The single-sex dorm debate

Queen’s campus is home to three all-female residences, but some are questioning their relevance

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Photo illustration by Tyler Ball

Twenty-eight years after Queen’s University was established, its doors opened to female students in 1869.

Ban Righ Hall, the first female residence on campus, was built in 1925. But as early as 1900, members of the Alumnae Association rented housing near campus and used it to house women. One house at 174 Earl St., was named the “Hencoop” in 1902. It then moved to 207 William St. in 1917 and was renamed “The Avonmore.” Since the previously all-male Morris Hall became the first co-ed in 1972, demand for all-female residences hasn’t disappeared. After Ban Righ, Adelaide Hall was built in 1952 followed by Chown Hall in 1960. Victoria Hall, which opened in 1965, was originally an all-girls residence until 1988 when it became co-ed.

Residence Life Director Elizabeth Leal Conrad said last year 117 women chose single-gender as their first choice on their residence application, with this year’s total reaching 124.

“Requests we do get are based on religious reasons.”

The lone male-only residence space is a floor in Leonard Hall with 30 spots, Leal Conrad said.

“We don’t get that level of demand from men,” she said. “If there was a demand for more male single gender rooms, we’d open up another floor.”

Leal Conrad said some women choose return to female residences as upper year students or dons. She said that’s because all-girls residences have a lot to offer them.

“The level of traffic tends to be much less,” she said, adding that female residences also tend to experience less damage.

Males and females are socialized differently, Leal Conrad said. There’s a stereotype that men need to assert their masculinity by denying that they chose to be on an all-male floor,” she said. “ For women, it’s the same.

“There can be many social expectations with living in residence,” she said. “In co-ed residences, females are expected to interact with the males on their floor. For all-girls residences, the programming offered is more specific, such as having a connection to the Ban Righ women’s centre.”

Leal Conrad said Student Life is looking into both same-gender residences and transgender spaces.

“The buildings are so traditional,” she said. “We’re trying to get a sense of what students needs are. I think it’s time to talk about things like that.”

Leal Conrad said she attended University of Guelph 20 years ago as an undergraduate student. They had female and male residences.

“There was talk of turning one of the female residences to co-ed,” she said. “But there was an outcry against it.”

Leal Conrad said don training in all-girls’ residences is no different than for their co-ed counterparts.

“We try to concentrate on skill level and knowledge,” she said. “We look at their conflict resolution skills and how they would handle a disagreement between different parties such as mixed gender, same gender, parents, faculty and other residence staff.”

Lindsay Williams, ArtSci ’08, lived in McNeill Hall, a co-ed residence, in her first year but worked as a don in Chown Hall in her third. Williams said Chown Hall was a completely different experience.

“There’s a stigma surrounding girls’ residence,” she said. “I didn’t want to be in all-girls’ because I thought that meant it would be harder for me to meet boys. I think there’s a belief that you won’t get as well-rounded a first year experience in all girls’ residence as you might in co-ed.”

Williams said she experienced more fire alarms living in co-ed residences and vandalism and intoxication were more prevalent than in Chown Hall.

The atmosphere in Chown Hall was less stressful, she said.

“I felt like there was less drama, competitiveness and cliquing in the all-girls’ residence.”

Girls-only residences are important to have on university campuses, Williams said.

“It’s an option that should always be open for girls who don’t feel comfortable sharing a floor with boys.”

Soniya Anwarali, ArtSci ’10, said she applied to be in an all-girls’ residence in first year because she thought it would make for an easier adjustment.

“It was the first time I was going away from home,” she said.

Anwarali said she wanted to experience an all-girls school atmosphere because she never attended one, but discovered some drawbacks to living with women only.

“I remember telling my friends in Toronto that I got into an all-girls’ residence and some of them just looked at me weird. They joked that we’re living in the 21st century, not the 16th century.”

Despite the stigma, Anwarali said she thinks there should be single-gendered residences for men and women.

“Being around guys is one thing but living beside them is totally different,” she said. “I guess this is another double standard, where girls can choose and be accommodated but guys are expected to go with the flow and adapt.”

Caitlin Sun, ArtSci ’13, said parents also play a role in the need for single-sex residences.

“I think it’s because parents of guys usually don’t have to worry about the same problems that the parents of girls do,” she said. “Guys can take care of themselves.”

Sun said all-girls’ residences are necessary because they curb some parents’ fears about sending their daughters away to school.

“I know some people from high school who weren’t allowed to leave Ottawa,” she said. “Not only because of the cost, but because their parents worried about them having to live on their own with males.”

A resident of Adelaide Hall, Sun said although the majority of girls on her floor placed all-girls residence as one of their five options, some girls don’t want to be there.

“I know a few girls here who absolutely hate it because they were planning on meeting guys from residence,” she said. “But in my opinion, girls’ residences are a great place for guys to get attention.” Sun said she doesn’t think there’s a big difference between single and co-gender residences.

“A res is a res, right?” she said. “Just because it’s an all-girls’ residence doesn’t mean that the girls here aren’t in relationships.” Christian Vanni, ArtSci ’10 said living on an all-male floor wasn’t much different than living in a co-ed residence.

“The atmosphere was quite fraternal and happy, if excessively loud and drunk at times,” he said.

Vanni said although his floormates got along, many of them didn’t choose to be there.

“Most people I broached the subject with implied they didn’t choose or want to live on our all guys’ floor,” he said. “I believe there was a certain social pressure insisting that one should claim such a thing. It wasn’t ‘manly’ to want to turn down the chance to live near girls.”

Vanni said an all-male floor can be a more social environment.

“I really wanted a roommate, due to my intense fear that were I to be in a single, I would take advantage of it too fully and socially exclude myself from the world,” he said. “I chose single-gender double above the mixed-gender singles. I think it was worth it, from a societal angle, as we had our door open and constant chatter keeping us both involved.”

Vanni said there’s a subtle difference in single-sex residence culture, but there will be a need for all-male residence spaces for those who wish to experience them.

“I think men need it just as much [as women],” he said. “Guys have been trained that they don’t need the fraternal bond as much, so they’ve begun to actively shun it. The University wants to give in to the social desires, feeling that co-educational residences are progressive, but it might not be best.”

—With files from Emily Davies

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