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Coed Rooming at Colleges: Not Your Average Dorm

Every day, James Madison University junior Lauren Granger comes home to her cozy four-bedroom apartment. She checks her Facebook, listens to her favorite band “She and Him,” and heats up some leftover lasagna her mom sent from home. As her roommates walk in the door, she greets them—Sarah, Stephanie, and…Glen. Yes, Glen. Granger’s fourth roommate is a guy.

An increasing number of college apartments are no longer purely estrogen, or vice versa. Many have decided to move in with students of the opposite sex, claiming less drama and a (closer to) stress-free living environment.

“It’s a nice balance of energies,” says Granger of her living arrangement. “What makes it work really well is how laid back Glen is.”

Granger and her friend Stephanie met Glen their freshman year and instantly hit it off. The trio decided to live together, and they moved into Sarah’s apartment because she had three open bedrooms.

The girls—and guy—started living together this past August. Unfortunately for Glen, Stephanie had already decorated the bathroom they shared…Disney Princess themed.

“We might get him a Disney Prince towel!” Granger joked.

Besides the pictures of Ariel and Jasmine staring at Glen while he showers, Granger insists the apartment is gender-neutral. “We try not to make anything too girly,” she says.

The only complaint Granger has about living with Glen is his lack of dishwashing skills. However, living with her brother at home did prepare her for that—he was slacking in the same department. And unfortunately, as we all know, an XX chromosome is no guarantee of domestic skills anyway.

What Would Your Significant Other Have to Say?
Junior Beth Lucas’s boyfriend lives with another guy and two girls. When asked if she ever feels jealous or threatened, Lucas says she doesn’t mind the living situation at all.

“I trust all of them and they’ve never given me reason to care. We’ve all been friends for so long, so it’s not a big deal,” she says.

In fact, Lucas believes it was moving in with girls that got her boyfriend, Matt, to start cleaning up.

“When Matt lived with all guys it was disgusting,” she says, “I didn’t even want to go over there.”

Now, Lucas says he is not only a lot cleaner, but a lot more relaxed.

“He’s happier, and more at ease,” she says.

Both Granger and one of her other female roommates are in relationships. “It was never an issue for me,” she says. “My roommate’s boyfriend was a little unsure about it at first, but then he realized he had no need to be.”

…And Your Parents?? Our parents might expect us to live with people of the same gender, but how do they react when they realize that’s not always the case?

“My parents didn’t care at all,” says Granger. “They might even prefer it because they think I’m safer.”

“My parents don’t mind,” says James Nagengast, a James Madison student living with one other guy and one girl. “This is actually my third time sharing an apartment with girls.”

Nagengast’s roommate, Emma, however, has yet to tell her father.

“He’d freak out,” Nagengast says, “He’s an army general!”

But…Why? It’s no surprise that Kathryn Williams, author of the book Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks, has lived with a guy before. In fact, she’s currently living with her 16th roommate.

Williams thinks college students might want to live with the opposite sex because it can help them grow. “You can learn a lot about another gender by living with them,” she says. “Members of the opposite sex are a puzzle and now you can see how they tick.”

According to Williams, whether or not a co-ed apartment is a healthy environment depends on your age. “It’s not the same for everyone,” she says. “As long as you’re at an age where you can successfully set boundaries and you’ve overcome your freshman-year insecurities, it can work.”

Williams says the difference between living with guys and girls, is that guys are a lot better at addressing issues.

“Girls tend to be more passive-aggressive,” she says. “He could read me better. I learned to say ‘Can you please take out the trash?’ instead of pretending nothing bothered me.”

There’s Boys. There’s Girls. There’s Sexual Chemistry, Right?

In the cliché co-ed apartments, guys and girls are in relationships. However, we all know members of the opposite sex that we aren’t attracted to. We could live with them and still not be attracted to them.

Williams believes it’s healthy for guys to live with a girl that’s not his sister, mother, girlfriend, or wife.

“It’s good for guys to live with girls in a non-relationship setting so they can learn how to be equal in the household and not be taken care of all the time,” she says.

Nagengast believes you have to be cordial to keep things from getting complicated. “It works because we respect each other.” Nagengast says. “You have to be friends and never, ever, cross that line.”

Nagengast suggests that even if your female roommate is attractive, you need to forget about it.

“You don’t want that awkwardness,” he says. “You can hook-up with your roommate’s friends—which is pretty cool—but never her.”

If that awkward hook-up happens, Williams suggests you don’t ignore it. First of all, decide what it meant. Just a one-night stand? Discuss it.

“It can be delicate, but it needs to be acknowledged that it won’t happen again.”

Something more serious? Be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

“If you decide to embark on a relationship, you need to take control of the pace. Living together can make things get serious fast,” she says.

The Best of Both Worlds
All co-ed roomies interviewed agree that being roommates with someone of the opposite sex adds a new dimension to their living space.

Granger goes to Glen for advice before she would go to her female roommates. “He has a different take on relationships,” she says, “He’s less emotional and more mellow.”

Williams says she and her male roommate would confide in one another, also.

“It’s a lot different than talking with a guy,” says Nagengast. “She brings a different perspective.”

When asked if they would live co-ed again, all the students interviewed said yes. “It’s different, but it’s healthy and diverse,” says Nagengast. “It brings out all of our best aspects.”

Kathryn Williams’s book “Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks” can be found at Amazon.com and most college book stores.

Lauren Granger, student at James Madison University
James Nagengast, student at James Madison University
Beth Lucas, student at James Madison University
Kathryn Williams, author of Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks

Cassie Potler is a senior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA where she’s majoring in Media Arts and Design with a concentration in Print Journalism and a minor in Art. In addition to writing for HerCampus.com, Cassie works as a review editor for the James Madison Undergraduate Research Journal and a photographer for “Picture It! JMU.” She enjoys traveling the world and spent this past summer studying abroad in Ireland. Cassie grew up in Glenwood, MD where she was raised to be a devoted Ravens football fan. Her top guilty pleasures include stalking celebrities through Perez Hilton and watching old seasons of The OC repeatedly. She thoroughly enjoys watching summer storms, dancing to live music, and the McDonald’s dollar menu.
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