All-Night Dorm Visits at Notre Dame?

A group of students at the University of Notre Dame recently staged a sit-in to protest “parietals”: rules prohibiting students of the opposite sex from spending the night in each other’s dorm rooms. But ending one of the few remaining protections for chastity on a college campus is a terrible idea.

For years, Notre Dame students have made arguments against parietals, but this new effort is driven by students who claim that the University is too “heteronormative” and promotes “sexism and queerphobia” by limiting visitation from opposite-sex students.

Whatever the motivation, doing away with parietals would be a disaster. It would invite higher rates of sexual activity, sexual assault, contraception, STDs, pregnancy and abortion. It would invite mortal sin—a concern that many today think old-fashioned, but hopefully the priests and leaders at Notre Dame care deeply about such things.

Ironically, the protesters seem not to be targeting Notre Dame’s single-sex dorms. The university’s steadfast commitment to men’s and women’s dorms is admirable, given that most American colleges—including most Catholic ones—switched long ago to coed residences. Studies find that coed dorms have higher rates of drinking and sexual activity.

But still, loose rules allowing opposite-sex visitors to stay in bedrooms until late-night hours can quickly undermine the benefits of single-sex dorms, especially with regard to sexual activity. At Notre Dame, opposite-sex visitors can be in student bedrooms until midnight on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends. These are hours when students are more likely to be sexually active and under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The protesters are right, then, to target parietals if they want to dramatically change campus culture. Notre Dame should reject their pleas.

Even more, Notre Dame should consider further limiting nighttime visitation and insisting on open doors when someone of the opposite sex is present. Even better, the university would provide sufficient meeting spaces for students in other buildings and end opposite-sex visitation to dorm rooms altogether.

What if Notre Dame’s politically correct leaders feel compelled to appease the misguided students who find parietals to be too “heteronormative?” There’s a simple answer: end all visitation to dorm rooms, by any student who does not live in the room, throughout the day. This has the added advantage of promoting chastity among even the homosexual students at Notre Dame.

Reducing Sexual Assault

College-aged females have the highest rates of sexual assault, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and Notre Dame has its share of such crimes.

Although studies show that most sexual assaults against college students take place off campus, about a third occur within student dorms. Reducing off-campus assaults is necessary but very difficult; reducing on-campus assaults could begin with simply reforming dorm visitation policies.

Studies show that two key factors are associated with sexual assault on campus: drinking and casual sex. When looking at the sexual assaults of college-aged females, one study found that 47% of victims perceived their attacker was drinking or using drugs. Additionally, the facts show that 78% of on-campus sexual assaults took place during what started as casual sexual encounters.

Also, a third factor seems to be the time of day. A study found that 52% of forced sexual assaults and 90% of assaults on incapacitated victims took place between midnight and 6 a.m. Most of the others occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

A survey of students at Notre Dame bears similar results to the national studies. In 2018, 7% of female students said they had experienced “non-consensual sexual intercourse” while studying at Notre Dame. Of the assaults that occurred during the last year, 58% were committed within residences on Notre Dame’s campus. And in nearly two-thirds of the incidents, the victim was familiar with the attacker prior to the day of the assault.

Is any of this surprising? Put unsupervised young adults in bedrooms, behind closed doors, in the evening or late at night, when they are more likely to be impaired by alcohol or drugs, and serious problems will result.

A Catholic college should be greatly concerned about the spiritual health of its students, as well as the epidemic of STDs and high rates of abortion among college-age Americans. But even a secular college that has no problem with premarital sex and abortion should see the obvious implications for sexual assault.

Not Just Notre Dame

When The Cardinal Newman Society looked at dorm visitation policies at Catholic colleges across the country, we were shocked to find that more than a quarter of residential Catholic colleges have no restriction on all-night opposite-sex visits. Most others are like Notre Dame, with weeknight visitation until midnight or later, and weekend visitation until 2 a.m. or later. Doors may remain closed.

This indicates that Catholic college leaders across the country are turning a blind eye to what is going on in dorms late at night. This needs to change, and Notre Dame could set a powerful example if it reformed its policies appropriately.

No policy change will completely change a campus culture, but stronger visitation policies could help prevent many sexual assaults and send a clear message about the college’s expectation of chastity among its students. Catholic college leaders should do all within their power to create safe and healthy environments on campus.

This is a golden opportunity for Notre Dame to stand up for Catholic values, and implementing a few common-sense measures could go a long way to help keep students safe.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Catholic Colleges Should Lead Charge Against Sexual Assault

The news is filled these days with reports of sexual assaults against college students, even at some of the most committed and faithful Catholic colleges.

The numbers are disputed, but it’s appalling that even one parent’s daughter would suffer such a violation during what should be happy years of growth in college. The victims of these horrible crimes deserve our prayers, compassion and support as well as justice from our legal system.

Moreover, Catholic colleges should be prepared to offer Christian counseling and support for victims. Too often, colleges of all types and sizes have been found ill-equipped or unprepared to address what appears to be a growing problem.

Ultimately—and most importantly—the assaults must be stopped. Off campus, this is largely the responsibility of law enforcement, although a proper moral formation of students at Catholic colleges can help substantially. On campus, colleges bear great responsibility for preventing these crimes from occurring in the first place.

Insisting upon a culture of chastity and sobriety in campus residences helps protect students while upholding Catholic beliefs and identity.

It’s a commonsense solution.

And it is in this respect, that some of America’s most faithful Catholic colleges have important lessons to teach the rest of higher education—even most other Catholic colleges.

By preserving traditional norms for student access and behavior in campus dorms, faithful Catholic colleges effectively combat on-campus sexual assault.

Such policies come naturally for faithful Catholic institutions, because they are firmly rooted in Catholic morality and fulfill the colleges’ mission of human formation in the light of Christ.

If only the rest of the nearly 200 Catholic, residential colleges would do the same. Catholic families should demand it. It’s long past time that Catholic colleges get on board and set an example of proper campus life, rather than invite the tragic consequences of the secular campus model.

Insisting upon a culture of chastity and sobriety in campus residences helps protect students while upholding Catholic beliefs and identity. It’s a commonsense solution.

Real prevention

Focusing on prevention efforts in campus dorms is how colleges can most immediately and effectively have an impact on sexual assault.

Although most sexual assaults against college students occur off campus—where college leaders have no control over the environment or student behavior—a sizable portion, about a third, occur within student dorms. That’s where colleges bear direct responsibility for protecting their students.

According to the federally funded “Campus Sexual Assault Study” (2007), which considered offenses against female students from 2005 to 2007, 28 percent of the assaults that involved the use of physical force and 36 percent of the assaults against an incapacitated (often drunk) victim occurred in campus residences.

…28 percent of the assaults that involved the use of physical force and 36 percent of the assaults against an incapacitated (often drunk) victim occurred in campus residences.

For most colleges today, preventing sexual assault means educating students about consent to sexual activity, empowering women to avoid and resist assault, and strengthening disciplinary and reporting procedures. These are all very important strategies, and every Catholic college should embrace them.

Still, much more could be done on campus, where college leaders have the authority to regulate student behavior and the environment. Catholic colleges should be leading by example!

Drinking and the hook-up culture

A campus culture of chastity and sobriety is important to reducing sexual crimes, and Catholic colleges should have the moral courage to make it happen.

Alcohol is strongly associated with sexual assault. A report published in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” found that “frequently drinking enough to get drunk” was one of the four main factors contributing to sexual assault. And the Justice Department’s 2014 report, “Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013” (2014) found that 47 percent of victims perceived their attacker was drinking or using drugs.

These crimes are also associated with the “hook-up” culture on many campuses. One study, “Some Types of Hookups May Be Riskier Than Others for Campus Sexual Assault” (Psychological Trauma, 2016) found that 78 percent of on-campus sexual assaults took place during casual sexual encounters.

Sex and drunkenness are commonplace on the typical college campus. So, we have two risk factors for sexual assault—drinking and casual sex—occurring frequently in campus dorms.

So, we have two risk factors for sexual assault—drinking and casual sex—occurring frequently in campus dorms.

Even when alcohol is restricted on campus, students may return to their rooms intoxicated from off-campus drinking. Isn’t it common sense that colleges should strive to reduce opportunities for sexual activity in student residences, especially at the times when students are more likely to be drinking?

Sadly, few secular colleges today would attempt any restriction on sexual activity. College leaders, the media, and even many victims’ advocates deem casual sex a rite (and right) of passage for college students. They are therefore limited to prevention strategies that have minimal impact on the dorm environment.

But Catholic colleges that take their identity and mission seriously should actively and enthusiastically embrace policies that reduce sexual activity in campus residences.

Every college serious about its Catholicity should be eager to protect the bodies and souls of its students.

Creating and fostering a culture of chastity and sobriety in campus residences is a commonsense way to create a safe and moral environment. Moreover, it is elemental to a faithful Catholic education.

Catholic colleges especially need to be concerned with more than just sexual assault. Consensual sexual activity is a serious sin that has two victims of their own poor decisions. Every college serious about its Catholicity should be eager to protect the bodies and souls of its students.

Step one: single-sex residence halls

A first step toward reducing sexual assault on campus is to designate all dorms single-sex. Coed residence halls have been associated with greater alcohol abuse and sexual activity, as documented by Dr. Chris Kaczor in his 2012 report for The Cardinal Newman Society, “Strategies for Reducing Binge Drinking and a ‘Hook-Up’ Culture on Campus”.1

A 2009 study in the Journal of American College Health, “The Impact of Living in Co-ed Resident Halls on Risk-Taking Among College Students,” found that “students in co-ed housing (12.6%) were more than twice as likely as students in gender-specific housing (4.9%) to indicate that they had had 3 or more sexual partners in the last year.” The study also found a higher likelihood of binge drinking in coed dorms.

And another study, “The Impact of Current Residence and High School Drinking on Alcohol Problems Among College Students” (Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002), found that “students living in coed dormitories, when compared with students in single-gender dorms, incurred more problem consequences related to drinking.”

Notre Dame’s experience indicates that, while single-sex residence halls should be helpful in reducing sexual assault, they are only a first step to building a campus culture of sobriety and chastity.

The vast majority of Catholic colleges resemble their secular counterparts in sponsoring coed dorms—but thankfully, not all do. The Newman Society has identified more than 10 percent of America’s Catholic colleges that have bucked the trend of the past 50 years. Colleges with single-sex residence halls include some of the nation’s most faithful Catholic colleges and even a few that have waffled on their Catholic identity.

Most notable among the latter group is the University of Notre Dame. This is an instructive case, since its students report multiple sexual assaults in the University’s single-sex dorms each year. Notre Dame’s experience indicates that, while single-sex residence halls should be helpful in reducing sexual assault, they are only a first step to building a campus culture of sobriety and chastity.

Step two: stronger visitation policies

The second step—arguably more important than single-sex dorms—is for colleges to adopt and enforce policies restricting opposite-sex guests in dorm rooms.

Catholic parents understand the effects of temptation and our fallen nature. They know that there is good reason for never letting their teenager have a boyfriend or girlfriend alone in a bedroom. It’s what Catholics have long described as a “near occasion of sin.”

Why do so many Catholic colleges ignore this basic understanding? Don’t the high rates of abortions, STDs and sexual assaults among young men and women teach us something about the limits of self-control?

… 82 percent of U.S. Catholic colleges allow closed-door visitation until 2 a.m. or later on weekends….

More than a quarter of Catholic colleges have open visitation at all hours of the night!

Since most campus residences are little more than bedrooms with a chair and desk, it’s common sense that they should be off-limits entirely to opposite-sex visitors.

Instead, 82 percent of U.S. Catholic colleges allow closed-door visitation until 2 a.m. or later on weekends, and 88 percent allow it until midnight or later on weekdays, according Adam Wilson’s 2016 report on visitation policies for The Cardinal Newman Society.2

More than a quarter of Catholic colleges have open visitation at all hours of the night!

Think about that for a moment. What message does it send to students? And what care does it show for helping students remain chaste?

Loose visitation policies indicate low expectations and suggest a college’s lack of concern for natural consequences, including sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, abortion, and (have Catholics forgotten?) mortal sin.

And the consequences might also include sexual assault.

The “Campus Sexual Assault Study” found that 52 percent of forced sexual assaults and 90 percent of assaults on incapacitated victims took place between midnight and 6 a.m.—and most others between 6 p.m. and midnight. The later at night, the greater the likelihood of drinking and casual sex, and therefore the greater the danger for students.

Couldn’t Catholic colleges, then, restrict opposite-sex visiting hours to the daytime as an immediate intermediary step?

Better still, colleges should protect students by sensibly forbidding opposite-sex guests in campus bedrooms at nearly all times, like many evangelical Christian colleges and a few standout Catholic colleges. These include:

  • Christendom College (Va.)
  • John Paul the Great University (Calif.)
  • Northeast Catholic College (N.H.)
  • Thomas Aquinas College (Calif.)
  • Thomas More College (N.H.), and
  • Wyoming Catholic College. (Wyo.)

Others, like Franciscan University and Ave Maria University, have limited visiting hours and require open doors.

No more excuses

We have discussed these ideas with Catholic college leaders, and one common explanation for allowing opposite-sex visitation and coed dorms is that students need opportunities to socialize. Gathering in dorm rooms has become an accepted and even expected part of the college experience.

There are also physical plant constraints. Despite all the amenities of the typical campus, most colleges have not created adequate spaces for students to gather outside their private rooms.

Some leaders focus on the link between alcohol and sexual assault, strictly enforcing sobriety on campus while taking a softer approach on sexual activity with messaging that appeals to students’ virtue.

Drinking, however, often occurs off campus, with later consequences for on-campus behavior. And relying on students’ self-restraint amid a culture obsessed with sexuality and pornography seems quite risky and naïve.

Some college leaders worry that they’ll lose students if opposite-sex visitation isn’t allowed.

The difficulties, then, of building a campus environment that demands chastity and sobriety in campus residences are real enough. But they seem surmountable at a college committed to safety and Catholic morality.

The difficulties, then, of building a campus environment that demands chastity and sobriety in campus residences are real enough. But they seem surmountable at a college committed to safety and Catholic morality.

Especially for Catholic colleges, protecting students’ health and their immortal souls must be the higher priority.

Especially for Catholic colleges, protecting students’ health and their immortal souls must be the higher priority.

Adopting commonsense student dorm room policies won’t stop off-campus sexual assaults, and it won’t solve every problem on campus. It doesn’t mitigate the responsibility to provide adequate support for victims of assault. But it could help prevent the many assaults that do occur in dorm rooms as a predictable consequence of casual sex and drinking, while upholding the Catholic mission of the college.

It is here that college officials and those concerned with combatting sexual assaults should emulate the commonsense and faithful policies of some of the Newman Guide colleges noted above.

Ten years ago, Pope Benedict told Catholic educators3 in the U.S. that the crisis of truth is rooted in a crisis of faith.

Catholic colleges should face the ugly truth that, for many of them, their dorm policies may have the effect of undermining their important faith-filled missions. The fact that this is unintentional—and perhaps even contradicted by other efforts to teach moral behavior—does not make the problems go away.

Catholic colleges should face the ugly truth that, for many of them, their dorm policies may have the effect of undermining their important faith-filled missions.

There is nothing anyone can do to eliminate concupiscence and evil in the world. All the more reason that we believe every Catholic college should build a campus climate that celebrates chaste, Catholic living. This is what Catholic families should expect from Catholic education.

The Cardinal Newman Society’s mission is to promote and defend faithful Catholic education. We believe that families have a right to expect that a Catholic education will uphold Truth in accord with the timeless teaching and tradition of the Catholic Church, so as to prepare young people for this world and for eternity with God in heaven.



Encourage, Enact, and Enforce: A Residential Blueprint for Witnessing to the Church’s Teachings on Chastity during the College Years

Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics…

It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.  Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23).  In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society.  They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s “being for others.”

Pope Benedict XVI remarks given at Catholic University of America, April 17, 2008

The Church has always taught the beauty of human sexuality and that each person, made in the image and likeness of God, should live chastely, according to his vocation.  Although not a recent phenomenon, our society has in many ways become blind to these beautiful teachings of the Church and has espoused a radically new, secular view of the human person.  This new philosophy has affected all aspects of the moral life, not only those that involve human sexuality.

The sexual revolution, heralded as liberation in the 1960s, eventually took its toll even in our Catholic institutions of higher learning.  The Church has always taught the beauty of human sexuality and that each person, made in the image and likeness of God, should live chastely, according to his vocation.  Although not a recent phenomenon, our society has in many ways become blind to these beautiful teachings of the Church and has espoused a radically new, secular view of the human person.  This new philosophy has affected all aspects of the moral life, not only those that involve human sexuality.

Out of a desire to meet the needs of their ever-growing non-Catholic student population, and to keep up with their secular counterparts, Catholic universities began to abandon the various student life policies that reflected the teachings of the Church, particularly in the area of human sexuality.

When I was a sophomore at a large Catholic university in the early 1970s, I distinctly remember when the university administration instituted 24-hour inter-visitation in the residence halls.  Up to this point, all the living arrangements were single-sex, with visitation policies prohibiting members of the opposite sex to spend time in each other’s residence halls.  But then it all changed.  From my own, first-hand experience, I can attest that these new policies had a devastating effect on campus residential life.  I personally witnessed many friends and acquaintances who were deeply, adversely affected by what was perceived as the institution’s approval of promiscuity.  The adults/administration seemed to be saying, “You are old enough to make up your own mind about sexual morality.”Out of a desire to meet the needs of their ever-growing non-Catholic student population, and to keep up with their secular counterparts, Catholic universities began to abandon the various student life policies that reflected the teachings of the Church, particularly in the area of human sexuality.

After a number of years of inter-visitation, Catholic colleges and universities began to allow co-ed dormitories.  Not surprisingly, there are now many Catholic institutions of higher learning whose dormitories house both sexes; in some cases men and women are separated by floors, others by wings, and even others, simply by rooms.  It is not too difficult to ponder the consequences of such a policy.

