Oberlin Blogs

So, you live together?

August 22, 2012

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

I’m about to tackle something big, because I’m pretty sure it’s on some of your minds (especially you parents out there). In case you didn’t know, co-ed housing is a thing here. Maybe it’s because we started it all (sidenote: visit the college archives at some point and look at the LIFE magazine in person one day. It’s a sight to behold), or maybe it’s because Oberlin realizes that as budding adults, we can choose many things for ourselves, including the most ideal living situation for ourselves, and that that might fall outside the conventional bounds of roommate-ness. All our dorms — with the exception of Baldwin (the Women and Transgender Collective) and Old B (which is based on a house vote every year) — are co-ed. And this is a truly awesome thing.

First off, some things to know:

Living in an all-gender room is not automatic. Both you and your roommate(s) have to state that you want to live together. You will not be randomly placed in one, ever. As of a few years ago, all halls on campus have all-gender housing options unless it is in conflict with specific gender themes of the space. And while this seems to be an awesome excuse to live with a significant other, that’s definitely not the situation for most students choosing this housing option (though when I started asking around for quotes for this post, I got a fabulous one from Jackson stating that he was “already used to sharing his space with his significant other and while they initially began in separate rooms, they preferred to be together”).

So, what is this all-gender housing thing?

  • Amazing.

  • Incredible.

  • An awesome way to include anyone in the decision of living on campus in the most ideal situation for all parties involved.

  • The best thing that ever happened to me in college.

My junior year, Harris was taking a semester off, but he was still around Oberlin for most of the semester. At some point, we decided that once my (not chosen, but randomly assigned and definitely not working out) roommate moved at the end of the semester and Harris moved off the Harkness waitlist into Harkness proper, we would live together. Come the end of January 2009, it was true. A dreamy dreamy dream come true.

I don’t even know how it began beyond the fact that Harris and I got along splendidly, we could talk about anything but also be comfortable in silence together, and we just got each other, better than most people I know at Oberlin. I had roommates ranging from awesome to not so much over the few semesters before early 2009, and I was looking for drama-free and (hopefully) quite delightful.

I’ve been very picky about the people I have lived with, for a very long time, and there always seemed to be some additional element of stress and uncertainty with the lady-folks I lived with. What I wanted was someone I could trust, as a human, as a roommate, and as a friend. I always treated my room as my place of work and my place of retreat, but when I lived with Harris, it was those places and more. We had office hours (BEST IDEA EVER), homework parties, and Ben Jones even visited us for teatime once.

Harris an Ma'ayan, each looking through a camera lens
It turns out Harris and I are always the people with the cameras, so we are rarely in pictures together. Have this one of the two of us taking photos of things, taken by Kate Riley ‘10!

If you recall, this experience went very well and was reduxed for the past two years in Delightful House. The moral of this story is when you find good people, you find good people. It doesn’t matter what gender they are. (To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”) It is a truly fabulous thing that Oberlin recognizes that and trusts us to make appropriate decisions regarding our living situations that makes it amenable and excellent for all.

Think it’s just me? Well, if it were just me, it wouldn’t be a thing. Here are some thoughts from other Obies who lived in a co-ed room and called it splendid as well.

“I didn’t really think about it in gender terms. She seemed like a cool person and we were both looking for roommates. Then while living together, we became great friends. Other than having fewer housing choices, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that was really influenced by having different genders…. I definitely think I benefitted from having a wider pool of friends to choose from for housing than I would have had at other schools.”

“I lived with one of my best friends my sophomore year [and it was d]efinitely one of my best roommate experiences in Oberlin. For us, it wasn’t really about trying to find a roomie of another gender, it was about living with one of our best friends.”

“It wasn’t a big political or cultural statement. The person I wanted to live with and clicked best with lifestyle-wise happened to be a man. While I did enjoy scandalizing people back home or at other schools by talking about it, I almost never thought about it as any different from any other friends rooming together. Some of my best Oberlin memories are from that time: making pancakes in the tiny dorm kitchen together, admiring our art rental pieces, having tea-and-Scrabble time. Our friends called us the grandparents and we loved it.”

“There wasn’t anything that felt super different about living with someone just because of their gender. [We] got along really well, and what we looked like naked was kind of beside the point. Neither of us ever cared about changing in front of the other or anything. I mean, even if your roommate is same-gender, it’s not like you stare at them when they’re changing. I guess the gender thing just kind of felt entirely besides the point. The real point was just that it was really nice to live with a friend that I got along with […]. I’ve definitely lived with girls who I got along with less than him and was much more uncomfortable around.”

And finally, a quote from my friend Sam, who was interviewed by USA Today after deciding to live with our friend Grey sophomore year.

“I roomed with Grey because he was a close friend who happened to be male. Rooming with him was a wonderful experience; he was always there for me if I needed to talk or just wanted to chill/hang out… Generally he is just a really respectful dude, which is why I wanted to room with him in the first place! Initially my parents were a little skeptical, but part of what eased them into the idea was that we had a divided double, and thus were more sharing a doorway than a room. Overall I loved being able to room with someone who was a great friend and really supportive.”

