G.W.U. — Radically Redefining Coed

“The campus of George Washington University must be an interesting place to be — and it looks like it may quickly become a lot more interesting.”  Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Coed Quarters & Free Birth Control–The New Campus Culture?”

If past is prologue, then my undergraduate alma mater continues to be every bit as interesting as when I arrived as a freshman on the Foggy Bottom campus in the late summer of 1984.  Although school officials — operating out of Rice Hall, named for the Baptist pastor who founded Columbian College, now known as the George Washington University — did not move as quickly as Dr. Mohler seems to think, it’s only taken G.W.U’s dorm policy around 22 years to catch up with the reality of campus life when I was a student from 1984-88.

As a somewhat naive Southern Baptist kid from a small town in central Florida, coming to the nation’s capital for my college education was a culture shock to say the least.  With a love for politics and law (ministry was not even on my radar screen), G.W.U. was the perfect place to get an education in political science (Ronald Reagan’s second term), which in those days was known as a degree in pre-law or pre-unemployment.  I chose the former.

I knew that the living and learning environment in Washington, D.C. would be somewhat different from where I grew up — Lake Placid, FL — but no one could have prepared me for my first semester of college.  I should have known that my life would take an interesting (to use Dr. Mohler’s word) turn when one of the questions on my housing application was:

“Do you prefer a roommate who does not use illegal drugs?” 

My mother and I laughed as I checked “YES.”  I wasn’t laughing for long when one of my roommates turned out to love to smoke pot.  Lots of it.  The bong, lying on the coffee table in plain sight the first time that my parents and I walked into my dorm room, should have been a tip-off had I known what a bong looked like and what it was used for.  If it hadn’t been for my other roommate, Bob — who continues to be a good friend to this day — and my fraternity brothers at Phi Sigma Kappa, I would have never made it through my first year at George Washington.

Even with the announced changes in GW’s coed housing policies, I can’t imagine that life on campus is any more interesting today than it was when I was a freshman living in a nine-story dorm named Thurston Hall.  Going by my middle name — Howell — at the time and with my roommate — Bob — hailing from Denver, Gilligan’s Island became somewhat of a running joke.  If you’re not old enough to understand this classic television show reference, I’m truly sorry.

In all but two of the dorms (Strong and Calhoun) during my days as an undergrad, the “official” living arrangements were “coed by room,” meaning that only girls could share a room or that only guys could share a room.  However, with girls and guys living in rooms next to each other or across the hall from one another, there was no shortage of unofficial coed cohabitation.

Fast forward to 2010.  The George Washington University, founded by Baptist pastor Luther Rice (how ironic that I graduated from a school started by Baptists), continues to be an interesting place to be, but perhaps not how Rev. Rice and others envisioned it. 

Dr. Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (also my alma mater), who is a keen observer of culture, said this about G.W.U.’s decision to move toward gender-neutral housing:

One shocking aspect of this development is moms quoted in the article who were all for the new policy. “The students need to learn how to make these decisions based on their own comfort levels,” said on mom. Another mom said, “They’re 18. We can’t do much about it anyway, if they’re away at school.”

This may be shocking to someone like Dr. Mohler, who was not a student at George Washington.  As perhaps one of the few pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention who graduated from G.W.U., I wish that I could say that I am likewise shocked by the coed housing decision.  I am not.  In fact, when I saw a blurb on the Washington Post’s website the other day which read, “Area School To Allow Coed Rooms in Dorms,” or something like that, but which did not name GW in the headline, I knew before I clicked on the link that the story was about my alma mater.

Dr. Mohler sums up well the situation on our nation’s college campuses, including George Washington University, when he writes:

“In less than two centuries the school has modulated from Luther Rice to gender-neutral housing and demands for free birth control. The slide will not end here.”

There’s not much more that a G.W.U. grad can say to the President of one of my other alma maters than a simple and hearty, AMEN!

2 comments for “G.W.U. — Radically Redefining Coed

  1. Bennett Willis
    December 10, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    When we were moving a daughter into a dorm at American University, we met the RA coming down the hall with a towel wrapped around his middle and his shaving kit in hand. Internally I flinched, outwardly nodded in recognition, and we moved on to her room. She had lived in Houston (for a year in an apartment and then in a house) with college students for her last two years in high school and seemed to have done OK, so I thought she should manage at AU–and she did.

    I remember a comment that someone at Rice University (Houston’s Rice) made that the only thing that just did not ever work out with roommates was smokers (tobacco) and non-smokers.

    I used to look at college as a time of transition from home to world. It seems that “the world” is showing up immediately.

    • December 10, 2010 at 2:11 PM


      I imagine AU was and is very similar to GW in many ways — both good and bad. I certainly got a quick education in life away from a relatively sheltered existence that I had benn living in for the first almost 18 years of my life. I turned 18 in November of my freshman year, so I was not only young, but very unaware of some of the things that I would encounter. If it wasn’t for my other roommate, Bob, we would have never made it with our third roommate. Let’s just say that we implemented a “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t smell” policy early on. I came back to our dorm room — which was really like an apartment with living area, two huge walk-in closets that were converted into bedrooms and a back alcove, which as my sleeping area, and our own bathroom (no walking down the hall half-naked) — and found our roommate and his friends “smoking” in the living room. I must have given him a look that said, “If you don’t clear out, I will inflict bodily harm on you.” l left and came back a short time later. Friends were gone and there was no smell. While I know that he smoked in his closet, that was the only time during the year that he ever violated our policy.

      And, by the way, the RAs knew about all the pot smoking going on and were completely useless. Funny story. One day a friend of mine and I were kicking a soccer ball in the hallway. We weren’t kicking it hard up against the walls or making loud noises, just trying to play a little ball inside (probably during the winter). Now, kicking soccer balls in the hall was against housing policy. The RA saw us kicking the ball and proceeded to confiscate the ball because we were breaking the rules. I told her, in as nice a way as I could, “If you are going to enforce that rule, why don’t you start enforcing all the rules.” She knew exactly what I meant. Needless to say, she handed us back the ball. College was interesting to say the least. Thanks for sharing about your daughter’s experience at AU. God bless,


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