One of the reasons I was attracted to come to Christendom College was the fact that, since its founding, Christendom has been faithful to the commitment to encourage and bear witness to all of the Church’s teachings, including the beautiful teaching on chastity.  Let me explain the reasoning behind this stance.

The rules and policies that a college enforces must truly reflect the institution’s beliefs—her mission and integrity.  If a college is genuinely committed to being Catholic, then every facet of the college, including the rules and regulations governing student life, must reflect Church teachings, bringing those teachings to life and incarnating them for the students.

The Catholic Church has always taught that unmarried people of the opposite sex need to exercise a prudent reserve in relationships, especially because of the goodness, indeed the holiness, of intimacy within marriage.  Anyone of maturity and good sense knows that permissive rules allowing young men and women to spend hours upon hours inside each other’s dormitory rooms not only contradict the Church’s teachings on prudence and chastity, but also seriously jeopardize the purity of these young people.  When students perceive the disconnect between exhortations by college administrators to live a virtuous life and residential policies that are not conducive to that calling, they not only lose their trust in the institution, but they also become seriously confused about what is right and what is wrong.  When this happens, the institution fails in its mission to teach the whole truth about the human person.

Some voices in both secular and Catholic academia believe, since the students are generally over the age of 18, and therefore, in the eyes of the law, adults, that there is no need to implement policies affirming and encouraging chastity.  Some insist that these young adults are mature and should not be told what to do in this regard.  Others maintain that the students need only encouragement and good example, that these will be sufficient inducements to their becoming virtuous men and women who live a chaste life.  Clearly this reasoning is deficient as evidenced by rules governing consumption of alcoholic beverages.  Rules are meant to reinforce morals and foster virtuous behavior, just as they do in the home life; they are meant to complement, not contradict each other.

Given the brutal collapse of our secular culture, we need to have the courage to embrace a “contra mundum” stance.  An authentically Catholic college, one striving to do the will of the Church, as faithful disciples, should not only adopt residential policies that separate and respect the dignity of the opposite sexes, but it should also provide many examples and events that promote and illustrate the joy of virtuous living, such as pro-chastity speakers or a course devoted to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  This two-pronged attack offers a greater chance of success in bearing witness to the power and truth of Catholic teaching.

Our Catholic institutions of higher learning need to foster virtue and be countercultural as a corrective to our nation’s secular universities, many of which are floundering and debasing human dignity in this sensitive area.  We need to bear witness to the truth and convince our beloved young people that they have a dignity and a calling far greater than that which is promoted by the secular world.

dorm room

New Dorm Visitation Study Reveals Need for Reform

In a hyper-sexual society, once-traditional morals have eroded even in our Catholic institutions—and especially on many Catholic college campuses. Research shows that the pervasive “hook up” culture on the typical American campus is found even at many Catholic colleges, a fact that will not surprise most Crisis readers.

Given the documented consequences of the Sexual Revolution, it’s long past time that Catholic colleges take the lead on campus reform, creating cultures that reinforce the expectation of chastity. Solutions are by no means simple, as the casual sex scene has become an accepted norm of college life—even seemingly acceptable to many Catholic parents who would never allow such behavior in their homes. But while there’s no quick fix, Catholic colleges can at least start to address the problem by observing the residence life policies of those few faithful Catholic institutions and their other Christian counterparts that promote a culture of chastity.

Good solutions often begin with good data, so The Cardinal Newman Society has published a review of the dorm visitation policies at 191 residential Catholic college campuses in the United States. Our report, Visitation Policies at U.S. Catholic Colleges, is a factual overview of policies that regulate student visits to those campus residences that function, at least in large part, as student bedrooms.

Continue reading at this link at Crisis Magazine

Visitation Policies at U.S. Catholic Colleges


This report presents the results from a Cardinal Newman Society study of the visitation policies in student residences at residential Catholic colleges, not including seminaries, in the United States.1  Data used in the report was collected during the summer of 2015.

The report primarily evaluates visitation hours—the times during which colleges permit students of the opposite sex to be present in student bedrooms (including single-room residences) on campus.  The report also presents information on other residence life policies that regulate the interaction between male and female students in campus residences.  The report considers the policies of Catholic institutions and then compares policies of select Catholic and other Christian colleges.

In the first part of the report, it is found that the vast majority of Catholic colleges have residence life policies that permit students of the opposite sex to visit each other in bedrooms until early morning hours, behind closed doors.  More than one quarter of the Catholic colleges permit students to stay overnight in an opposite-sex bedroom at least one night a week.  Very few Catholic colleges prohibit opposite-sex visitation entirely.  About a third of Catholic colleges have policies that explicitly forbid sexual intimacy in campus residences.  The report also explores additional policies that regulate student behavior during visitation times, including open-door rules.

In the second part of the study, a sample of Catholic and other Christian colleges was selected in order to compare visitation policies.  The selected non-Catholic Christian colleges have substantially more limited opposite-sex visitation hours than their Catholic counterparts and are stricter about prohibiting sexual intimacy in residences.  Many of the selected Catholic institutions are ambiguous in their policies regarding sexual intimacy.


For the first part of this report, the researcher attempted to review policies regarding opposite-sex visitation at all residential Catholic colleges in the United States.  Policies were identified for 191 Catholic colleges, but no policies were found for three Catholic colleges.2  Another ten Catholic colleges were nonresidential and therefore not included in the study.3  The visitation hours for all Catholic colleges are included in Appendix A at the end of this report.

For the second part of the report, the researcher compared a sample of 40 Catholic colleges affiliated with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) and 40 non-Catholic Christian colleges affiliated with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  For a rough parity between samples, they include only institutions that were rated in the U.S. News & World Report Best College Rankings and Lists in 2015.4  For both Catholic and other Christian institutions, six were selected from the U.S. News “National Universities Rankings,” six from the “National Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings,” four from each of the four “Regional Universities Rankings,” and three from each of the four “Regional Colleges Rankings.”  The highest-ranked Catholic and other Christian colleges in each category were selected; however, some were excluded and replaced by other colleges, because no visitation information could be found.  The samples do not allow for a strictly equivalent comparison, but nevertheless they are of interest because of their similarities in secular rankings and yet substantial differences with regard to visitation policies. The visitation hours for the sample of Catholic and other Christian colleges are included in Appendix B at the end of this report.

Information included in this report was collected during the summer of 2015 from various resources posted online by the colleges.  Information was also collected through direct communication with some of the colleges by email and phone when there was insufficient data online.  Online sources include, but are not limited to, student handbooks, student life or residence life handbooks, community standards pages and residence life information pages.  The most recent official college documents which could be found at the time of the study were used.

Some institutions have stricter policies for freshmen than for other students.  There is also variation in the visitation hours among different residences at some colleges.  In such instances, the most relaxed hours for undergraduate students were recorded.  Some institutions that set specific hours for visitation were reported to have open visitation due to the fact that they permit overnight opposite-sex visitation under certain circumstances.  And some institutions that prohibit overnight opposite-sex visitation do not provide any time limits to visitation.  These instances were reported as open visitation.

The report focuses on visitation hours for traditional campus residences.  Some colleges have more relaxed visitation hours for students in campus apartments, houses, and townhomes with the rationale that such living arrangements include areas for visitors that are not bedrooms.  Because the emphasis of this report is on bedroom visitation, the policies for such residences were generally not used for analysis in the first part of the report.

Similarly, some colleges that do not permit opposite-sex visitation do allow for common area visitation in residence halls.  Such common area hours were not taken into consideration in this report, which is focused on bedroom visitation.  The exception to this rule is when common area hours are set by a college, but the decision on visitation hour limits for bedrooms is left up to students.  In these cases, the report uses the common area hours to determine the latest visitation hours in the bedrooms.  These instances are not considered to have “open” visitation due to the fact that common area hours were always found to be more relaxed or equal to bedroom hours.

Institutions that rarely permit opposite-sex visitation during special open house events under close supervision are reported here as not allowing visitation.

The main categories of visitation hours utilized in this report are “Weekday Nights” (Monday through Thursday) and “Weekend Nights” (Friday and Saturday).  Some colleges have opposite-sex visitation hours on only certain days of the week, but these are recorded as a college’s weekday or weekend policy, as appropriate.  If the hours vary, the latest hour is recorded.

In the section considering policies on sexual intimacy in the first part of this report, only those policies that explicitly prohibit sexual activity were quantified.  Other policies not recorded include those prohibiting cohabitation and overnight visits of the opposite sex, but without explicitly proscribing sexual intimacy.  As the purview of this report is to gather specific visitation hours and definite rules regarding sexual intimacy, those policies not explicitly forbidding sexual intimacy were not considered in the analysis.

The charts in this report round down visitation end times to the closest hour.

The researcher took care to ensure accuracy and completeness of the information recorded but acknowledges the possibility of some mistakes or omissions given the amount of data involved in the research.  If any errors are found or reported, they will be corrected in the online version of this report.

Catholic College and University Visitation Policies


Overall, 182 (95 percent) of the 190 residential Catholic colleges studied permit opposite-sex visitation at some time during the week.  Of these, only a handful have open-door policies.  About one-third of the colleges have policies expressly prohibiting sexual intimacy in student residences.

Weekend Night Visitation

Fifty-four Catholic colleges (28 percent) have “open” hours on weekend nights (Friday and Saturday), meaning that opposite-sex students can stay in student bedrooms without time limits.  Forty-nine (26 percent) permit visitation without time limits on both weekend and weekday nights.  Some colleges (39 or 21 percent) do not set any hour limits to visitation on weekends; nine of these (5 percent) leave it up to students to determine, meaning that students are free to establish with their roommates—by means of a residence contract or other agreement—the hours during which opposite-sex guests are permitted.  And some (13 or 7 percent) have unlimited opposite-sex visitation for only some students, usually upper-classmen or seniors.  All of these instances5 are defined as “open” visitation for this report.6

There are a few examples of open visitation that should be mentioned.  Edgewood College specifies a policy that permits “Weekend Opposite Sex/Intimate Partner Visitation Hours.”  Edgewood states, “All students are eligible to have 24-hour weekend visitation of guests.  Visitation hours in which members of the opposite sex and same-sex intimate partners are permitted are: Weekend visitation hours begin 8:00 a.m. Friday and run through 11:00 p.m. Sunday.”7

A few colleges were considered to have open visitation in light of exceptions made to other standard policies. Examples include La Salle University, which sets opposite-sex visitation hours on weekends.  However, La Salle permits overnight visitation in some residence halls “in recognition of such residences’ structural designs and the possibility of legitimate needs for group study,” although it is discouraged.8 The College of New Rochelle sets opposite-sex visitation limits for all students, but says, “The only exception in Angela Hall is that seniors or those over age 23 may have overnight guests of the opposite sex.”9  Similarly, St. Mary’s College in Indiana, which is an all-female college, has visitation hour limits and permits only female overnight guests, with the exception of “Regina South Tower, where male guests may stay over night.”10  Regina South Tower is a residence hall for senior students with one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom residences.  And Seton Hall University sets hours for visitation, but also states that students “can co-host with someone of the opposite gender if you wish to host someone of the opposite gender.  Your co-host and guest must remain with you at all times.”11

Eight colleges (5 percent) do not permit any opposite-sex visitation in student residences on weekends.

Chart 1

Of the remaining colleges, the median latest visitation hour is 2:00 a.m.  Nearly half of the Catholic colleges studied (91 or 48 percent) end weekend visitation in the 2:00 a.m. hour.  A few have later hours: two (1 percent) end visitation at 4:00 a.m., while nine (5 percent) end visitation in the 3:00 a.m. hour.  Fourteen colleges (7 percent) end visitation in the 1:00 a.m. hour, 10 (5 percent) end visitation at midnight, one (.5 percent) ends visitation at 11:00 p.m., and another (.5 percent) ends visitation at 10:00 p.m.


Exhibit C – Colleges with Weekend Night Visitation Ending between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.
College Visitation Until
Alvernia University 3:00 AM
College of Saint Mary 3:00 AM
Creighton University 3:00 AM
DeSales University 3:00 AM
D’Youville College 3:00 AM
Fordham University 3:30 AM
Mount Saint Mary College 3:00 AM
St. John’s University (NY) 3:00 AM
St. Louis University 4:00 AM
University of Scranton 3:00 AM
Xavier University of Louisiana 4:00 AM

A few Catholic colleges begin weekend visitation hours in the late afternoon or evening instead of the morning as is typical, thereby reducing the total number of hours in which opposite-sex visitation is permitted.  For example, Ave Maria University12 permits visitation between 6:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. on weekend nights, and the Franciscan University of Steubenville13 permits visitation between 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. on weekend nights.  As noted below, both colleges also have “open-door” policies during visitation hours.

Weekday Night Visitation

Forty-nine Catholic colleges (26 percent) were found to have open visitation hours on weekday nights (Monday through Thursday).  Ten (5 percent) do not permit any opposite-sex visitation in student residences on weekday nights.

Chart 3

Of the remaining Catholic colleges, the median latest visitation hour is midnight.  Seventy-one of the colleges (37 percent) have visitation hours ending in the 12:00 a.m. hour, 22 (12 percent) in the 1:00 a.m. hour, 23 (12 percent) at 2:00 a.m., and two (1 percent) in the 3:00 a.m. hour.  Some colleges end visitation hours before midnight, with nine (5 percent) ending at 11:00 p.m., three (2 percent) ending at 10:00 p.m., and one (.5 percent) ending at 9:00 p.m.

Open-Door Policies

Of the 190 Catholic colleges studied for this report, five (3 percent) have some form of an open-door policy together with visitation hours.  Such policies require that doors remain fully or partly open when members of the opposite sex are present in student residences.

For example, the University of Dallas14 and St. Gregory’s University15 stipulate that the bolts on doors must remain open, thus preventing locked doors and total privacy.  Ave Maria University requires that doors be “propped open.”16  The Franciscan University of Steubenville requires residence doors to be “open.”17  And St. Martin’s University requires doors to be open only during the last few hours of visitation each night.18

Open-door policies coincide with relatively limited visitation hours at Ave Maria University, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and the University of Dallas.  The visitation hours at St. Gregory’s University and St. Martin’s University are about on par with most other Catholic colleges.

Policies on Sexual Intimacy and Other Behavior in Residences

About one third of the Catholic colleges (60 or 32 percent) were found to have some form of a policy explicitly prohibiting sexual intimacy on campus.  Some colleges (40 or 21 percent) make clear that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage.  Some (52 or 27 percent) mention Catholic teaching or Catholic identity language while prohibiting sexual intimacy.  Thirteen (7 percent) prohibit “overnight visits” or “cohabitation” for the purpose of sexual activity, but do not specify that sexual intimacy is also forbidden at other times of the day.  Eight (4 percent) prohibit sexual “overnight visits” or “cohabitation” while also mentioning Catholic teaching or Catholic identity language in support of the policy, but do not specify that sexual intimacy is also forbidden at other times of the day.

Of the eight Catholic colleges that prohibit opposite-sex visitation in residences, half of them—Aquinas College in Tennessee, Christendom College, Northeast Catholic College, and John Paul the Great Catholic University—also have policies explicitly prohibiting sexual intimacy.  For those that do not explicitly prohibit sexual intimacy, the point may be moot as opposite-sex visitation is already forbidden.

Chart 5

Visitation Policies at Catholic and Other Christian Colleges


The second part of this report is based on a comparison of the visitation policies at 40 members of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) and 40 members and affiliates of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) that are included in U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 Best College Rankings and Lists.  See the “Methodology” section on page 2 for details on how the colleges were selected.

The comparison is interesting, because although most Christian sects share similar beliefs about the immorality of sexual activity outside of marriage, the CCCU colleges studied have more limited visitation hours than the Catholic colleges.  Many of the Catholic colleges do not set limits on how late students of the opposite sex may visit student bedrooms, while none of the CCCU colleges was found to have open visiting hours.  The most common latest time that the Catholic colleges permit opposite-sex visitation is 2:00 a.m.; the most common latest time among the CCCU colleges is midnight.

Many of the CCCU colleges and one of the Catholic colleges have other policies in place related to opposite-sex visitation.  These include open-door and open-bolt policies and lights-on rules.  Whereas most colleges in both sets have at least some coed residence halls for students, more than half the Catholic colleges and just five of the CCCU colleges offer only coed halls without single-sex options.

Policies, teachings, and regulations related to sexual intimacy on campus were compared between the CCCU and Catholic colleges.  A greater number of the CCCU institutions studied have some sort of a statement that forbids premarital sexual intimacy.  Colleges of both types that prohibit sex on campus make reference to their mission and/or identity to support the policy.  Many Catholic colleges reference “cohabitation” or overnight visits in their policies regulating student behavior in the residences, but often the terms are used ambiguously and do not explicitly prohibit sexual intimacy in student residences.  Some do include Catholic teaching and prohibitions on sexual intimacy in their language.

Weekend Night Visitation

Among the 40 Catholic colleges studied, 11 (28 percent) have open visitation hours in primary campus residence halls on weekend nights (Friday and Saturday).  Two (5 percent) end their weekend visitation hours in the 3 a.m. hour, more than half (21 or 53 percent) end at 2:00 a.m., two (5 percent) end in the 1:00 a.m. hour, two (5 percent) end at midnight, and just two (5 percent) allow no opposite-sex visitation on weekend nights.

By contrast, none of the 40 CCCU colleges studied has open visitation hours on weekend nights.  Two (5 percent) end their hours at 2:00 a.m., one quarter (10 or 25 percent) end at 1:00 a.m., 14 (35 percent) end at midnight, six (15 percent) conclude in the 11:00 p.m. hour, and one (3 percent) ends visitation in the 10:00 p.m. hour.  Seven of the CCCU colleges (18 percent) allow no opposite-sex visitation on weekend nights.