We can’t have an Oberlin blog post about gender-neutral housing without tackling some of the questions Harris and I received when we were living together in Harkness. I got really good at answering them, and I know they’re percolating in your mind, so I’m just going to throw them out here:

  • So you live together. Are you dating?

Nope. Harris is probably the most amazing human I’ve ever met, but no attraction there. He’ll be my kids’ godfather, though. He’s just that great, and he’s going to be a part of my life for a very long time.

  • Sooooo… do you sleep together?

Nope, not in the same bed and not in the euphemistic sense of the word. While Harris is a huggable human, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t get along as well if we shared a twin XL bed. They are just small.

  • Sooooo… what if you’re naked?

Fact of life: people are naked sometimes. We’re not in the market to make each other uncomfortable in the space we share.

  • Sooooo… what happens when you have someone over?

We would talk about it, like any roommates would. (This is applicable everywhere, in any room, not just in an all-gender room.)

  • Sooooo… isn’t living with a co-ed roommate weird?

No. Why would it? Though… I am weird and Harris is also weird. Two weird people living in the same room is bound to be weird. But not weird weird. I have now written that word so many times there is no longer meaning to it. So no, it wasn’t weird, but the word weird is now weird.

(I just asked Harris what kinds of questions he had to answer about us living together, and apparently the main one he got was “You’re living with YOUR AUNT?” My name is so complicated sometimes.)

Since this is very much a combined effort post — much like living with someone, you have to think beyond yourself — I decided to get some of Harris’s input as well. His thoughts below:

“Living with you was not about living with someone of a different gender so much as it was about living with a friend. However, I did also see it as an opportunity to educate the people around me who were skeptical, scandalized, or suspicious (friends and family back home, mostly) about issues of gender and sexuality. Despite the fact that, to me, living with you was no different than living with a friend of any gender, there’s no denying that other people reacted differently to it.

My mother told me it was weird and implied that it was volatile and dangerous. I was asked, even by people close to me, with suspicion, what my relationship with you was. And of course, you and I have both had conversations with people who seem unable to believe that sex is not part of our relationship.

That all-gender housing is still met with much resistance and suspicion indicates to me a few things:

  1. that people are still unwilling to consider that homosexuality, bisexuality, & al. exist and that therefore same-gender housing is not exempt from the issues they imagine all-gender housing is subject to,
  2. that people also do not consider that trans people exist, for whom the concept of same-gender housing is complex or infeasible,
  3. that society has not let go of the Victorian notion that a man and a woman in a room together will inevitably have sex, and
  4. that many people still do not believe that college students are adults who are capable of making independent living decisions, regardless of whether sex and romance are involved.

I am grateful to have attended a college that is letting go of these outdated attitudes and to have had the opportunity to live with you. Living in a room with you was a lovely experience. I mean, we had a full tea drawer and weekly office hours with Apples to Apples! It doesn’t get much more pleasant than that. And, of course, it led to two more great years of platonically cohabitating.”

See? That kid. I lived with that kid and let me tell you, everything he does is thoughtful and thought-provoking. I’m so lucky to have spent so much quality time with him, and now I know you’re jealous that I did, too.

College is meant to be this eye-opening learning experience, but it goes way beyond that. It’s an educational experience for yourself to know how to be a person. The real world is much bigger and more complicated than college could ever begin to touch upon, so I like to think of many of the things I did here as a teaser for what the rest of the world can be like. Living with someone is a big deal, and my cohabiting experiences with Harris are nothing short of a miraculous opportunity that I am glad I was afforded.

Responses to this Entry

Ma'ayan, this is an incredible post that sums up everything wonderful about gender neutral housing. My best living situation (to this very day) was living with Jordan. She and I got along fabulously, and I can't imagine that I would have gotten through honors without her around and sharing our apartment.

Hats off for this post, folks. It's awesome.

Posted by: Patrick on August 22, 2012 9:25 PM

I lived with two different odifferent-gender roommates this past year in Harkness (one each semester) and it was a really positive experience. My roommate my first semester is probably one of my favorite people ever. We started out barely knowing each other and just rooming together out of convenience. Becoming friends with him as we lived together was such a joy! I feel like I learned a lot from him, and I like to think he feels similarly about me. Second semester he moved into the room next door with his best friend (who had just gotten into Hark), so I lived with a different friend who is also male.

Honestly, the most awkward parts of living with both of those people were issues that could come up with any roommate: sleep/study schedules, level of neatness, the fact that I was a ridiculously busy ball of stress that year. It's only uncomfortable if you make it that way. Most Oberlin dorms already have mixed-gender halls anyway, often with shared (gender-neutral) bathrooms. It's not much of a jump from that to rooming together.

I have to say, my dad was really worried about the situation at first. He tried pretty hard to dissuade me at the beginning of the year, but by the end he realized that nothing terrible had happened and calmed down. Most non-Oberlin people were at least surprised to hear about it. As someone who is living outside Oberlin for basically the first time since starting school there, I'm tempted to chalk that up to the way that a lot of logical, awesome, Obie-tastic things are somehow strange to most people outside the Oberlin bubble.

