Monday, March 22, 2010

mixed-gender dorm rooms

I keep seeing this in the news as though it's some new liberal movement.

Caltech has had that forever. Anyone can be roommates with anyone, and even the bathrooms aren't gender segregated. It seemed completely normal at the time and didn't cause any problems that I'm aware of. I'm not sure why any other college would gender segregate dormitories or individual rooms. By college, people are adults and can make their own decisions about how to live, and many prefer roommates of the opposite sex for many legitimate reasons.

Caltech also has a lopsided gender ratio (about 30% girls) because it doesn't pay attention to gender or race at all in the admissions process (although there is a scholarship for minorities, and they have some recruitment activities specifically for girls and minorities).

That's the kind of gender-blindness I like. No discrimination and no preferential treatment. Frank, fact-based discussion of gender-related issues. The rest of the world should follow the example.

In particular, I don't think there's anything wrong with a lopsided gender ratio that reflects disparate interests. Science and technology just attract more men, for whatever reason. Maybe some of those reasons are good and some are bad, and the bad reasons should be changed at the source rather than the symptom. And in the meantime, it only makes sense to have the same standards for men and women who do choose to enter the field.

The explicit affirmative action at MIT that has achieved near gender parity, and the inadvertent affirmative action at my high school resulting from having equal dormitory spaces for both genders but many more male applicants, are both violations of that principle.

[For the sake of telling the whole, not-always-so-rosy story, Caltech's current liberalism is a result of a particularly sexist history... it didn't admit women until 1970, and they were a tiny minority until an admissions overhaul that emphasized grades over SAT scores, which men ceteris paribus tend to do better on. The dorms were all-male and so only had male bathrooms. Available facilities dictated coed dorms and bathrooms when women were finally admitted.]