Chart 6

Weekday Night Visitation

Among the Catholic colleges, 11 (28 percent) have open visitation hours on weekday nights (Monday through Thursday).  One college ends its visitation hours at 3:30 a.m. on weekday nights, four (10 percent) end at 2:00 a.m., six (15 percent) end in the 1:00 a.m. hour, 15 (38 percent) end at midnight, and one ends at 11:00 p.m.  Two (5 percent) do not allow opposite-sex visitation hours on weekday nights.

For the CCCU colleges, none of the institutions studied have open visitation hours on weekday nights.  One CCCU college (3 percent) ends weekday night visitation hours at 2:00 a.m., another (3 percent) ends at 1:00 a.m., seven (18 percent) end in the 12:00 a.m. hour, eight (20 percent) end in the 11:00 p.m. hour, and 15 (38 percent) end in the 10:00 p.m. hour.  Eight CCCU colleges (20 percent) do not allow opposite-sex visitation on weekday nights.

Chart 7

Sunday Night Visitation

Ten of the Catholic colleges (25 percent) have open visitation hours on Sunday nights.  One Catholic college (3 percent) ends visitation hours in the 3:00 a.m. hour, four (10 percent) end at 2:00 a.m., six (15 percent) end at 1:00 a.m., 15 (38 percent) end at midnight, one (3 percent) ends at 11:00 p.m., and one (3 percent) ends at 8:00 p.m.  Two of the Catholic colleges (5 percent) do not permit opposite-sex visitation on Sunday nights.

One of the CCCU colleges studied (3 percent) ends visitation hours on Sunday nights at 2:00 a.m., another (3 percent) ends at 1:00 a.m., nine (23 percent) end in the 12:00 a.m. hour, six (15 percent) end in the 11:00 p.m. hour, eight (20 percent) end in the 10:00 p.m. hour, two (5 percent) end at 9:00 p.m., two (5 percent) end at 8:00 p.m., and two (5 percent) end at 5:00 p.m.  Nine of the CCCU colleges (23 percent) do not allow opposite-sex visitation hours on Sunday nights, and none have open visitation hours.

Chart 8

Visitation More Limited for Freshmen

A few of the institutions studied were also found to have stricter visitation hour rules for first-year students, including three Catholic colleges (8 percent) and one CCCU college (3 percent).

Among the Catholic colleges, Loyola University New Orleans gives first-year students a visitation period ending at midnight seven days a week prior to completing their “Roommate Agreement” form.  Upper-class students do not have such a restriction.19

At Villanova University, first-year students are limited to midnight on weekday nights and 2:00 a.m. on weekend nights, but upperclassmen have open visitation seven days a week.20

Similarly, Wheeling Jesuit University ends first-year student visitation at midnight on weekday nights and 2:00 a.m. on weekend nights, but grants upperclassmen a 2:00 a.m. limit on weekday nights and 24-hour visitation on weekends.  Wheeling Jesuit gives several exceptions that can be made to its upperclassmen weekday visitation policy, so the University is listed as “open” in Appendix B of the report.21

Messiah College, a CCCU member, limits both first-year and upper-class students to visitation ending at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday and 1:00 a.m. on weekend nights.  Messiah grants upperclassmen an additional night of visitation on Monday until 10:00 p.m.22

Students Set Visitation Hours

Another way some (4 or 10 percent) of the Catholic colleges address opposite-sex visitation on campus is by allowing students in the same rooms, floors, or wings in residence halls to decide on their own visitation hours.  None of the CCCU colleges in the study allow this.

For the purposes of this study, colleges that allow students to set their own hours are considered to have open visitation policies when there is no limit set for them.  Where students are permitted to set their own hours within a college-established limit, the latest end hour is reported.

A residence life official at Santa Clara University told us, “Standard policy is that students and their roommate(s) set their own visiting hours in the residence halls, and the University doesn’t have gender-specific restrictions.”

Loyola University New Orleans permits upperclassmen to have open visiting hours, but it limits first-year students to visiting hours ending at midnight until they “have completed and reviewed their Roommate Agreement with a Residential Life staff member.”23

The College of St. Benedict in Collegeville, Minn., has typical visitation hours until midnight on weekday nights and until 2:00 a.m. on weekend nights.  However, it “expects” that roommates “determine what hours you wish to host” visitors of the opposite sex.24  Villanova also permits freshmen to set visiting hours by means of roommate living agreements, as long as they are within the pre-set limits imposed by the University.

Typically, colleges require students to respect the wishes of their roommates when bringing visitors into the residence.  For instance, both St. Francis College in New York and Stonehill College have open visitation.  Stonehill stipulates, “Whether during the day or overnight, guests are only permitted to be in that individual residence hall room with the consent of a resident’s roommate(s).”25  And St. Francis College says, “In consideration to the rights of roommates and other residents, there are limits to the duration and frequency of such visits. A resident may have only one overnight guest at any given time.”26

Visitation in Campus Apartments, Townhomes, and Houses

Some universities offer students alternative residence options in apartments, townhomes, and houses on campus.  These options are more prevalent at the 40 CCCU colleges than at the 40 Catholic colleges studied.  Apartments, townhomes, and houses on campus are typically reserved for upper-class students.  In general, visitation hours were found to be more relaxed in these types of living arrangements.

Only three of the Catholic colleges studied offer students on-campus living options in apartments, townhomes, and/or houses.  Two (5 percent) end opposite-sex visiting hours at 2:00 a.m., and one (3 percent) has open visiting hours.

Exhibit J – Catholic College Apartments, Townhomes and Houses Visitation Hour End Times
Catholic College Weekend Nights Weekday Nights Sunday Nights
Belmont Abbey College 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM
University of San Diego 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM
Rockhurst University open open open

At the CCCU colleges, 14 offer campus residential options in apartments, townhomes, and/or houses.  On weekend nights, one (3 percent) has completely open visitation hours, three (8 percent) end their hours at 2:00 a.m., five (13 percent) end at 1:00 a.m., two (5 percent) end at midnight, and three (8 percent) end at 11:00 p.m.  On weekday nights, one (3 percent) has open hours, two (5 percent) end at 2:00 a.m., one (3 percent) ends at 1:00 a.m., four (10 percent) end at midnight, and six (15 percent) end at 11:00 p.m.  On Sunday nights, one (3 percent) has open hours, two (5 percent) end at 2:00 a.m., one (3 percent) ends at 1:00 a.m., five (13 percent) end at midnight, and four (10 percent) end at 11:00 p.m.

Exhibit K – CCCU College Apartments, Townhomes and Houses Visitation Hour End Times
CCCU College Weekend Nights Weekday Nights Sunday Nights
Gordon College 12:00 AM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM
Trevecca Nazarene U. 12:00 AM 11:00 PM 12:00 AM
Azusa Pacific Univ. 1:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM
Biola University 1:00 AM 11:00 PM  
John Brown University 1:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM
Pepperdine University 1:00 AM 1:00 AM 1:00 AM
Spring Arbor Univ. 1:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM
Baylor University 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM
George Fox University 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM
Wheaton College 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM
Cairn University 11:00 PM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM
LeTourneau University 11:00 PM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM
Univ. of Valley Forge 11:00 PM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM
Seattle Pacific Univ. open open open

Open-Door/Open-Bolt Policies

Only one of the Catholic colleges (3 percent) was found to have an open-door or open-bolt policy for opposite-sex visitation. By contrast, more than half (21 or 53 percent) of the CCCU colleges have open-door or open-bolt policies.  Appendix C lists the colleges with this policy.

Lights-On Policy

Eleven of the CCCU colleges studied (28 percent) have lights-on policies.  Most of the institutions that implement this policy do so in addition to an open-door rule.  Typically, the lights in a student bedroom are required to be left at least partially on, so that the occupants present during opposite-sex visitation are visible from outside the room.

None of the 40 Catholic colleges studied implements this policy.

Single-Sex Residences

Eight of the Catholic colleges (20 percent) and 13 of the CCCU colleges (33 percent) studied have only single-sex residence halls on campus.  Eight Catholic colleges (20 percent) and 17 CCCU colleges (43 percent) have both single-sex and coed halls on campus.  Twenty-one Catholic colleges (53 percent) and five CCCU colleges (13 percent) have only coed residences.27

For both Catholic and CCCU colleges with only single-sex residences, it was found that they have roughly the same kind of opposite-sex visitation policies as the rest of the institutions studied.  Even when considering together institutions with only single-sex residences and those with both single-sex and coed residences, there is still no noteworthy difference in average visitation hours when compared to all institutions.

Chart 9

Policies and Regulations on Sexual Intimacy

Several of the institutions studied have varying forms of prohibitions on sexual intimacy.  Some colleges specify that they prohibit pre-marital sex, and some identify specific forms of sexual intimacy that are prohibited.  Others say instead that “cohabitation” is against college policy.  Only the colleges that specifically disallow sexual intimacy were considered by this study to have a sexual intimacy prohibition in place. Aside from assessing prohibitions on sexual intimacy, this section of the report is based on general observations and is not quantified.

Eleven of the Catholic colleges studied (28 percent) provide some sort of official statement that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage and/or is inappropriate among students.  Thirty of the CCCU colleges (75 percent) have such language in place.

Chart 10

Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of opposite-sex visitation hours, many institutions make reference to their mission or religious identity when they state policies prohibiting premarital sexual relations on campus.  The Catholic colleges that do so tend to make reference to Catholic teaching or tradition.  The CCCU colleges with such policies typically refer to “biblical” teaching or make reference to specific Scripture verses prohibiting sexual intimacy before marriage.

Catholic examples include:

  • Benedictine College states that it is “committed to the teachings and moral values of the Catholic Church, including the belief that human sexuality… is to be genitally expressed only in a monogamous heterosexual relationship of lasting fidelity in marriage.”28
  • Gregory’s University states, “Contrary to the pervasive opinion of secular culture that views casual sexual activity among unmarried persons to be the norm, St. Gregory’s University affirms the Church’s teaching that the rightful context for sexual activity lies exclusively within the union of sacramental marriage.”29
  • The University of Notre Dame says that it “embraces the Catholic Church’s teaching that a genuine and complete expression of love through sex requires a commitment to a total living and sharing together of two persons in marriage.” Notre Dame further states that students “who engage in sexual union outside of marriage may be subject to a referral to the University Conduct Process.”30
  • Villanova University cites Catholic teaching and states that “a genuine and complete expression of love through sexual union requires a commitment to living and sharing of two persons in marriage.” And Villanova says that it “reserves the right to take action under the Code of Student Conduct for students found in violation of this policy.”31
  • Xavier University in Ohio “draws to the attention of all its members the traditional and wise Catholic moral teaching that properly locates sexual activity within the relationship of a man and a woman united for life through marriage as husband and wife.” Xavier further states that its religious identity “impels us to recognize the norm of chastity for everyone, whether homosexual or heterosexual.”32

CCCU institutions that make reference to their missions or values while advancing policies regarding sexual intimacy include:

  • Baylor University’s policy states that it “will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.”33
  • George Fox University cites Scripture and states “only marriage between a man and a woman is God’s intention for the joyful fulfillment of sexual intimacy,” and “Sexual behaviors outside of this context are inconsistent with God’s teaching.”34
  • Oklahoma Wesleyan University forbids students from engaging “in any behavior that promotes, celebrates, or advertises sexual deviancy or a sexual identity outside of the scriptural expectation of sexuality.” The University affirms “the exemplar and standard of heterosexual monogamy within the context of marriage.”35
  • Wheaton College states that it upholds “a biblical sexual ethic that reserves consenting intimate sexual expression within a marriage between a man and a woman.”36

Many of the CCCU colleges studied go beyond only specifying that sexual intimacy should be reserved for marriage and also include language prohibiting other forms of sexual activity and related practices.  For example, The Master’s College cites several Scripture verses, states that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage, and includes the language, “Any form of sexual immorality such as pornography, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, is sinful and outside of God’s design for sexual intimacy (Lev 18:1-30; Romans 1:18-29).”37

Dordt College has a similar policy and says, “the college firmly holds to the biblical teaching that premarital intercourse is forbidden.  Further, behavior (e.g. nudity, lying in bed together) that encourages such intimacy will not be tolerated by the college.”38

Messiah College, under its section on Scriptural Guidelines, mentions that “we are to avoid such sinful practices as… sexual intercourse outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, and sexually exploitative or abusive behavior.”39

Some of the other CCCU colleges studied prohibit premarital sexual intimacy without mentioning their religious mission in the same context.  For instance, Biola University states, “Any behavior that is considered compromising, sexually inappropriate, or causes others in the community to be uncomfortable is prohibited.”40

Trevecca Nazarene University states that students are not allowed to engage “in acts of sexual immorality, such as premarital and extramarital relations.”41  Malone University stipulates, “Sex should be exclusively reserved for the marriage relationship, understood as a legal, lifelong commitment between a husband and wife.”42  And Pepperdine University prohibits “Sexual activity outside a marriage between husband and wife including, but not limited to, premarital, extramarital or homosexual conduct.”43

Nearly all of the colleges studied were found to have specific sections for policy regarding sexual misconduct in their student handbooks.  While none of the 40 Catholic colleges studied were found to prohibit premarital sex as a part of their sexual misconduct policies, several of the CCCU colleges studied do.  Taylor University states as part of its sexual misconduct policy, “Remaining sexually pure is God’s plan for our lives.  The following [sexual misconduct] guidelines are intended to provide direction when dealing with students who are sexually involved outside of the marriage relationship.”44  Calvin College also states under its sexual misconduct policy that “premarital intercourse is in conflict with Biblical teaching,” and those “engaging in such conduct face disciplinary action including parent/guardian notification, or suspension.”45  While not mentioning sexual misconduct per se in the same context, Wheaton College specifies, “Intimate sexual expression outside the biblical boundary of marriage may increase the risk of miscommunication about consent.”46

Many of the Catholic colleges studied prohibit “cohabitation” or overnight visits by members of the opposite sex, rather than specifically prohibiting all premarital sexual relations among students.  Overall, there is much variance among Catholic colleges in the ways they use the term cohabitation and describe overnight visitation policies.

For instance, some Catholic colleges stipulate that visitors of the opposite sex are not permitted overnight, but they do not explicitly prohibit sexual activities at other times of the day.  The College of the Holy Cross says, “Guests are not permitted to stay overnight in the same room with a member of the opposite sex.”47  Seattle University specifies, “Given the values of Seattle University, cohabitation is not permitted in University residence halls or apartments.  Only guests of the same gender as their resident hosts are permitted to stay overnight in the residence halls, provided that the guest is not in an amorous relationship with the resident host.”48  Saint John’s University in Minnesota also stipulates, “Guests of the opposite sex are not permitted to stay overnight in any student residence.”49

Some Catholic colleges, without making direct mention of sexual activities, do not define the term cohabitation, or they use it broadly to mean any visitor who is not the primary resident staying in a campus residence for an extended period of time.  For example, Stonehill College says, “reflective of Catholic values and moral teaching, Stonehill encourages relationships between young adults that foster physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and, as such, the College does not permit cohabitation.”50  Wheeling Jesuit University has a broad policy which defines cohabitation as “the consistent presence of a guest who spends a day/night or longer period of time in a student’s residence hall room.”  Wheeling Jesuit stipulates that “Visitors of the same or opposite gender found to be a consistent presence… will be considered to be engaged in cohabitation, and the host and student(s) involved will be subject to conduct review through the Office of Residence Life and Student Conduct.”51  And Bellarmine University states that “Cohabitation exists when a person who is not assigned to a particular residence hall room or apartment uses that room or apartment as if he or she were living there.”52

A couple Catholic colleges have policies that specifically prohibit overnight sexual encounters, but they do not include language prohibiting sexual relations at other times.  Georgetown University defines cohabitation as “overnight visits with a sexual partner” and says it is “incompatible both with the Catholic character of the University and with the rights of the roommates.”53  Creighton University stipulates, “Overnight visits with a sexual partner is incompatible both with the Catholic nature of the University and with the rights of the roommate and is strictly prohibited.”  It defines cohabitation as “living together outside of marriage in an intimate relationship.”54

A few of the Catholic colleges studied have very loose or practically nonexistent policies regarding sexual relations among students.  Rockhurst University, which has open visitation, stipulates that “Guests may not stay for more than two consecutive nights (48 hours) unless permission is obtained from the Resident Director.”55  A residence life administrator from St. Francis College stated, “Currently there is no policy specifically prohibiting sexual activity in the residence halls.  However, any activities taking place in a room must have the consent of all residents of the room including their roommates.”


