to heap on Bishop O’Connell?

  • MaxineDoe

    Thank you, Patrick Reilly of CNS and Pres. Garvey – to both of you for your active belief in the beautiful truths of our Catholic faith.

  • Wandriaan

    When I read about universities today, I am almost amazed to see them doing something not weird, crazy and damaging. When I would have young children today, I would do anything to prevent them to enter these totalitarian and morally inverted brainwashing centres. Think about this: never before so many parents agreed to pay huge amounts of money to have their children brainwashed AGAINST their own core values.
    Is it because of its technological advancedness that this age is morally and spiritually so insane?