Posted by: Ary on August 22, 2012 9:31 PM

I absolutely enjoyed reading your blog, and I am so proud of you. I miss Oberlin a lot too.

Posted by: Krishna on August 22, 2012 9:33 PM

This is so true! I roomed with a female-identified person last year and I'm male-identified. It was absolutely not "weird". I do want to mention though, that in OSCA you can be placed with a roommate of a different gender randomly (and not just because of the large trans* and genderqueer population) if you mark the box that says you're comfortable with a roommate of any gender. Last year my roommate and I were placed together randomly and I believe my official randomly selected roommate for this year is also female-identified. (This may partially be because I marked that I would prefer to be with a roommate who was comfortable with a roommate of any gender, I don't know any stats on that.) Anyway, this is an awesome post, because a lot of people, particularly outside of Oberlin, really don't seem to get that living with someone of a different gender does not mean a year of sexual tension and awkwardness about nudity.

Posted by: Kye on August 22, 2012 10:00 PM

I totally forgot about this [story to come] before reading the post (mostly because I'm one of those people who roomed with my partner...but anyways).

The other thing that I love about all-gender housing at Oberlin (and Harris touched on this I think) is that it makes things much less complicated for us trans* folks. We don't need to worry about if we'll end up on a gender segregated floor (although that has happened...) and we don't have to fight for singles just to feel comfortable in our living spaces. My first year, living in Harkness, to me was considered an all-gender living arrangement. OSCA had called me asking my roommate (gender) preferences, and my roommate turned out to be really awesome! And it worked out great! And there was nothing weird about it because hey, I'm already a weird one (and arguably my roommate was weirder). We weren't ever super close friends, and even had completely different living styles (super messy vs very tidy), but we respected each other's space and got along well with each other.

In all, all-gender rooming/housing at Oberlin is awesome, and just knock times a million everything that Ma'ayan and Harris said (I miss you guys!).

Posted by: Rusty '10 on August 22, 2012 10:01 PM

Thanks for putting this out there for the next generation of Obies, Ma'ayan. I still get remarks about living with someone of the opposite gender in college. People ask me if it was "responsible" or "awkward" to live with a man, and then they act embarrassed or even shocked when I put my two cents in on the topic. For the most part, their reactions are so visceral that it makes me sad. In our case (as you well know), we were and still are partners and living together. I am so grateful for the opportunity we had to make a serious and educated decision about our living options, one that has allowed us to grow into the people we are today.

It seems I took gender-neutral anything for granted at Oberlin. Hopefully the rest of the world will catch on soon.

You rock!

Posted by: Jamie '10 on August 22, 2012 10:42 PM

Ma'ayan, you are EVERYBODY'S aunt. ;)

Seriously, though, this is a great post. I've only had female roommates, mostly because Emma is AWESOME, but I think co-ed rooms are a good idea.

Posted by: Tess on August 23, 2012 2:20 AM

Lovely post, Ma'ayan. Well said.

I am the proud parent of a current Obie and am feeling very old (or very before my time, I guess) right now.

I attended college almost 40 years ago in liberal arts college in New England. The dorm where I was the RA was a coed dorm... not by floor but by rooms in the hallway (alternating male, female, male). What is more, I had a male roommate... he had a bedroom, I had a bedroom and together we had a common room...very similar to the arrangement and understanding that Ma'ayan describes here.

So I guess I don't get it. Co-ed living is so -not- an issue for me as I think about my son as a student here. Nor was it an issue back then for my parents either. Am I to believe that I am in the minority of the parental units on this one? Do parents freak about this today? This is what College (I thought) was about...learning about yourself and others in different settings and scenarios. Or as you said so well here "College is meant to be this eye-opening learning experience, but it goes way beyond that. It’s an educational experience for yourself to know how to be a person."


Posted by: Barbara on August 23, 2012 6:34 PM

The comment section of this post exploded with even more amazing content than this blog post. All of you are awesome. Thank you for sharing your great experiences!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on August 24, 2012 11:07 AM

I wish I'd responded to you initially when you asked if I had anything to say about living with Eliot, but really everything I could have wanted to say was already put so eloquently by others.

I do like how my dad bought me a little framed painting that said "Please don't barge in without knocking and try to see me naked." Eliot and I laughed about that, and I ended up hanging it up outside his half of the divided double (seeing as he was the one with the girlfriend going into fall semester, it was decided he would have the inside).

Posted by: Chris on August 24, 2012 11:22 AM

Wonderful post. I am trying to consciously appreciate things like this about Oberlin while I am a student, since I hear this kind of open attitude is often harder to find in the world at large. But it has to start somewhere, right? Glad to be on my way back to Oberlin this week!

Posted by: Nora on August 24, 2012 10:55 PM

savta and I are reading this together in Jerusalem. I think you enlightened yet another person from a different generation. You are so fortunate to have had a room-mate who has remained such a good friend. That's how it should be. Truly neutral.

Posted by: Aviva on August 26, 2012 4:24 PM

Leave a Comment

Similar Blog Entries