Appendix A – Visitation Hour End Times at Catholic Colleges and Universities



Appendix B – Comparison of Visitation Hours at Sample of Catholic and CCCU Colleges

Catholic College Weekend Nights Week
Sunday Nights Single-Sex or
Coed Residences
Aquinas College none none none Single Sex
Bellarmine University 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM Both
Belmont Abbey College 12:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Single Sex
Benedictine College 1:30 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Single Sex
Boston College open open open  
Carroll College 2:00 AM 1:00 AM 1:00 AM Coed
Christian Brothers University 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Coed
Clarke University 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Both
College of St. Benedict 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Single Sex
College of the Holy Cross open open open Coed
Creighton University 3:00 AM 1:00 AM 1:00 AM Coed
Fairfield University open open open Coed
Fordham University 3:30 AM 3:30 AM 3:30 AM Coed
Georgetown University open open open Coed
Gonzaga University 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM Both
John Carroll University 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Coed
Loras College 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM Coed
Loyola Marymount University 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM Both
Loyola University Maryland 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM  
Loyola Univ. New Orleans open open open Coed
Marquette University 2:00 AM 1:00 AM 1:00 AM Both
Merrimack College 12:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM  
Providence College 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Both
Rockhurst University open open 12:00 AM Both
Santa Clara University open open open Coed
Seattle University 2:00 AM 1:00 AM 1:00 AM Coed
Seton Hill University 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Coed
Spring Hill College 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Coed
St. Francis College open open open Coed
St. Gregory’s University 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 8:00 PM Single Sex
St. John’s University (MN) 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Single Sex
St. Michael’s College 2:00 AM 1:00 AM 1:00 AM Coed
Stonehill College open open open Coed
Thomas Aquinas College none none none Single Sex
University of Great Falls 1:00 AM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM Coed
University of Notre Dame 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Single Sex
University of San Diego 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Coed
Villanova University open open open Coed
Wheeling Jesuit University open open open Both
Xavier University 2:00 AM 1:00 AM 1:00 AM Coed
CCCU College Weekend
Single-Sex or Coed Residences
Anderson University 12:00 AM 10:00 PM 9:00 PM Both
Asbury University 1:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM  
Azusa Pacific University 12:00 AM 10:00 PM 10:00 PM Both
Baylor University 2:00 AM 2:00 AM 2:00 AM  
Biola University 12:00 AM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM Both
Cairn University none none none  
Calvin College 1:00 AM 10:00 PM 10:00 PM Both
College of the Ozarks none none none Single Sex
Covenant College 11:00 PM none 5:00 PM Coed
Dordt College 12:00 AM 10:00 PM 10:00 PM Both
Eastern University 1:00 AM 10:30 PM 10:30 PM  
Geneva College 1:00 AM 12:00 AM 8:00 PM Both
George Fox University 12:00 AM 11:00 PM 12:00 AM Both
Gordon College 12:00 AM 10:00 PM 10:00 PM  
Goshen College 12:00 AM 11:00 PM 12:00 AM Coed
Houghton College 1:00 AM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM Single Sex
John Brown University 12:00 AM 10:00 PM none Both
LeTourneau University 11:00 PM 11:00 PM 9:00 PM Single Sex
Lipscomb University none none none Single Sex
Malone University 12:00 AM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM Single Sex
Messiah College 1:00 AM 10:00 PM 10:00 PM Coed
Mississippi College 12:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Single Sex
Oklahoma Baptist University 11:00 PM 10:00 PM none Both
Oklahoma Wesleyan University none 10:00 PM 8:00 PM Single Sex
Olivet Nazarene University none none none Single Sex
Pepperdine University 1:00 AM 1:00 AM 1:00 AM Both
Point Loma Nazarene University 1:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Both
Roberts Wesleyan College 1:00 AM 12:30 AM 12:30 AM Both
Samford University 12:00 AM 10:00 PM 10:00 PM Both
Seattle Pacific University 12:00 AM 11:00 PM 11:00 PM Single Sex
Spring Arbor University 11:00 PM 10:00 PM 11:00 PM Single Sex
Taylor University 12:00 AM none 5:00 PM Both
The Master’s College and Sem. none none none Both
Trevecca Nazarene University 12:00 AM 11:00 PM 12:00 AM Single Sex
Trinity International University 11:30 PM 10:30 PM 11:30 PM Both
Union University none none none Single Sex
University of Valley Forge 10:30 PM 10:30 PM none Both
Waynesburg University 2:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Single Sex
Westmont College 1:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM Coed
Wheaton College 11:00 PM 10:00 PM 10:00 PM Coed

Appendix C – Comparison of Open-Door, Open-Bolt, and Lights-On Policies at Sample of Catholic and CCCU Colleges

Catholic Colleges with Open-Door/Open-Bolt/Lights-On Policies Number of colleges from sample: 1/40
College Open-Door/Open-Bolt Lights-On
St. Gregory’s University  
CCCU Colleges with Open-Door/Open-Bolt/Lights-On Policies Number of colleges from sample: 21/40
College Open-Door/Open-Bolt Lights-On
Anderson University  
Biola University  
Cairn University  
Calvin College  
Covenant College
Dordt College
Eastern University  
George Fox University  
Gordon College
Houghton College
John Brown University  
LeTourneau University  
Malone University
Mississippi College  
Oklahoma Wesleyan University
Samford University  
Spring Arbor University
Taylor University
Trinity International University
Union University  
University of Valley Forge  
Westmont College  
Wheaton College  




Strategies for Reducing Binge Drinking and a “Hook-Up” Culture on Campus

The problems of binge drinking and the hook up culture are well-known, widespread, and detrimental to the educational mission of any university.  Moreover, these behaviors should especially concern Catholic universities, which seek to develop the whole person—socially, morally, and spiritually.

Every Catholic university, as a university, is an academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protections and advancement of human dignity.… Students are challenged…to continue the search for truth and for meaning throughout their lives, since “the human spirit must be cultivated in such a way that there results a growth in its ability to wonder, to understand, to contemplate, to make personal judgments, and to develop a religious, moral, and social sense” (c.f., Gaudium et Spes, 59).1

Beyond the classroom, Catholic universities have a pastoral concern for student development:

Pastoral ministry is that activity of the University which offers the members of the university community an opportunity to integrate religious and moral principles with their academic study and non-academic activities, thus integrating faith with life…. Pastoral ministry is an indispensable means by which Catholic students can, in fulfillment of their baptism, be prepared for active participation in the life of the Church; it can assist in developing and nurturing the value of marriage and family life, fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life, stimulating the Christian commitment of the laity and imbuing every activity with the spirit of the Gospel.2

Moral development in the Catholic intellectual tradition is linked to true human happiness.  But what is happiness, and how can we find it?  The answers to these questions provide the proper intellectual context for considering the common practices on America’s Catholic campuses.

Choosing True Happiness

Drawing on the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer identifies four levels of happiness in his book, Healing the Culture.3 Level one happiness is bodily pleasure obtained by drink, food, drugs, or sex.  Level two happiness has to do with competitive advantage in terms of money, fame, power, popularity, or other material goods.  Level three happiness involves loving and serving other people. And level four happiness is found in loving and serving God.  Although we may desire each level of happiness, not every level provides equal and lasting contentment.  The key to Spitzer’s work is the desire or need to move up the “happiness ladder,” at least to the point of moving from level two to levels three and four.

In life, we are often faced with a choice between one level of happiness or another.  For example, the Olympic athlete chooses success in athletics (level two) over pleasures of the body (level one), which might be found in abusing drugs or alcohol.

One can attain more level one happiness by sleeping late on Monday morning, but would sacrifice level two happiness by not be able to earn money at work.  On the other hand, one could gain more of a level two happiness by cheating others out of their money, but would be sacrificing a level three happiness by unfairly using them rather than helping them.  Since daily living often requires a choice of one activity over another, practical wisdom is the virtue that enables one to make decisions which will lead to true happiness.

The first and lowest level of happiness — pleasures of the senses — has several advantages. It is based on our animal instincts.  It arrives quickly, can be intense, and can leave almost as fast as it arrives.  Additionally, we build a tolerance to activities that bring us this level of happiness requiring more to achieve the same degree of pleasure.  Such pleasures can lead to addictions; and to the addict, enslavement in the pleasure is opposed to true level one happiness.  This superficial happiness is easy to attain, but our own human instinct provides us with a desire for something more meaningful and important in life.

The next level of happiness provides greater meaning and significance than the first.  It involves a desire for success—not just keeping up with the Joneses, but surpassing them in money, fame, popularity or status.  We celebrate such achievements as a culture: the valedictorian, the star athlete, the millionaire.  But such success can lead to a superficial happiness related to the degree of success.  Personal success can quickly lead to a satisfaction at this level with no desire to move past the ego.

There is nothing inherently wrong with worldly success (level two) or with bodily pleasures (level one).  Rather, when these become the ultimate goals of life, they trump the higher levels.  Happiness, Aristotle taught, is activity in accordance with virtue.  In order for us to be objectively happy, we need to engage in activities that accord with virtue, especially the virtue of love.  As C. S. Lewis said, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”4 Without seeking higher levels of happiness, even if we subjectively feel good (for a while), we are missing out on objectively being happy.

The two great commandments given by Jesus: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37,39), point to the two higher levels of happiness.  If we truly love God, we will also love people, for they are made in His image and likeness.  We cannot truly love God without also loving our neighbor.  Indeed, the teachings of Jesus point us toward higher levels of happiness by guiding us toward this love: “A new commandment I give to you, love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).  Levels three and four happiness seek what is truly good, true human flourishing and happiness.

Commenting on Aristotle, who argued that human happiness necessarily involves friendship, St. Thomas Aquinas added that we can be friends not only with other human beings, but also with God.5 Psychological research confirms this ancient wisdom.  The happiest people have meaningful work that serves others acting in accordance with virtue; and have strong, loving relationships with their family, friends, and God.6 On average, people who practice their faith report greater happiness than those who do not.  Practice of common religious teachings, such as practicing thanksgiving and forgiving those who trespass against us, bolster well-being and strengthen relationships — leading to greater happiness.7

It is in this context that we can better understand the ethical problem of binge drinking and the hook up culture.  Both seek satisfaction at level one or two happiness in such a way as to undermine level three and level four happiness.  Students can foster level three and four happiness not simply in volunteer projects but also in the classroom; but by developing their minds, students become better prepared to make a positive contribution to the well-being of others and to society.  On the other hand, excessive use of alcohol hampers intellectual excellence, because students who binge drink are more likely to miss class, fall behind in schoolwork, and have health problems that interfere with academics.8 Binge drinking is the leading cause of death in young adults and leads to hundreds of fatal injuries each year and more than 1,399 unintentional, alcohol-related fatal injuries among college students in 1998 alone.9  Alcohol abuse leads to student health problems,10 including suicide.11

Although there is widespread acknowledgement that binge drinking undermines the academic and ethical mission of universities, it is less recognized that the hook up culture also hinders achieving that mission.  The hook up culture hampers intellectual excellence in numerous ways.  Sexual promiscuity is related to depression and lack of focus on academics as well as the distractions of pregnancy and pregnancy scares.  Sexual promiscuity increases the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted infections, endangers health, and distracts from an academic focus.  Anne Hendershott notes that women are particularly at risk:

Nearly all of these studies suggest that women are at substantially more risk than men for feeling upset about the experience of engaging in casual sex.  Glenn and Marquardt (2001) found that many women felt hurt after hooking up and confused about their future relations with the men with whom they hooked up with.  Bisson and Levine found that it may be the combination of mismatched expectations and the lack of communication about the meaning of the encounter that leads to negative outcomes for some students.  Research by Paul and Hayes (2002) found that for some of these relationships, it could be that the situations were unwanted or forced.  When women feel pressured to engage in a casual sexual relationship, or if there is alcohol involved, there are more likely to be negative outcomes.  One research team (Grello, 2006) found that students’ feelings of regret after hooking up were related to more depressive symptoms.12

In addition to academic growth, most Catholic universities also aim to foster the ethical development of students so that they are men and women for others with a sense of human solidarity.  Binge drinking inhibits this development with an egocentric focus toward self, not exocentric toward service for others.  In the Catholic intellectual tradition, both hooking up and binge drinking are serious sins, undermining love for God and neighbor.  In their article, “College Students and Problematic Drinking: A Review of the Literature,” Lindsay S. Ham and Debra A. Hope highlight numerous findings that point to the negative effects of excessive drinking.13

  1. Binge drinkers are more likely to commit crimes related to sexual assault and vandalism.
  2. Binge drinkers are 25 times more likely to commit acts that they later regret, e.g., engage in sexual activity that is unplanned and/or unprotected; and get in trouble with law enforcement (Wechsler et al, 2002).
  3. Binge drinkers negatively affect many other students who are subject to interrupted sleep, “baby-sitting” drunken students, insults, humiliation, unwanted sexual advances, assault, and rape (Hingson et al, 2002).

The hook up culture inhibits ethical development through a focus on private indulgence of using other people for pleasure, rather than on loving, committed relationships.  Using other people for sexual pleasure, and then discarding them, is seriously damaging to level three and level four happiness.  The hook up culture even impinges upon other students who choose not to hook up, especially roommates who get “sexiled” from their own dorm room to facilitate such activities.

The ramifications of unhealthy behaviors in both drinking and sex go beyond the physical, psychological, and social damage to the individuals partaking in the activities.  They affect the entire campus community by undermining the reputation of the institution, damaging the relationship to the local community, increasing the operating costs of the institution, lowering the academic quality of the university, and diminishing the institution’s ability to attract and retain excellent students and faculty.14

While there is no perfect solution to these problems, meaningful and significant reductions of the extent of both are possible.  Let us examine first educational strategies and then institutional strategies for dealing with both problems.

Educational Strategies

The first six weeks of the college experience are extremely important in establishing a student’s habits and identity.  “The first six weeks of enrollment are critical to first-year student success. Because many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life.”15  Habits take root and patterns of behavior become established during this crucial period.  Prior to arriving at college, high school students become socialized about what to expect through movies that depict university life as primarily revolving around wild parties and only marginally about academic or social development.  These media depictions feed into what social psychologists call “pluralistic ignorance,” in which a majority falsely assumes that everyone else accepts a particular social norm.  Students, especially first-year students, believe that college students binge drink and hook up much more than they actually do.16

Since students, especially first-year students, deeply desire to fit in socially, they look to social norms to define acceptable behavior.  Studies have shown that the drive to “fit in” can motivate even more powerfully than the fear of potential risks and dangers.17  “We may be willing to give up our vices and cultivate new virtues if we believe that it will more firmly secure us a spot in our most cherished tribe.”18 These students, looking to fit in, drink and hook up to satisfy this misperceived social expectation about what is normal, acceptable, and typical.  Often, students behave in ways that are contrary to what they actually want because of these (often inaccurate) social expectations.19  In the words of one study,

Male and female residents overestimated the alcohol use behavior and related attitudes among their floor mates.  Results also showed that perceived norms were strongly related to individual drinking behaviors and permissive attitudes toward drinking.  Moreover, feelings of connectedness to one’s residence hall were found to moderate this relationship.  These findings identify a salient reference group to target in initiatives aimed at utilizing normative feedback to reduce alcohol-related risk in the first year of college.20

Among other causes, pluralistic ignorance drives excessive drinking and hook up culture.

Pre-arrival education

In order to combat pluralistic ignorance as well as inform students of the dangers of binge drinking, educational efforts could be made before the students arrive on campus.  In tours of campus, student campus guides should be clear and consistent about university policy so that prospective students are made aware that this college is not a “party school.”  This initial clarity may deter at least some students who are seeking an “animal house” experience rather than an academic experience from enrolling.  The fewer such students who enroll, the better for the campus climate.

All incoming students might be required to take an online course that educates them about the dangerous effects of alcohol and drug abuse and combats widespread misperceptions about alcohol abuse on campus.  One such course, “AlcoholEdu” is a web-based 2-3 hour alcohol abuse prevention program used at more than 500 universities nationwide.21  Independent research indicates that the program is successful in reducing:

alcohol problems in general and problems in the physiological, social, and victimization domains during the fall semester immediately after completion of the course. …  AlcoholEdu for College appears to have beneficial short-term effects on victimization and the most common types of alcohol-related problems among freshmen.  Universities may benefit the most by mandating AlcoholEdu for College for all incoming freshmen and by implementing this online course along with environmental prevention strategies.22

Similar online programs can be instituted to educate students about the dangers of sexual promiscuity as well as to dispel the myth that “everyone is hooking up.”

Once students arrive on campus, the educational efforts could be reinforced, especially for those most at risk: freshmen, athletes, and Greek system members.  Posters can be put up in every dorm which advertise important facts about drinking in order to combat pluralistic ignorance.  Pre-arrival surveys can be conducted on students.  Once data has been collected and tabulated, internal marketing activity can stress for example, “89% of students at [your school] drink less than 3 times a week.”  Ideally, the information should be quite specific, even broken down by dorms: “92% of women in [specific dorm name here] drink twice a week or less.”  “77% of [specific dorm] men drink 6 or fewer drinks a week.”  “81% of [specific dorm] women drink 4 or less drinks when they drink.”  For further examples of such posters, see the link below.23

Education in chastity

In order to educate students about the dangers of the hook up culture, the Love and Fidelity Network developed poster campaigns to educate in chastity.24

The approach of the Love and Fidelity Network, which richly emphasizes the dangers of the hook up culture, can be supplemented with efforts to combat pluralistic ignorance.  Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker’s book Premarital Sex in America:  How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011) dispels numerous myths, that when believed, can prompt students into actions they would be less inclined to do.  Rather than making informed decisions, students often act out of ignorance and mythical beliefs.

Many students believe the myth that everyone else in college is having sex and hooking up on a regular basis.  In fact, one quarter of college students are virgins.  Indeed, most college students are not in a sexual relationship, nor are they hooking up regularly.  In fact, only one hookup per year is average for college students.  Many students believe, “Only losers don’t have premarital sex.”  In fact, those in college are more likely to abstain than those not in college.  College virgins “tend to be a self-confident and accomplished lot.”25

It is also a myth that students who choose to abstain lack sexual desire or are less physically attractive than other students.  Indeed, in comparison with those who never attended college, college students and college graduates have fewer sexual partners.  Many students believe is that sex is needed in order to start a long-term relationship.  In fact, Regnerus and Uecker point out, “[Just] 8 percent of both men and women reported having had sex first—before sensing romance—in at least one of their two most important relationships so far.  [So] 92 percent of young adults said that nurturing romance and love…before sex.  It is difficult to make it work the other way around.”26 Properly informed students are better able to make choices condusive to their health and happiness if they have such information.

During freshman orientation, persuasive speakers (ideally other students or recent graduates) can explicitly address binge drinking and the hook up culture.  These speakers could address the issue making use of contemporary research about the possible negative consequences of unhealthy choices as well as addressing the pluralistic ignorance that abounds on both issues.  They should also discuss the university’s policy for reducing such behavior and correcting student misbehavior.  During the course of the year, these themes could be emphasized by other invited speakers sponsored by student life, campus ministry.  Ideally,  student groups like FOCUS or the Love and Fidelity Network can sponsor events and speakers.27

When suitable, faculty in appropriate classes can be encouraged to present information on the detrimental nature of binge drinking and casual sexual encounters.  Such topics can be addressed in an academic way particularly in classes on moral philosophy, moral theology, sociology, psychology, and health.  In a less formal setting, “Theology on Tap” may further contribute to informing students.

