Housing goes Coed at Carleton 

By Aldo Polanco ’23

On Valentine’s Day 1970, Saturday of midterm break, Carleton administration officially kicked off the “Co-ed Housing experiment.” 364 students would become part of Carleton history by being the first men and women to live in mixed communities. The experiment was approved by the Ad Hoc Co-ed Housing Committee as a trial run for what eventually would become the norm on Carleton’s campus. 

The 364-person trial involved students across 14 living communities. From the men’s side: First Goodhue, Second and Third Burton, French House (now CANOE or Wade House), and Men’s Language House (now known as Parish House). Women’s spaces which were transformed into co-ed spaces included Evans A, Third Nourse and Third, Sixth and Seventh Watson. The trial mainly consisted of swaps between these communities in order to create new mixed floors, interspersed with the already single-gender floors in the rest of these buildings. Although room assignments were largely decided by the same committee that launched the new policy, students were able to coordinate switches from one dorm to the other. Due to the popularity of the policy, the committee specifically recommended 25% of the college participate in it, and gave priority to students who chose to move out of a proposed co-ed floor to a single gender floor. 

Although the trial took place rather quickly over midterm weekend, the planning leading up to it was a long and drawn-out process. As early as 1964, Carleton’s Student Senate had already expressed desire to change something in the way gender was handled in housing. The campus was fiercely divided into “east side” and “west side,” the former being exclusively female and the latter male. Students all over campus had noticed a palpable issue when it came to co-ed socialization. Women were still subjected to strict curfew hours where they had to adhere to or face discipline from the college. An initial proposal from a student in the Senate involved switching certain halls’ assigned gender. Women would move to Davis and Musser, while men would move into Nourse and Myers. While discussing, a new suggestion arose of simply integrating all dorms. Advantages discussed included “a more natural mingling of men and women,” “a possible increase in dating, especially on an informal basis,” and “elimination of the undesirable phenomenon of men and women emerging from opposite corners of the campus” (Minutes of Student Long Range Planning Committee, 1964). The discussion was deemed controversial and tabled for a later time. 

In 1966, President John Nason established the Social Policy Committee. The committee was tasked with determining the intricacies of the social sphere on campus and finding ways to improve it for current students and more attractive for prospective students. Later, in 1969, an issue that rose to the attention of the council composed of trustees, faculty and staff was that of gender integration in social environments. Co-educational housing seemed to them like an appropriate solution to the social quandaries. As such, they thought to draft a proposal wherein they stated the way in which integrated floors should be introduced to Carleton in the following 1969-1970 school year. The proposal was to be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval, which was set to meet May 10th, 1969. However with this date came a logistical issue: room draw was only shortly before this date. If the committee were to present a proposal for co-ed housing in the next year, the college had to prepare for two scenarios: One where co-ed housing was implemented and one where it was voted down. This meant two room draws would have had to take place. The Social Policy committee determined that this was too much of an issue and considering the uncertainty of how to implement it to make students happy, they decided they could not draft a proposal that could possibly make all sides of the issue happy. Instead, it would draft a report concerning the subject. During the trustees’ meeting, the college’s Social Policy Committee presented a report in which it highlighted social issues the campus faced. Among them “a lacking sense of community in the dormitories,” “little feeling of any connection between academic life and life in the dormitories,” and that “social life seems to consist to a very large degree in relatively formal dating in which people, whether they wish it or not, very quickly become identified as ‘couples.’” With these issues in mind, the committee recommended to the Board of Trustees that “experimental dormitories involving co-ed arrangements by floors or by groups of rooms probably should be available at least for limited numbers of upperclass students in the near future.” Still, detractors argued that this would lead to “sexual behavior which the College does not condone.” At this point, trustees were presented with not only Social Policy approval but also overwhelming student approval. In a survey conducted in the lead-up to the May 10th meeting, almost 90% of the student body stood in favor of co-educational housing. Given the SPC and student support, trustees agreed with the recommendation on having co-ed housing in the near future. 

Some students, however, were not particularly happy with the decision to exclude co-ed housing in this trustee meeting, and instead presented a proposal of their own: a co-ed radical commune in Men’s Language House (Parish). This proposal, as expected, was also rejected. 

Still, no proper proposal on the question had been made at this point. Through the summer and early fall, the SPC continued gathering information from students in order to present a proposal that would be favorable to students but in line with the trustees’ ideals. Due to bureaucracy and a delay in tabulating survey results, October of 1969 came and went with no real tangible discussion or proposal from the SPC. Throughout Fall Term students from the group who proposed the radical commune repeatedly violated college policy on open house hours and eventually moved women into the lounge on October 30th, in what became known as the Third Burton Incident. With this controversy in mind, the SPC had more pressure to discuss the issue and pass a proposal. That same December the committee approved the proposal that eventually led to the mass-move nicknamed the Great Co-ed Housing Perenigration.