There may also be utility in distributing having booklets, pamphlets, brochures, and on-line media available for students treating these issues.  Jason Evert’s booklet Pure Love (available in both secular and Catholic versions) makes a case for chastity.  The U.S. Department of Health issued a brochure Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol’s Impact on Your Health.  Seeking to accentuate the positive, I authored a booklet, How to Stay Catholic in College.  If made widely available in the student residences, this reading material may help students make better decisions.

Around Valentine’s Day, a theme week could be organized to foster discussion on love, dating, and authentic understandings of femininity and masculinity.  Similarly, colleges can recognize and foster National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week with education, sober events.

Institutional Strategies

Institutional changes can occur within the university to foster an environment which positively reinforces a campus culture conducive to academic excellence and ethical development.  Three institutional strategies may help.  First, in order to make a significant difference, a many different groups—both on campus and off campus—should cooperate to enhance the campus culture including campus ministry, resident life directors, and local law enforcement.  “[T]he use of comprehensive, integrated programs with multiple complementary components that target: (1) individuals, including at-risk or alcohol-dependent drinkers, (2) the student population as a whole, and (3) the college and the surrounding community.”28 Finally, an institution of higher education can reduce rates of binge drinking and hook up culture through instituting single-sex housing.

Multi-pronged approach

It is best to begin with clear expectations of student behavior.  The Code of Student Conduct should establish public regulations governing student consumption of alcohol as well as sexual behavior.  Depending on the school, it may be suitable to have a dry campus, but if not, the expectation of responsible drinking should be made clear to the students.  In terms of sexual behavior, these codes should indicates that marriage between one man and one woman is the only suitable context for a sexual relationships.  Sexual activity of any kind outside of marriage are inconsistent with the teachings and moral values of the Catholic Church and are prohibited.

Studies indicate that active participation in religious services is linked to decreased rates of both binge drinking and hook up culture.29 Campus ministry, priests, religious, and other active Catholics on campus can invite and encourage student participation in religious services.  As new students arrive on campus, such key leaders could be present in the dorms, greeting parents and students, making themselves as helpful as they can.  Friendly invitations, wallet-size schedules of Masses and liturgies can be extended to Catholic students.  Ideally, priests, religious sisters, or other committed Catholics would be present in the student residences.  For non-Catholics, information can be shared about nearby religious services.  In each student residence, campus ministers can make sure that Mass times are posted and advertisements (particularly early in the year) widely distributed to make students aware of liturgical opportunities.  Competing events should not be scheduled during important university-wide events, like the Mass of the Holy Spirit.  Resident assistants should set an example with regard to attendance at these liturgical celebrations.30 Campus ministry, priests, and religious on campus can also address issues of substance abuse and hook up culture both in the pulpit and in pastoral settings, and help fortify students to reduce unhealthy and ethically problematic behaviors.  Greater religious involvement is linked to lesser levels of binge drinking and hook up culture.

Staff from student life should be careful, especially in the first six weeks for freshman, to have healthy programming available.  Students should get into the habit early in their college careers of thinking of Friday night as bowling night, pool night, intramural night, anything other than party night.

It is essential that there is strong enforcement by resident assistants, campus security and police (especially during the first six weeks) of legal drinking limits.  Many authority figures on campus “turn a blind eye” and ignore underage drinking.  After every weekend, piles of empty beer cans are in the garbage outside freshmen dorms implies a tacit consent and cooperation with immoral and (for students under 21) illegal activity.  Strict, swift, and consistent enforcement of legal drinking limits (including minor intoxication and minor in possession) during the first six weeks of the semester can have lasting beneficial effects.  Police should check for drivers under the influence leaving and arriving on campus as well as minor intoxication, minor in possession, and public drunkenness.  Resident directors and student life officials need to strictly enforce policies against underage drinking and overnight visitations.  Student offenders might receive extra formation in drinking responsibly and, if needed, professional help in dealing with alcohol abuse and/or drug abuse.  Resident assistants, often students themselves, often do not enforce rules “on the books” about underage drinking, excessive drinking, and having overnight opposite sex visitors.  A common practice amounts to “don’t check, don’t report,” where only the most obvious and egregious violations are reported.  This is passive cooperation that undermines the university’s academic and moral mission.  The tacit approval given by student resident officials is quickly recognized by students, often to their own detriment.

An important element of combating underage drinking is partnering with the local community.  The local community often suffers the effects of excessive college drinking by students and may be motivated to help reduce the problem.  Campus-community partnerships have helped reduce alcohol abuse among students.

[One] intervention included a social marketing campaign, with prevention advertisements in the school newspaper, ads posted in public areas on campus, and ads distributed as postcards. The message in the ads warned students that “Drinking Driving Laws Are Strictly Enforced in the College Area.” These advertisements were backed up by strong media coverage on the local community stations and in the college paper. DUI checkpoints were operated by the campus police, with assistance from local city police and the highway patrol. The results were promising. One of the universities showed a “considerable drop” in the students’ reports of driving after drinking.31

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that a multi-pronged approach is mostly likely to be successful.

Finally, universities must not be afraid of expelling or suspending serious offenders.  Such strict action can be a deterrent to other students who quickly learn what behavior is and is not acceptable on campus.

Single-sex dorms

A vital institutional strategy for reducing binge drinking and hook up culture is the institution of single-sex dorms.  Research indicates that students in single-sex residences are significantly less likely to engage in binge drinking and the hook up culture than students living in co-ed student residences.

Let’s look at the connection between binge drinking and co-ed dorms first.  Writing in the May 2002 edition of the Journal of Alcohol Studies, Thomas C. Harford and colleagues reported,

Another finding in the present study indicated that students living in coed dormitories, when compared with students in single-gender dorms, incurred more problem consequences related to drinking….  The reported differences in problem consequences extend previous studies of underage alcohol use in the CAS (Wechsler et al., 2000), which found that college students residing in coed dormitories and fraternity/sorority house, when compared with students residing in single-gender dormitories, were more likely to report heavy episodic drinking.

The American Journal of Preventative Medicine (2000) and Journal of American College Health (2009) have reported similar findings.32

If students who enjoy risky behavior choose co-ed residences because they seek a more permissive atmosphere, then the differences between co-ed and single-sex residences reflect the kinds of people who choose them, rather than being caused by some difference between single-sex and co-ed residences.  This explanation fails because in almost all cases, students did not select single-sex dormitories, but were placed in them by university officials. Since there was no selection, there can be no selection effect.  Researchers found no differences in depression, impulsivity, extroversion, body image, or pro-social behavior tendencies between the two groups—all differences relevant to students’ likelihood to take risks.33

Why do co-ed residences have more binge drinking?  A plausible explanation is that co-ed living creates a “party” expectation that students fulfill.  College males want to get females to drink more, facilitating hookups.  College men themselves drink more as “liquid courage” to approach women and as part of the process of encouraging female drinking (for instance, with drinking games).  In order to demonstrate “equality” with male students and so as not to seem prudish, college females drink more than they otherwise would.  Single-sex residences reduce this binge drinking dynamic.

Not surprisingly, single-sex residences also reduce the hook up culture.  In a 2009 study in Journal of American College Health, B.J. Willoughby and J.S. Carroll found that “students living in co-ed housing were also more likely [than those in single-sex residences] to have more sexual partners in the last 12 months.”  Further, those students were “more than twice as likely as students in gender-specific housing to indicate that they had had 3 or more sexual partners in the last year.”

After controlling for age, gender, race, education, family background, and religiosity, living in a co-ed dorm was associated with more sexual partners.  Indeed, two thirds (63.2%) of students in gender-specific housing indicated that they had no sexual partners in the last year, whereas less than half of (44.3%) of students in co-ed housing indicated zero sexual partners in the last year.

Naturally, some objections may be raised to establishing single-sex residences, especially concerns about enrollment.  Students may not prefer single-sex residences, so if a university institutes them, enrollment could plummet.  However, many universities already have a few single-sex residences, and there is no evidence these residences lower enrolment even in part.  Other colleges, such as the University of Notre Dame, have only single-sex residences yet have no problems with enrollment at all.  If a student wants a “party school,” it may be better for the university environment if that student is deterred from enrolling because of single-sex residences.

Indeed, single-sex residences may benefit enrollment.  Many parents would prefer to have single-sex residences for their children.  Single-sex residences lead to the perception and the reality of a safer campus, especially for female students.  Lower levels of binge drinking and participation in the hookup culture may also lead to higher graduation rates and a more academic atmosphere on campus, increasing prestige, which boosts enrollment.

Another objection is that a university is not a seminary.  Division of males and females may be appropriate at a monastery, but not in a residence for college students.  Students seek to attend a Catholic university, not a Catholic convent or rectory.  This objection is widely exaggerating the proposal to have single-sex housing.  No one is proposing that student residences have compulsory times of prayer like a convent.  No one is proposing that student residences have mandatory “spiritual direction” like a monastery.  Student residences at universities are not seminaries, but neither should they be visions of Animal House.  An Animal House environment is not conducive to intellectual or moral development.  As students at the University of Notre Dame can attest, there is much fun to be had and no monastic atmosphere in single-sex residences.

By reducing levels of binge drinking and participation in the hookup culture, universities committed to the academic and ethical growth of students can better fulfill their mission.  The time has come to stop bemoaning campus culture and to take concrete steps to improve the situation.  A move in the right direction was undertaken recently by President John Garvey of The Catholic University of America.  In his Wall Street Journal op-ed,34 President Garvey explained why the school is reinstituting single-sex dorms.  Someone might respond by saying: “Single-sex dorms won’t stop drinking or ‘hooking up’.”35 Of course, no one claimed that single sex dorms eliminate or stop all drinking or casual sex, so this is an example of the straw-man fallacy.

Not everyone agreed with President Garvey’s decision.  One critic objected to the change noting, “His [President Garvey’s] explanation for the change has a let’s-protect-the-women ring to it that is decidedly out of step with the gender roles and expectations of today’s young women and young men.36 Yet, Garvey said nothing in the essay about women being at greater risk than men in terms of binge drinking and hook-up culture.  However, if he had, he would have been correct.  Campus culture puts young women at greater risk than young men.  An equal amount of alcohol affects females more than males, and sexual promiscuity produces asymmetrical gender effects in terms of sexually transmitted infections, such as HPV and pelvic inflammatory disease. And then there is the risk of pregnancy.

Some people are skeptical that separating the residences of men and women will make any difference.  For example, a critic of single-sex dorms has written:

Nothing in my 20 years of experience writing about young people suggests that reverting to the old days of male and female dorms will substantially reduce the frequency of drinking or casual sex. … He cites unnamed studies showing that students in co-ed dorms report having more sexual partners and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol more often.37

But studies do indeed justify Garvey’s view. Let me name a few:

  • In the journal Environment and Behavior, Jennifer E. Cross and co-authors write,

Women living on single-sex floors are about half as likely to consume as much [alcohol] as their peers living on coed floors. … Women living on a single-sex floor are significantly less likely to consume as frequently as their peers on coed floors.38

  • In the Journal of Alcohol Studies, Thomas C. Harford and colleagues found:

Students living in coed dormitories, when compared with students in single-gender dorms, incurred more problem consequences related to drinking … The reported differences in problem consequences extend previous studies of underage alcohol use in the CAS (Wechsler et al., 2000a), which found that college students residing in coed dormitories and fraternity/sorority house, when compared with students residing in single-gender dormitories, were more likely to report heavy episodic drinking.39

  • In the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Wechsler and coauthors indicate:

Underage students who live in coed dormitories and fraternity or sorority houses are more likely to binge drink (OR51.7 and 6.2, respectively) than are students who live in single-sex dormitories.40

  • Finally, a 2009 study on binge drinking and hook-up culture in the Journal of American College Health by B.J. Willoughby and J.S. Carroll found that:

Students in co-ed halls were more than twice as likely as students living in gender-specific halls (56.4 percent versus 26.5 percent) to indicate that they consume alcohol at least weekly. … Students in co-ed halls (41.5 percent) were nearly two and a half times more likely than students in gender-specific housing (17.6 percent) to report binge drinking on a weekly basis.41

Against this evidence, a critic of single-sex dorms cites a single anecdotal example: When women drink a lot, they do so with a group of women, at least as frequently, or more frequently, than with men.  Author Liz Funk, a New York resident in her 20s who was raised as a Roman Catholic, attended a co-ed college with co-ed dorms.  She remembers,

“Without the presence of guys, my friends and I had no problem throwing back three to eight drinks in a sitting.  And on the occasions where accidents happened … it was always in an all-female context.”42

This anecdotal evidence does little to cast doubt on the academic research pointing to less binge drinking and fewer casual sexual encounters in single-sex dorms in comparison to co-ed dorms. It is true that other factors are relevant in terms of college drinking:

Where college students live — or with whom — has less to do with how much they drink than with other factors, including the level of alcohol they saw consumed at home; the cultural assumption, endorsed by older adults, that drinking is a rite of passage; the lack of instruction in how to drink responsibly; the drink promotions offered at clubs and bars near campus; and little or no enforcement, by local or campus authorities, of the legal drinking age.43

Of course, Garvey never said that the only factor involved in binge drinking is living environment.  As a university president, many of these factors are beyond his control to change.  But even if these other conditions are of greater importance, which may be right, it hardly follows that efforts should not be made to control the factors which can be controlled at the college level.

The critique continues: “Garvey believes that if women and men once again lived in segregated housing, they wouldn’t hook up as much.”  But this is not a matter merely of belief, but of evidence.  Willoughby and Carroll found that

students living in co-ed housing were also more likely than those in single sex residences: to have more sexual partners in the last 12 months, to have more recent sexual partners, were more than twice as likely as students in gender-specific housing to indicate that they had had 3 or more sexual partners in the last year.  After controlling for age, gender, race, education, family background, and religiosity, living in a co-ed dorm was associated with more sexual partners two thirds (63.2 percent) of students in gender-specific housing indicated that they had no sexual partners in the last year, whereas less than half of (44.3 percent) of students in co-ed housing indicated zero sexual partners in the last year.44

Does self-selection explain away these differences?  In fact, self-selection cannot explain the differences in drinking and hooking up because, in almost all cases as noted earlier, students did not select to live in single-sex dorms but were put into these dorms by university officials.  With no selection, there can be no selection effect.

The selection effect may begin to play a role now at CUA and other schools with single-sex dorms, insofar as some students who want to party hard in college may choose not to go to those schools.  I certainly hope that this is the case — then these universities will have fewer students who contribute to an Animal House atmosphere.  The fewer Animal House students who enroll at a particular college, the better for that college.

One of the few reasons given in favor of co-ed dorms is that they facilitate friendships with the opposite sex.  As one critic wrote, “one contribution of co-ed dorms: the ease with which members of this generation relate to each other as friends, and the depth of their understanding of the opposite sex.  I can’t help but believe those qualities will help sustain their intimate partnerships in the future.”45

Single-sex dormitories hardly prohibit or deter young men and women from relating to each other as friends or from understanding the opposite sex.  Single-sex dorms may even help.  As President Garvey points out,

Shared living space might mean spending more hours with the opposite sex.  But it often doesn’t foster the mutual respect necessary for real friendship.   The prevalence of “hooking up” on college campuses is both a cause and a sign of this decline in solid friendships between men and women.  When students “hook up,” they put sex before love.  Our goal is not to make students think sex is bad.  It’s not.  But as those of us with a few more years of life know, when sex comes first, it’s often mistaken for love.  Worse still, it can become a kind of recreational pleasure that lets people think they can live without love.  Friendship between men and women – the kind that leads to healthy relationships and lasting marriages – requires that love come first.46

Indeed, Garvey’s perspective found confirmation in the experiences of students who reported that co-ed dormitories actually undermine rather than facilitate co-ed friendships.  In their article, “Hooking Up and Opting Out,” Lisa Wade and Caroline Heldman point out, “Students found that friendships were difficult to establish and maintain because many cross-sex friends were also past or potential sexual partners.”47  Co-ed dorm life made non-sexual relationships more difficult.  They continue:  “Because hookup culture positioned everyone as a potential sexual partner, friendships were sexualized.  Female students reported that it was nearly impossible to have male friends.”48 To paraphrase one student, you can label it, “friends with benefits, minus the friend part.”49

Single-sex dorms do not destroy the opportunities for opposite-sex friendships, but they do put an obstacle in the way of taking someone back to the dorm room for hooking up. This impediment may actually aid, rather than undermine, the fostering of meaningful intimate relationships both now and in the future.  Indeed, as Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker suggest in Premarital Sex in America How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying  (Oxford University Press, 2011), a man and woman who delay their sexual relationship are likely contribute to making their relationships last longer.  They also note that young people who are veterans of many sexual relationships have a higher rate of divorce.  Of course, students can learn from bad decisions, but the university should not make it easier to make bad decisions, especially bad decisions that can undermine the likelihood of satisfying marriages in the future.  The desirability of sustaining intimate partnerships in the future (let’s call them “marriages”) — suggests that President Garvey made the right decision.


Ideally these single-sex residences should be places that foster communal academic and ethical development.  One way of fostering this type of community is the “household” residential choice found at Franciscan University Steubenville and other Catholic universities.  In these households, which students report have a family feeling, there is a shared spiritual, academic, moral, and social atmosphere which begins with the student life staff providing an “institutional culture of chastity” throughout the university.50  The institutional culture emphasizes the positive rewards of living well rather than simply the negative aspects of binge drinking and the hook-up culture.  Small faith communities can help students to find shared values and support.  It may also be suitable, on certain campuses, to establish “substance-free” residence options to ratify student commitment to substance-free living.

Significant reduction in both binge drinking and hook up culture is a worthwhile goal and an achievable goal.  Such a reduction would increase campus safety (especially for women), foster a more academic environment, and support the spiritual and moral developments of students.  Of course, perfect behavior and an absolute elimination of unhealthy activities is impossible, but we should not let the impossibility of the perfection deter us from pursuing a better course.

Appendix: Examples from Newman Guide Colleges

There are many ways to implement the strategies recommended in this paper, and many other strategies that might be considered.  What follows is a selection of programs and policies identified during research for The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, which recommends 28 colleges, universities, and online programs for their strong Catholic identity.  There are other good programs and policies to address binge drinking and the hook up culture at other Catholic and non-Catholic institutions.  College officials would benefit from continual sharing of effective practices and observation of similar institutions.

It is interesting to note that while many of these strategies to promote sobriety could reasonably be employed to promote chastity—and pro-chastity programs and policies might be tweaked to promote sobriety—often colleges do not approach both topics in the same ways.  An equal commitment to promoting both behaviors could quickly expand a college’s outreach to students without requiring much creativity.


Freshman orientation

Many of the colleges include discussion of chastity and sobriety during freshman orientation programs, including explanation of college policies.  DeSales University starts even before students arrive on campus, requiring them to complete a one-hour, online alcohol awareness program.

Belmont Abbey College has a policy on Christian Sexual Morality that is explained to freshmen during orientation. According to the College: “In keeping with John Paul II’s theology of the body, we make clear that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed by those who have received the Sacrament of Marriage and for the purpose of the mutual good of the spouses and for bringing children into the world as a gift from God, in accord with Catholic teaching and Canon Law.”

Walsh University’s 12-week mandatory freshman credited course (General Education 100: First Year Institute) begins during opening weekend with a 45-minute presentation, “A Day in the Life of a Student.”  The University explains: “Video vignettes performed by Walsh students depict choices every college student faces:  academic, social, spiritual, physical.  The vignettes provoke discussion of tools for self-awareness, personal responsibility, and critical thinking for making positive lifestyle choices.  The vignette dealing with sexual choices discusses pro-abstinence.  Most FYI faculty ask students to write reaction papers to the presentation, which sets out university expectations for student behavior aligned with the university’s mission as a Catholic university of distinction.  Follow-up sessions occur in FYI under the topic ‘relationships’ and in residence halls, where the chaplain and others continue to promote chastity in leading ‘Let’s Talk Sex’ discussions by floor.”

The Catholic University of America provides “Alcohol 101” workshops in each first-year student residence hall within the first six weeks of the fall semester.

Lectures and classes

Several colleges present occasional speakers to discuss chastity, proper dating, and the role of marriage.  Some of these programs are organized and repeated, such as DeSales University’s student presentation on impaired driving, “It’s Not an Accident, It’s a Choice,” and campus ministry programs “Off the Hook: The Hook-Up Culture and Our Escape from It” and “Single and Ready to Mingle: Campus Dating 101.”  Ave Maria University, Mount St. Mary’s University, and others provide lectures and courses on the “Theology of the Body,” as taught by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

The University of Mary’s student health clinic sponsors a peer-education program, Health PRO (Peers Reaching Out), which sponsors numerous programs.

The Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Veritas Lecture Series, coordinated by the University’s student life office, addresses sexuality, dating, and marriage with discussion of related Catholic teachings.

Campus ministry at Mount St. Mary’s University sponsors a “Couples Ministry,” which organizes gatherings for couples who are dating to discuss their faith, as well as educational programs like “Healthy Relationships without the Baggage.”  In “Love and Lattes” at the University of Mary, a four-week program sponsored by campus ministry, faithful Catholic couples talk to students about topics such as dating and chastity, faith and marriage, natural family planning, finances, conflict resolution, and parenting.

Priests and religious address moral issues during “Morals and Mocha” coffeehouse discussions at the University of Mary and “Theology on Tap” gatherings at pubs near the campuses of Aquinas College (Nashville) and Ave Maria University. At Thomas Aquinas College, the virtues of modesty and chastity are regularly addressed by chaplains in their sermons at daily Mass.

Several Catholic colleges welcome FOCUS missionaries ( on campus to lead Bible studies and promote chastity and sobriety through small-group activities.

Theme weeks

A number of colleges declare themes for weeks during the school year to present programs and activities in support of sobriety and chastity.  Ave Maria University has an annual “Love Week” in February, devoted to hosting events and lectures that foster discussion on love, dating, the Theology of the Body, and other Catholic studies on sexuality. The Catholic University of America recognizes National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, and Safe Spring Break Week with information distribution and campus-wide programming. The University of St. Thomas in Houston has an annual “Sexual Responsibility Week.”

Education for student offenders

When students violate campus policies, consequences can include education programs to help improve behavior.  Ave Maria University purchased an online education module that provides basic alcohol information to students who violate the alcohol policy. According to AMU, “Through a review of topics related to safe consumption, characteristics of high risk drinking, positives and negatives of consumption, and social norms, students gain a better understanding of how irresponsible alcohol use can negatively impact their academics and personal lives. The anticipated outcome is that students will make better decisions in the future related to alcohol use.”

Likewise, Benedictine College will schedule an alcohol assessment with its counseling center if it has cause to worry that any student may have a problem with alcohol abuse.  When students are found cohabiting in residence halls, the College may assign education initiatives or have the students meet with counselors, while losing the right to visitation even during daylight hours for a specified period of time.


Dress code to encourage modesty

Christendom College, like several other colleges, maintains a dress code for the classroom, Mass, lunch, and special events. “Usually this includes a dress shirt and necktie for men and a dress or blouse with skirt or dress slacks for women. A jacket is also required for men at Sunday Mass and for speakers’ presentations.”

Ave Maria University is less specific, but students must dress “with modesty and prudence.”  The student handbook offers them guidelines for dressing with dignity.

Regulations on entertainment

Ave Maria University requires that movies and television programs viewed on campus “should be in good taste and not offensive to Catholic morals and values.”

Regulating sex, romantic behavior

Some colleges expressly forbid sexual activity outside of marriage.  The Catholic University of America’s Code of Student Conduct states, as paraphrased by the University, “that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife.  Sexual acts of any kind outside the confines of marriage are inconsistent with the teachings and moral values of the Catholic Church and are prohibited.”

Likewise, the University of Mary’s Community Standards for Students prohibits “sexual intimacy between persons who are not married to one another in the university’s residence halls.”

Christendom College has restrictions on public romantic displays of affection, and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts discourages “exclusive dating” during the first two years.

Dry campuses

All of the colleges have policies on alcohol, often prohibiting possession by anyone under the legal age and sometimes prohibiting minors from being in a room when others are consuming alcohol.  But at the University of Mary and some other colleges, alcohol is not permitted for any student.  Christendom College forbids on-campus drinking but makes exceptions for students over the age of 21 at some campus events, such as St. Patrick’s Day festivities and musical performance nights, called Pub Night.

Residence Halls

Residence life programs

Many of the colleges locate educational programs in the residence halls (see “Education” above).  Benedictine College sponsors an annual Alcohol Free competition, inviting each residence hall to put on an alcohol-free event “which both serves as a model for how to engage in healthy activities without the use of alcohol and disseminates information about the dangers of abusing alcohol.”

Special housing

DeSales University offers specialized “substance-free” housing for students who forego all alcohol and tobacco use.  The University of Mary permits students to choose roommates who are committed to abstaining from alcohol even off campus, and these students are grouped together in the residence halls.

The University of Mary also has established Saint Joseph’s Hall, a 30-bed facility for men who have made a commitment to live a virtuous life and support other residents in that commitment.  Living in the facility with students is the retired Bishop of Bismarck and the current diocesan vocations director.  A similar facility for women has been established with support from Benedictine Sisters who live on campus.

Mount St. Mary’s University offers a variety of themed housing and living-learning options. Students participating in the Summit Housing initiative adopt as a rule of life a “healthy living commitment” through outdoor activities, service projects, and abstinence from tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

Training for residence life staff

Belmont Abbey College, like many of the colleges, ensures that resident assistants are trained in authentic Catholic morality.  “All resident directors study the virtues, Ex corde Ecclesiae, the Rule of St. Benedict, the Pope’s Theology of the Body, and the documents on the dignity of the human person and the vocation of women.”

The Catholic University of America provides alcohol education and training for resident assistants, orientation advisors, and resident ministers each summer. “Residential staff are expected to confront disruptive and unhealthy behaviors including those related to sexual activity.”

Faculty, priest presence in residence halls

Some colleges ask priests, religious, and faculty members to live in residence halls to assist and supervise students.  At Holy Spirit College, the student residences in a nearby apartment community are proctored by faculty members.  Thomas More College of Liberal Arts has a Dean of Men and a Dean of Women who help promote chastity in the residences.

Student Engagement

Peer clubs and programs

Some colleges have student clubs dedicated to promoting chastity through peer education, such as the Love Revealed club at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  According to the University, the club “strives to enrich students’ understanding of the principles that uphold the goods of Marriage, Family, and Sexual Integrity.”  The group emphasizes “that stable marriages and families and the moral character they cultivate are best supported by commitment to the integrity of sex and to the healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors that honor that integrity.”

At The Catholic University of America, student organizations such as Live Out Love, Vitae Familia, Students for Life, and CUAlternative “bring speakers to campus and host events that focus on love and relationships with emphasis on the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life,” according to CUA.  “For example, the student group Vitae Familia hosted an event titled ‘Love. Relationships. College. How does college shape how you love?’ where two guest speakers addressed the importance of dating while in college.”  Although Live Out Love focuses on teaching chastity to local middle-school and high-school students, it is student-led and engages CUA students in making arguments for sexual purity.

Students at Holy Spirit College likewise assist Moda Real, a virtue and modesty program for the Solidarity School and Mission, a Hispanic outreach program, that culminates in an annual modest fashion show.

Pro-life groups may help promote chastity.  CUA’s Students for Life publishes a magazine titled The Choice: Pro-Life Answers to Today’s Tough Questions, including articles on purity and chastity, cohabitation, and natural family planning.  The Crusaders for Life at the University of Dallas promotes Catholic teachings on chastity and abstinence.

Other groups may also address chastity.  Kappa Phi Omega, the Catholic sorority at St. Gregory’s University, brings speakers on campus to address the impact that chastity and modesty have on our society.  Even the Fra Angelico Art Club at Ave Maria University, which hosts events that examine true art and beauty, sponsors lectures on the Theology of the Body and an annual art exhibition to examine themes of love.

Campus ministry at Walsh University has a peer ministry program called Peacemakers, which trains upper-classmen to minister to students in the residence halls.  In 2011-12 they helped organize monthly residence hall programs on topics including pornography (the University’s IT officers verified that residence hall hits on pornography sites fell 75 percent as a result), women’s dignity (attracting up to 80 women per session), and “Extraordinary Gentlemen.”  Students in campus ministry also organized Theology of the Body discussions and assisted in the campus appearance of Christopher West.


Several of the colleges encourage students to participate in voluntary “households,” which are spiritual communities of men or women that gather together to pray, encourage one another in chastity and virtue, perform works of mercy, and host events on campus.  The concept is especially popular at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where about half the student body is involved in any of 45 households.

Women’s and men’s groups

Ave Maria University has a Genuine Feminine Club of female students who foster the development of feminine virtues and organize the “Genuine Feminine Conference” each spring.

At The Catholic University of America, males students can join Esto Vir to strive together to live a life of prayer, brotherhood, chastity, self-sacrifice, and fortitude.  Female students can join Gratia Plena, a sisterhood of Catholic women that meets for fellowship, prayer and faith formation.

DeSales University sponsors Philotheas, a student-led, student only group for women desiring to mature in their Catholic faith through spiritual, religious, catechetical and social experiences, and support. Esto Vir (“Be a Man!”) is a group of men, who through social, educational, and spiritual activities strive to live as men of faith and virtue.

At the University of Mary, the Knights of Virtue (for men) and Vera Forma (for women) focus on the development of virtue and holiness, studying Scripture and the saints from a Christian but not exclusively Catholic perspective.


Administrative committees

Ave Maria University has an administration subcommittee specifically tasked with promoting chastity.  The Student Activities Board, Student Government Association, Student Life Office, Campus Ministry, and Office of Housing and Residence Life all collaborate to develop initiatives to support and promote a culture of chastity.

At The Catholic University of America, the Alcohol and Other Drug Education (AODE) program is coordinated by the Office of the Dean of Students and supported by the Employee Assistance Program, Kane Fitness Center, Office of Residence Life, Student Health Services, and the Counseling Center.




The “Hook-Up” Culture on Catholic Campuses: A Review of the Literature

The dynamics surrounding intimate relationships among Catholic college students is of special concern to Catholic families and educators, because these relationships often and eventually lead to marriage.  The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is instituted and ordained by God as the union of one man with one woman, and that sexual behavior is reserved for marriage.  This review of social science literature considers whether the student culture on Catholic college and university campuses reinforces these teachings and facilitates the pathway from healthy intimate relationships to marriage.

Throughout history, our society has provided ways to encourage “pair bonding” through providing opportunity situations.  Historically, colleges and universities—especially Catholic colleges and universities—believed that they needed to play an active role in helping their students find happiness and meaningful relationships with those of the opposite sex during their years on campus.  Providing what sociologists call “opportunity situations” used to play an important role in the student life on most college campuses, because at one time the adults leading these schools recognized how important it is that young people meet each other, fall in love, and form families.

Until the 1980s, most colleges and universities—secular as well as sectarian—believed it was their duty to offer opportunity situations including dances, clubs and other recreational activities, designed to help their students create and maintain healthy and satisfying intimate relationships.  Even single-sex Catholic colleges used to arrange school-sponsored and supervised dances (often called “mixers”) with neighboring schools to facilitate the opportunity for those at the all-male school to meet those from the all-female school.  College administrators used to believe that they needed to take care of their students—both academically and socially.  But, as most Catholic colleges moved from single-sex to co-educational in the 1970s and 80s, the perceived need for such “mixers” disappeared.

Today, it appears that many student life administrators have moved from a pro-active role in helping to facilitate healthy pair bonding to a reactive role in helping to pick up the pieces and repairing the very real damages when a degraded campus culture of casual sex emerges.  The conventional wisdom is that students are best left to their own devices in meeting and mating.  This paper finds significant consequences for both the individual and the institution.

A damage assessment

During the past decade, there has been a growing body of literature examining the dating attitudes, values and behavior of contemporary college students.  An emerging number of scholars are conducting research which examines how young people meet, mate and decide to marry.  There is a growing body of data that points to a degraded student culture on many college campuses—including Catholic college campuses (Bogle, 2008; Freitas, 2008; Burdette, Ellison, Hill and Glenn, 2009).  This paper provides a systematic review of the research literature identifying the culture and examining the very real damage that has been done by abandoning the in loco parentis role that colleges and universities used to play in terms of encouraging healthy social relationships.  The purpose of our paper is to provide a systematic summary of the social science literature that has been published in the last twenty years on the dating and mating behavior of college students—and assessing what many of these researchers have identified as the very real damage that has been done by the embrace of this culture.

We have organized these findings into four sections based on specific issues related to sexuality on campus.  The first section is the most comprehensive, because it defines the hook-up culture and identifies the extent of the problem of casual sexual behavior on college campuses—both Catholic and non-Catholic.  While most studies of the hook-up culture on campus do not differentiate by religious affiliation, we provide a comprehensive look at the ones that investigate the differences in sexual behavior by students attending a Catholic college and those who do not.

Following this, the second section considers the “costs” that such a culture has incurred in terms of the psychological, spiritual and physical damages associated with such behavior.  Sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies and abortions—as well as a long list of psychological costs including poor self-esteem, depression and sadness—have been correlated with the emergence of the hook-up culture on campus.  There is also anecdotal evidence that students who engage in the culture of casual sex that permeates many Catholic campuses find themselves moving away from a commitment to formerly held religious beliefs and practices.  In addition to a decline in Church attendance by those who are participating in the hook-up culture, there is anecdotal evidence of a reduction in religious feelings and perceived closeness to God.

In the third portion of this report, we consider the role of alcohol in encouraging and expanding the hook-up culture.  Nearly all of the researchers who are studying the hook-up campus culture have found that alcohol is implicated as a correlate—if not necessarily as a causal factor—in the hook-up culture.  Because of this, we devote a substantial portion of our literature review to the data describing the expansion of the use of alcohol by college students through permissive policies of on-campus drinking in the dorms and at social functions, and the role alcohol plays in the hook-up culture—especially on Catholic campuses.

The fourth section of our report investigates the impact of campus polices and especially those who are hired to implement them.  While more research in this area is needed, there is evidence that student life personnel are not a strong deterrent to a campus hook-up culture—and neither are co-ed residence halls.

We conclude by looking closely at the counter-culture that is emerging on many Catholic and secular campuses as students are taking the lead in promoting chastity and fidelity.  We also offer suggestions for additional research.

Defining the Hook-Up Culture on College Campuses

In 2001, the Times Higher Education Supplement (Marcus, 2001) published the results of a survey of 1,000 American university women which indicated that “dating is dead.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education (Mulhauser, 2001) followed up with an analysis of the data on dating and found that few female college seniors surveyed were asked out on dates during their college years.  This confirms dozens of other anecdotal studies.

Almost two-thirds of the participants in the Marcus study said that they were unhappy with the emptiness of their social lives.  Most respondents complained that the culture on their campuses consisted of either having sex without necessarily progressing to a relationship, or forming a long-standing and intense bond with a man without any anticipation of a future life with that man.  Most of the female respondents to this survey were disappointed with their campus culture.

Still, we have to avoid the temptation to look at the college dating behavior of previous generations through rose-colored glasses.  The idealized notion of the traditional date in which the male invites the female out to dinner or to a movie, picks her up and pays for the date is one that we often refer to when we lament the loss of traditional dating behavior.  But those who lived and dated during those times know that even then the traditional dating scene was less than ideal.  In some instances, females were left out of dating entirely because they were viewed as less physically attractive than other female students.  For some male students, the anxiety involved in inviting a female student on a date was overwhelming.  For these students, college became a lonely time of weekends spent watching others involved in the social scene on campus.

Researchers have found that anxiety characterized the traditional dating culture for many female and male students.  This was especially true in the “college mixer” setting.  In a now-classic article entitled “Fear and Loathing at the College Mixer” (Schwartz and Lever, 1976), we learn that at the traditional college mixer, “physical appearance is about the only criterion being used to evaluate people.”  This produces a situation filled with tension—especially for female college students.  When one is repeatedly rejected through the course of an evening, the experience can be shattering to one’s self image.  Study authors conclude that “students reported feelings of ugliness, fatness, clumsiness and so forth during and after the mixer situation.”   Even for males, the mixer is not always an optimal experience:  “My first impression of a mixer in my freshman year reminded me of cattle auctions I’d seen, where huge crowds of inspectors and buyers and such would climb the entryways and this group of very frightened creatures would charge through the middle” (Schwartz and Lever, 1976).

While traditional dating behavior was more formal and well defined, today’s male and female social interactions are much more casual and inclusive.  Contemporary student life is more spontaneous.  Unlike in the past when the male student would telephone the female student several days in advance to ask her on a date to a specific place at a specific time, today’s students use text messaging to get in touch and meet right away.

In fact, some researchers believe that instant messaging, Facebook and texting play an important role in creating a culture that contributes to casual sexual relationships—what has become known on campus as a “hook-up culture” (Bogle, 2008).  But the reality is that college campuses—including Catholic college campuses—have been moving toward a hook-up culture for more than thirty years.  In the late 1970s, it began to become common for college students to shift from traditional dating to group partying.  Even in these early days, it was not uncommon for men and women to pair off at the end of a night of partying in order for a sexual encounter to occur.  Traditional dating was disappearing by 1980.

Larry Lance (2007) provides an excellent overview of the changes in college students’ attitudes about sex, marriage and the family from 1940 to 2000.  This study reveals dramatic changes in students’ willingness to make moral judgments about the sexual behaviors of other college students—reflecting the growing cultural relativism in the greater society.  When this type of casual sexual behavior was “defined down,” the rate of such behaviors began to rise because it then became the “new normal.”

Whatever the origins, the reality is that hooking up has become the dominant script for forming sexual and romantic relationships on Catholic and secular campuses.  And, although the term hooking up is ambiguous in meaning, students generally use the phrase to refer to a physical encounter between two people who are largely unfamiliar with one another or otherwise briefly acquainted (Burdette, Ellison, Hill and Glenn, 2009; Glenn and Marquardt, 2001; Paul, McManus and Hayes, 2000).  Most importantly, hook-ups carry no anticipation of a future relationship (Bogle, 2008; England, Shafer, and Fogarty, 2007).

Studies of the extent of the hook-up culture on campus can be divided into categories by the methods used in collecting data.  Some of the richest data is derived from qualitative studies like those done by Kathleen Bogle and Donna Freitas.  Although Freitas supplemented her interviews with survey data, most of the qualitative studies draw from in-depth interviews with a small, non-representative sample of students.  This source of qualitative data provide us with a deeper understanding of the meaning of the hook-up, but the anecdotal nature of the studies make generalization difficult.  To address this, we have found a growing number of large-scale quantitative studies using representative samples of the hook-up campus culture by sociologists like Norval Glenn, Elizabeth Marquardt, Amy Burdette, Christopher Ellison, and Terrence Hill (2009).  These new quantitative studies help increase reliability and add credibility to the qualitative work.

Does religion make a difference?

Studying the relationship between religion and casual sexual behavior is more complex than one might think.  While there are several studies which attempt to measure the effects of religiosity on engaging in casual sexual behavior, most do not differentiate between students who simply state that they have an affiliation with a certain religious denomination, and those who actively participate in religious activity through Church attendance or bible study and adhere to Church teachings on social and moral issues.

The best studies are those which take a multi-dimensional look at religiosity.  This approach was identified more than fifty years ago by Glock (1962).  These dimensions include experiential (feeling or emotional), ritualistic (participating in religious activities or attendance), ideological (beliefs), intellectual (knowledge), and consequential (effects in the secular world).

In addition to Catholicism, nearly all world religions encourage adherents to conform to their teachings on sexual behavior.  Religious teachings on sexuality must be presented clearly to the faithful by the faithful.  If those who are engaged in teaching about the religion are not fully committed to the truth of what they are teaching, those receiving that instruction will likely not find it to be true either.  Only to the degree that moral teaching is expressed by the attitudes and actions of Catholics themselves can it make a difference in the lives of those Catholics.  If students actually want to challenge the secular culture, students and their campus leaders have to have a firm knowledge of, and commitment to Catholic teachings on social and moral behaviors.

For this reason, the studies which simply look at religious denomination as a predictor of hooking-up behavior cannot be viewed as sufficient.  A multi-dimensional view of religiosity which includes beliefs, knowledge, participation and emotion of college students is certainly the better way to look at the effects of religion on this type of sexual behavior.

An excellent example of a multi-dimensional approach to studying the relationship between religion and sexuality is the study by Penhollow, Young and Denny (2005), which demonstrated that for both female and male college students, those who reported  infrequent worship attendance and weak religious feelings were more likely to report participating in non-marital sexual behaviors.  Although the study did not specifically study “hooking-up behavior,” they found that the strength of religious conviction and participation in religious activities are more important than religious denomination or affiliation in predicting whether or not an individual engages in non-marital sex.

Follow-up studies by Penhollow, Young and Bailey (2005, 2007) looked specifically at the relationship between hooking-up behavior and two measures of religiosity: church attendance and religious feeling.  Findings revealed that for both females and males, church attendance was negatively related to some forms of hooking-up behaviors (the more frequent the church attendance, the less frequent the hooking-up behavior), but religious feeling was only significant in reducing hooking-up behavior for males.  For females, the emotional attachment to religion had little impact on their decision to participate in hooking-up behaviors.

One important consideration offered by Penhollow, Young and Denny (2005) is that in doing research on the correlates of participating in the hook-up culture, it is possible that just as religiosity has an effect on hooking-up behavior, the converse may be true; it is just as likely that “sexual experiences influence religiosity” (Penhollow et al, 2005:81).

For evidence of the likelihood that engaging in casual sexual experiences affects the commitment to participating in one’s religious behavior, it is helpful to recall classic research published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family by Thornton and Camburn (1989).  This study indicated that those individuals who engage in premarital sex actually “become” less religiously involved.  It is possible that those students who engage in short term acts of sexual behavior (the hook-up) also decrease religious involvement.  This should come as no surprise to most faithful Catholics who have been taught about the ways in which immoral behavior can lead to additional forms of immorality and eventually a turning away from God and the sacraments.

Looking specifically at those who identify themselves as “Catholic,” Elizabeth Stoddard (1996) surveyed 235 never-married heterosexual college students enrolled at a west coast independent university and found significant differences in the sexual behavior of students of differing religious orientation.  Stoddard’s study differed from the others because she looked closely at “religious orientation” (categorized as intrinsic, indiscriminately pro-religious and non-religious).  Intrinsic students were those who indicated clearly that they “belonged” to a specific denomination.  She found that most intrinsic students were significantly less likely to participate in premarital sexual intercourse—except for Roman Catholics.  For the Catholic students in the Stoddard study, affiliation with the Catholic Church made no difference in reducing the rate of engaging in premarital sexual behavior.

Yet, when church attendance is factored into the equation of religiosity and sexual behavior, we most often find that church attendance has a significant effect on decreasing the likelihood of engaging in hooking-up behavior.  Susan Harris Eaves (2007) found that religious affiliation and church attendance had a negative effect on first intercourse, number of sexual intercourse partners, number of oral sex partners and number of one-night stands.

This study joins a growing list of studies that indicate that it is “attendance,” and not belief or affiliation, that has the dampening effect on the decision to engage in casual sex.  Most studies find a negative relationship between religiosity and sexual activity—the higher the religiosity, the lower the sexual activity.  For example, in her dissertation, Peggy Sue Sadeghin (1989) surveyed 483 college undergraduates and found that the more religious students were much less likely to engage in sexual behavior.  In contrast, Jacynth Fennell (2000) looked at the relationship between religious beliefs and found “non-significant differences between those who had sex and those who did not.”  This indicates that religious beliefs, in and of themselves, had no effect on the decision to participate in premarital sex.

A major quantitative study which employs a multidimensional measure of religion to explore the relationship between religion and hooking-up behavior was recently published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion by Burdette, Ellison, Hill, and Glenn (2009).  For this survey, a national sample of 1,000 college women participated in a telephone interview designed to examine the dating and courtship attitudes and values of contemporary college women.

To measure “hooking-up behavior,” respondents were asked: “Now, some people say that a hook-up is when a girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and do not necessarily expect anything further.  Since you have been at school have you experienced a hook-up?” Approximately 38 percent of the respondents indicated that they had engaged in a “hook-up.”

To measure religious denomination, the Burdette team used six groupings including: Catholic, conservative Protestant, mainline Protestant, other Christian, other religious faith, and non-affiliated.  In addition to these religious affiliation variables, respondents were also asked about the frequency of church attendance, and were queried about their subjective religiousness (“How religious do you consider yourself to be?”)   Beyond these individual religion variables, the researchers classified colleges and universities each respondent attended according to their institutional affiliation.  In order to be classified, the school had to display a religious mission statement and advertise religion in their promotional materials; the school also had to sponsor religious activities and /or employ religiously affiliated faculty and staff.  It was not enough that the school have a historic affiliation with a certain faith.  Rather, the school had to have “an active and apparent religious presence on campus.”

The Burdette study is important to Catholic educators because of these religious affiliation variables, but critics have noted the study’s limitations.  Of the 1,000 college women surveyed, only 31 percent were Catholic and only six percent attended Catholic colleges.  In sum, only 39 Catholic women attending Catholic colleges were interviewed, though there are tens of thousands of Catholic women attending college in the United States.  Only 16 Catholic colleges were represented.  Thus, while the study’s findings are important, it is clear that further research is needed in this area.

In the data it had available, the Burdette team found important religious differentials in hooking-up behavior.  While holding a conservative Protestant affiliation reduced the odds of hooking up, holding a Catholic affiliation increased the odds of hooking up.  Indeed, students who identified themselves as Catholics displayed roughly a 72 percent increase in the odds of hooking up compared to those women with no religious affiliation.

Yet, for all respondents—including Catholics and Protestants—religious involvement reduced the odds of hooking up at college, and this pattern was driven by religious service attendance rather than religious affiliation or subjective religiousness.  The authors suggest that “co-religionist networks may be particularly important during the college years, when individuals have increased dating and sexual opportunities, yet little or no supervision.  Further, religious service attendance may be a greater predictor of religious commitment once an individual has left home, given that church attendance is not always voluntary for adolescents.”

The authors surmise that “being Catholic,” in and of itself, yields few protective effects from engaging in casual sexual behavior, and, in fact, that Catholic women are actually more likely than their unaffiliated counterparts to have hooked up.  Still, only 24 percent of Catholic women who attended church on a weekly basis reported having hooked up compared to 38 percent of their nonreligious counterparts.  In contrast, 50 percent of Catholic women who reported infrequent church attendance and low levels of subjective religiousness hooked up at college compared to 38 percent of those with no religious affiliation.

Immoral communities

Kathleen Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus (2008), found “no differences” between the hooking-up behavior of students at a large state university and the same behavior on a Roman Catholic campus.  She found that while some of the students she interviewed believed that there were more anonymous hook-up encounters at the state university due to the larger size of the student population, most of the Catholic college students she interviewed did not believe that the religious affiliation of their university affected hooking up in any way.  In fact, “most of them believed the religious connection did not make any difference.”

But the study by Burdette, Ellison, Hill and Glenn (2007) points to a more serious problem on Catholic campuses.  The survey indicated that “women attending colleges and universities affiliated with the Catholic Church are almost four times as likely to have participated in hooking up compared with women at secular schools.” Attending a conservative Protestant college was not associated with having engaged in hooking-up behavior.  Although the small sample of Catholic college students suggests the need for further verification, the results are troubling.

Unlike students on evangelical or conservative Protestant campuses, students on Catholic campuses do not constitute what the authors identify as a “moral community.”  When Catholic students enter college, it appears that they do not enter with the same level of religious commitment or knowledge of their faith as their Protestant counterparts.  The Catholic women in the study report significantly lower levels of subjective religiousness than both conservative and mainline Protestant respondents.  Thus, on Catholic campuses, with large numbers of Catholic students, the authors conclude that “it may be that university investments in religious instruction and education are too little too late for some students.”

Without a foundation of religious socialization during childhood and early adolescence, religious messages may be poorly received.  As a result, while the Catholic universities may contain a majority of students affiliated with the Catholic Church, the authors of the study conclude that these young adults may not “ratify religious principles in the social environment,” a critical component of what these authors identify as the moral communities thesis.  For instance, in an entry titled Sex and the Catholic Campus posted on, Fordham student Julia Tier reflects on how the Catholic faith is just “not relevant” for those living on a Catholic campus.

In their 2005 book Soul Searching, Christian Smith and Melinda Denton argue that current Catholic college students no longer arrive on campus with the kind of religious socialization that used to take place within Catholic elementary and high schools.  They write that today’s “Catholic schools have grown into college prep academies with competitive admissions standards and hefty tuition rates, serving the more privileged of their communities, whether Catholic or not, and more dedicated by demand of parents to getting their students admitted to prestigious colleges than to teaching them about the Trinity, sin, the Virgin Mary, the atonement and faithful Christian living.”  Many Catholic students seem to arrive on Catholic college campuses with little idea about what the Church teaches about sexual morality.  Smith and Denton maintain that “most Catholic teenagers now pass through a Church system that has not fully come to terms with its own institutional deficit and structural vacuum with regard to providing substantial distinctive Catholic socialization, education and pastoral ministry for its teenagers.”

This poor socialization for Catholic teenagers is often continued when they arrive on Catholic campuses and may be confronted with theology professors who are committed to providing a critical perspective of the Catholic faith rather than instruction on what the faith teaches.  Students on these Catholic campuses may learn to critique their religion before they even learn what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

For this reason, some researchers like Burdette, Ellison, Hill and Glenn (2007:546) point out that “Catholic universities in particular may face an uphill battle in attempting to create moral communities.”  They cite research by Regnerus (2003) which demonstrates that for a sustainable moral community to emerge, there must not only be a critical mass of adherents, there must also be an actively religious majority that reinforces specific religious principles in the general social environment.  As a result, religion becomes a group property, rather than just a matter of individual preference.

Church-attending Protestants tend to enter college with higher levels of religious commitment than their Catholic counterparts and are less likely to reduce their commitment during young adulthood.  In her study of the hook-up culture, Donna Freitas, the author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses, found that the one type of college that stood out from the trend toward “hooking up” was the evangelical Christian college.

To understand the hook-up culture, Freitas collected responses from students at seven colleges and universities—a mix of public, private, evangelical and Catholic institutions.  She found that for students at evangelical colleges, unlike students at Catholic colleges, religion is the center of everything, from campus life to student identity.  She writes, “At all the other campuses it is really hard for students to see sex and religion in relation to each other.”  Freitas found that at the evangelical colleges, there was not a hook-up culture that pressured students.  Rather, it was a “purity” culture that encouraged chastity and marriage, a culture of shared morality that exists on the evangelical college campus.

While this may be true for evangelical colleges, this still does not explain why female Catholic college students enrolled on Catholic campuses are more likely to hook up—even more likely than those on secular campuses.  Some researchers suggest that a hook-up culture can emerge when females outnumber males on campus (Rhoads, Webber and VanVleet, 2010).  Many Catholic campuses have far greater numbers of female students than males, and some researchers suggest that women are competing for men on these campuses.  The anthropologist Elizabeth Cashdan found that where there are more men than women, women usually set the ground rules; where there are more women than men, men get to set the ground rules.  At most Catholic colleges, more than 50 percent of the undergraduates are women and they may feel pressured to compete sexually for men.  But the reality remains that similar gender disparities exist on evangelical Christian campuses where females outnumber males by significant percentages.

In an attempt to explain the differences in the rate of hooking-up behavior for Catholic college students, Burdette, Ellison, Hill and Glenn (2007:547) suggest that selection effects may be operating.  By this they mean that some parents may encourage their daughters to attend Catholic colleges because “they perceive their child’s dating behavior to be problematic.  Parents who view their daughters as bad girls may send them to religious schools in hopes of constraining dating behaviors.”  This could help explain the variation in females engaging in “hooking up” on Catholic campuses.  But further analysis by these researchers did not support possible selection effects.  They did not find that female Catholic college students differed dramatically from those entering secular colleges, so the researchers dismissed selection factors as the answer to the differences in rates of hooking up.

Instead, Burdette, Ellison, Hill and Glenn (2007) suggest that the more likely reason that women at Catholic colleges and universities are more likely to hook up compared to their counterparts at secular schools can be attributed to the fact that in comparison with other colleges—including secular colleges—the policies surrounding alcohol and dorm visitation are more permissive at Catholic colleges than elsewhere.  Also, compared to secular colleges, Catholic schools bring together men and women who have much in common not only religiously but socially as well.  And unlike their Protestant counterparts, many Catholic students arrive on campus never having learned much about Church or Scriptural teachings on sexual morality.

These contributing factors at Catholic colleges have led Burdette, Ellison, Hill and Glenn (2007:546) to conclude: “Quite unintentionally, the combination of these three factors may create an environment that is conducive to casual physical encounters.” Additional research on the culture that has emerged on Catholic campuses, published by Donna Freitas in Sex and the Soul, supports many of their conclusions.

Freitas’ book reveals that there is a culture of “openness” about the sexual behavior of other students: “One young woman told me that at her Catholic school, by the end of the second month in her first-year residence hall, students had developed a kind of catalog about who was experienced at what and who was not experienced at all… Several young women told me that once they lost their virginity, they felt as though they might as well continue.  After all, once you’ve done it, what’s the point of stopping?”

Freitas found that for a minority of students virginity was important and writes that when she was interviewing female students on one Catholic campus, students were about to enter into a lottery for on-campus apartments and residence hall rooms for the following year.  A group of five women, all of whom were virgins, stood out among everyone else.  They called themselves “Virgins ‘R Us.”

Although virginity was not the norm on many of the campuses she studied, Freitas did not find that there was a stigma associated with virginity: “The woman telling me the story is not a virgin herself, but she is quick to argue that virginity is a perfectly legitimate choice for some people.”  Another student on a Catholic campus told Freitas, “I have a friend in the hall who has been with her boyfriend for three years and she wants to wait for marriage, and I think that is an amazing decision.  I think people really respect people that make that decision.”  Still, Freitas adds that this same student also talks about virginity not as a personal choice, but as a sign of feeling unwanted and of lacking in self-esteem.  When a campus develops a “hook-up culture” those who are not part of that culture can easily feel like outsiders.  This points to the real costs of the hook-up culture on both the institution and the individual.

Costs of a Hook-Up Campus Culture

There are individual costs and institutional costs that accrue when a hook-up culture emerges on a Catholic campus.  All students are affected because such a culture can permeate the entire campus.

To understand this culture it is helpful to review some of the interviews Freitas conducted with Catholic college students.  These interviews reveal a culture of “theme parties” that have become a “campus tradition” on many campuses—including some Catholic campuses.  These are parties or events where students dress up according to a particular set of stereotypes including: “pimps and ho’s,” “CEOs and office ho’s,” and “golf pros and tennis ho’s.”   Freitas writes: “By their very design, most theme parties are about sex and power, with guys in the dominant position—the CEO and the sports pros—and girls acting the part of the sexually submissive, sexually suggestive, sexually available, and sexually willing ho’s at their beck and call.”  While such activity surely does not involve most students, it can have an effect on the entire campus—even beyond those who are attending the parties.

A study published by Armstrong, Hamilton and Sweeney (2006), described a “party dorm” as having a “hedonistic culture.” They came to this conclusion after holding sixteen group interviews and forty-two individual interviews with residents of what became known as a “party dorm” (because of the drinking and sexual behavior) and found that sexual assault was a “predictable outcome” of such a culture.

Such a culture can negatively affect relationships and friendships between students.  There are several studies which describe the phenomenon known as “friends with benefits” on college campuses—including Catholic college campuses—or relationships that fit neither the traditional definition of a friendship nor a romantic relationship.  The phenomenon of “friends with benefits” and the movement to casual sex most likely begins long before students enter college.

Drawing upon a sample of 125 students, Melissa Bisson (2004) found that 60 percent of the students polled have had this type of relationship.  Although some respondents indicate that “sex can complicate a friendship by bringing forth desires for commitment,” Bisson believes that these relationships can be desirable because they incorporate trust and comfort while avoiding romantic commitment.

In contrast, Feldman, Cauffman, Jensen and Arnett (2000) found that “friends with benefits” can lead to feelings of betrayal:  “Because loyalty and trust are viewed as key requirements for relationships with friends as well as with romantic partners, acts of betrayal which violate the trust on which these relationships are based are viewed as serious transgressions.”

When looking at the costs for the individual student, it is helpful to look closely at the large-scale quantitative studies.  Nearly all of these studies suggest that women are at substantially more risk than men for feeling upset about the experience of engaging in casual sex.  Glenn and Marquardt (2001) found that many women felt hurt after hooking up and confused about their future relations with the men with whom they hooked up with.  Bisson and Levine found that it may be the combination of mismatched expectations and the lack of communication about the meaning of the encounter that leads to negative outcomes for some students.  Research by Paul and Hayes (2002) found that for some of these relationships, it could be that the situations were unwanted or forced.  When women feel pressured to engage in a casual sexual relationship, or if there is alcohol involved, there are more likely to be negative outcomes.  One research team (Grello, 2006) found that students’ feelings of regret after hooking up were related to more depressive symptoms.

These differential outcomes for female students is not surprising to evolutionary anthropologists like John Townsend whose research has led him to believe that many women go through an experimental stage when they try casual sex.  Townsend also points out that women almost always end up rejecting it.  For women, sexual intercourse produces feelings of “vulnerability” and of being used when they cannot get the desired emotional investment from their partners.  In Townsend’s studies, that occurs even among the most sexually liberated women.  Despite their freethinking attitudes, their emotions make it impossible for them to enjoy casual sex (cited by Rhoads, Webber and VanVleet, 2010).

Several studies have documented the possible negative outcomes for both women and men involved in the hook-up culture.  A survey of 832 college students’ hooking-up experiences by Owen, Rhoades, Stanley and Fincham (2007) points to the problem inherent in attempting to determine  psychological outcomes of hooking-up behavior.  It is the problem of directionality—or trying to determine whether students who had low psychological well-being were more likely to engage in an activity that did not benefit their mental health, or if it was the encounter which contributed to lower psychological well-being.  For example, it is likely that students who have a negative experience with hooking up may feel that they were not treated fairly by their partner after their encounter.  Or, it may be that one partner, but not the other partner, did not see the encounter as consensual.

Owen, et al. (2007) also report that negative emotional reactions were tied to less general acceptance of hooking up itself.  It may be that holding negative attitudes about hooking up and then doing so anyway creates dissonance that causes a negative emotional reaction; or it could be that having a negative experience results in less accepting attitudes about hooking up.  This makes it difficult to make confident assertions that it is the hooking-up behavior that causes the negative emotional reactions.

Beyond psychological outcomes for individuals engaging in hooking-up behavior, it is important to look at the physical costs for individuals who engage in hooking-up behavior.  There is a great deal of research on the individual outcomes of engaging in risky sexual behavior in terms of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.  There is also the perception that those who engage in this risky sexual behavior—especially women who engage in this behavior—are somehow “damaged” by their choice to do this.  A major study of the sexual behavior of 71,860 college students by the American College Health Association revealed that a growing number of female college students are reporting having acquired sexually transmitted infections, diseases, or complications including the human papillomavirus, genital herpes, chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease, HIV and gonorrhea.

Kathleen Bogle’s study points to the negative impact of this lifestyle for female students.  She writes that women are far more likely than men to get a bad reputation for how they conduct themselves in the hookup culture.  Women can get a bad reputation for many different things including how often they hook up, who they hook up with, how far they go sexually during a hook-up, and how they dress when they go out at night where hooking up may happen.  Bogle points out that men who are very active in the hook-up culture may be called “players,” while women are still viewed as “sluts” if they are perceived as having hooked up too often or with the wrong people.

This continued “double standard” is reflected in a memorable interview of a male college student published in Sex and the Soul by Donna Freitas.  The student told Freitas about what he identified as “the dirty girls” on his campus, who are perceived by others (and himself) as having hooked up too much.  This young man mentioned that after a while, no one wanted to hook up with these girls because they feared contracting a sexually transmitted disease.  The data compiled by the American College Health Association reveals that this is a valid fear.

It is clear that there remain gender differences in perceptions of those who are engaged in the hook-up culture.  Freitas and Bogle both introduce the concept of the “walk of shame,” which refers to a female college student walking home the next morning after a hook-up encounter, wearing the same outfit she was wearing the evening prior.  Given that students dress differently for “going out” than during the daytime for class, it is obvious to all when a student is doing the walk of shame.  The fact that they even use the word “shame” is revealing.  If all students accept hooking up as a way of campus life, and believe that everyone is doing it, then using the word shame cannot be understood.  But students continue to be ambivalent about hooking up itself—and some are shameful.

Beyond the individual physical and psychological costs, there is evidence that the culture that has emerged on many Catholic campuses now carries spiritual costs.  While we cannot attribute these spiritual costs directly to the hook-up culture, we can suggest that the degraded student culture can be related.  A recent study done by researchers at Georgetown University (2010)  tracking changes in the behavior and attitudes of college students during their years on Catholic campuses reveals that 31 percent of Catholic students enrolled in Catholic colleges and universities report that they have “moved away” from the pro-life teachings of the Catholic Church during their college years.  Comparing Catholic students enrolled at Catholic institutions with Catholic students enrolled in private and public colleges and universities reveal that those enrolled in Catholic schools were less likely to move toward Catholic Church teachings on abortion than those enrolled in non-Catholic institutions.  While 16 percent of Catholics enrolled in Catholic schools claim to have moved to a pro-life position, 17 percent of Catholic students enrolled in public colleges and 18 percent of Catholic students enrolled in private non-sectarian colleges moved in the pro-life direction.

In addition to increased support for abortion, the Georgetown study revealed that 39 percent of Catholic students enrolled on Catholic campuses claim that they have moved further away from their Church’s definition of marriage as a union of one woman and one man.  On this issue, more Catholic students on Catholic campuses moved toward supporting gay marriage than those enrolled in private religious (non-Catholic) colleges, and showed just slightly less increased support for gay marriage than those enrolled in public colleges and private non-sectarian colleges.

Beyond Catholic college student support for gay marriage and abortion, the Georgetown data indicate that these students decrease their participation rates in religious activities such as Mass attendance and prayer.  While we cannot claim that the hook-up culture contributes to a change in Church attendance and support for abortion and gay marriage, we can propose the likelihood that once a Catholic campus adopts a culture that is counter to Church teachings on sexual morality, support for all Church teachings declines.

Alcohol as a Correlate of Hook-Up Behavior

One of the leading organizations addressing the effects of substance abuse is the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.  Led by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., the former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, CASA convened a commission in the early 1990s to look into the substance abuse situation at America’s colleges and universities.  The commission issued two reports—The Smoke-Free Campus (1993) and Rethinking Rites of Passage (1994)—and was chaired by Reverend Edward Malloy, C.S.C., now President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, who also serves on the board of CASA.  In 2002, CASA reconvened the commission and tasked it with determining what, if any, progress had been made.  The commission produced a report titled Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities, which reveals, among other things, a significant public health crisis on campuses throughout the country.

Califano summarized the report’s findings: “The college culture of alcohol and other drug abuse is linked to poor student academic performance, depression, anxiety, risky sex, rape, suicide and accidental death, property damage, vandalism, fights and a host of medical problems.” Teenage pregnancy, sexual assault and prostitution are also mentioned as results of substance abuse.  For Catholics, this is not just a “public health” crisis, but also a moral and a spiritual crisis.  Califano makes an important point: at Catholic colleges and universities, there is both an “added incentive” and a “special obligation” to confront the problems of substance abuse and casual sex.  “Students…are made in God’s image, with an inherent human dignity that should not be debased by excessive use of alcohol” (CASA, 2007).”

Sadly, the CASA study reveals that there is no reason to believe that Catholic institutions fare any better than other colleges and universities around the country.  In 2005, New York City’s Fordham University ranked first in self-reported campus alcohol violations, with 905 incidents—four times as many as the second-ranked New York University.  At the College of the Holy Cross, a series of incidents arose out of the combination of alcohol and sex: in 1996, a female student who was drinking heavily reported having been raped; in 1998, a car accident killed a drunk student; in 2000, a drunk student was killed by a train; and in 2002, a fight between two drunk students resulted in a death.

In 2010, 44 Notre Dame students were arrested for under-age drinking at an off-campus party.  South Bend police responded to a call about a fight near a roadway and discovered the Notre Dame student party.  Nate Montana, the son of former Notre Dame standout Joe Montana was among 11 Notre Dame athletes arrested among the 44 students on misdemeanor charges of underage drinking at a party.

CASA recommends a set of policies to colleges and universities in an effort both to prevent and reduce alcohol abuse on campus.  First, policies should be clear, as should the consequences of violating them be.  CASA advocates a ban on alcohol in dorms, in most common areas, at on-campus parties, and at sporting events.  Both the faculty and staff, as well as students and their parents, should be educated on the problems of substance abuse.  At Georgetown University, for instance, all freshmen are required to be educated about alcohol abuse.  Further, the college should be diligent in monitoring the rates of consumption and target students who are at risk, providing them with the opportunity for treatment.

It is important to look at what factors influence students’ decisions to drink.  Most notably, it is living arrangements.  Drinking varies depending on where a student lives.  The Task Force encourages parents to inquire about campus alcohol policies when their high school student is trying to choose the right college.  The parent should ask how the college enforces underage drinking prevention and what procedures are used to notify parents about consumption and abuse.  Drinking rates tend to be the highest in fraternity and sorority housing, so the parent should see if alcohol-free dorms are available.  Additionally, the number of alcohol-related injuries and deaths at the campus is an important statistic to find out.  (For recent data describing the consequences of the emergence of a culture of alcohol and drugs on campus, see Appendix A.)

Dangerous liaisons

So what is the connection between the use of drugs and alcohol and student sexual behavior? Another CASA study, Dangerous Liaisons: Substance Abuse and Sexual Behavior (1999), revealed that teens who drink or use drugs are “much more likely to have sex, initiate it at younger ages…and have multiple partners.” These students are more likely to contract sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) or AIDS and experience unplanned pregnancies.  The 1999 report analyzed data collected from interviews with over 34,000 teenagers and 100 experts in relevant fields.

The study also revealed that while 63 percent of teens who use alcohol and 70 percent of teens who are frequent drinkers have had sex, only 26 percent of those who have never drank have had sex.  Further, the survey found that 23 percent of sexually active teens and young adults in America (about 5.6 million 15- to 24-year-olds) report having unprotected sex because they were drinking or using drugs at the time.  Of these, 29 percent say that, due to alcohol and drug use, they did “more sexually then they had planned.” Fifty percent said that people their age mix alcohol or drugs and sex “a lot,” and 37 percent want more information about “how alcohol or drugs might affect decision about having sex.”

In an attempt to discover whether alcohol consumption by college students leads to sexual behavior that would not have otherwise occurred, Meilman (1993) discovered that of 439 randomly selected undergraduate students, 35 percent had participated in “alcohol-induced” sexual activity.  For the half of these students who had intercourse, many admitted to having unprotected sex at least one time while under the influence of alcohol.  In another study at the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary and Dartmouth College, almost 40 percent of college students reported having engaged in sexual behavior “as a direct result” of consuming alcohol (Meilman et al., 1993).

Desiderato and Crawford (1995) point out that risky sex—unprotected sex and deceptiveness from partners—has led to an alarmingly high rate of STDs among young adults.  In their study, 47 percent of participants did not use a condom, 19 percent had STDs at the time, and one-third of those with STDs admitted that they did not inform their partner of their infection.  Many studies have noted the negative relationship between consuming alcohol and condom use (Leigh and Morrison, 1991; Donovan and McEwan, 1995).  Many students—58 percent of males and 48 percent of females—consumed alcohol immediately before their first sexual experience (Clapper & Lipsitt, 1991).

In short, says Califano, “For parents and religious leaders who believe that sexual abstinence before marriage is a moral imperative, this report signals the particular importance of persuading teens not to drink alcohol or use illegal drugs.” The urgency and duty can be extended to college administrators, especially those at Catholic colleges and universities.

So help me God: The role of religion

A CASA white paper titled “So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality” examines the link between religion and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.  The 2001 report observes a strong connection between one’s religious practices and a lower risk of abusing drugs and alcohol.  As part of the study, CASA surveyed administrators at seminaries and schools of theology, inquiring about their perceptions of the scope of the problem of substance abuse.  CASA’s research indicates that God, religion and spirituality are important factors in preventing and treating substance abuse, and that weekly church attendance significantly reduces the risk of drinking and drug use.

The data collected from teenagers is revealing.  Teens who do not consider themselves religious are almost three times as likely to binge drink as teens who consider religion to be important.  Teens who do not attend religious services weekly are twice as likely to drink than teens who do attend weekly religious services.

On the college campus, CASA discovered that students with no religious affiliation reported higher levels of drinking than those who identified as either Catholic or Protestant.  But while religious activity lowers the risk of drinking among college students, the heaviest drinkers among college students are men, whites and Roman Catholics to whom religion is not important.

It is evident that when students have strong religious convictions and participate in religious activities, they consume less alcohol and therefore are less likely to engage in casual sex.

Most religions prohibit or restrict the use of substances, but there is a variation in strictness.  Judaism and Christianity draw the concept of moderation from, among other passages of Scripture, this verse from Proverbs: “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat” (23:20).  Historically, the Catholic Church has not required abstinence from its members, but teaches that believers must use self-control.  Both Judaism and Christianity admonish drunkenness as sinful; St. Paul tells the Corinthians not to conduct themselves in “reveling and drunkenness” (1 Corinthians 5:11).

When CASA asked Catholic college presidents if they saw substance abuse as a problem on their campus, 73.9 percent saw it as a very important problem, and 26.1 percent saw it as somewhat important.

Student Personnel and Residence Life Policies

Many student affairs officers on Catholic campuses say the most important issues they face are issues of sexual behavior and identity (Bickel, 2001).  In her dissertation study, Catherine Bickel explored how four residence life leaders from two Midwestern Catholic colleges worked with students who had sexual concerns (over issues like promiscuity and homosexuality) that were in conflict with Catholic teachings.  The author identified nine important findings which indicated that residence hall directors received little, if any training about how to operate in an environment identified as Catholic.  Because of this lack of training, residence hall directors made a variety of assumptions about students, colleagues, the institution’s expectations and Catholic teachings.  Bickel claimed that “students lead the way on issues in conflict with Catholic doctrine” rather than student affairs professionals or leaders.  She also found that there was a concern on the part of some residence life leaders of the “conservative reaction of students and parents” to issues surrounding sexual behavior, identity and orientation.  While Bickel is clearly sympathetic to the need for a non-judgmental attitude for residential life staff, her study points to this area as one that needs further research.

It is clear that on many Catholic campuses, residence life leaders appear to have little idea about Catholic teachings on sexuality.  This uncertainty about Catholic teachings on sexual morality may actually encourage a hook-up culture by creating a non-judgmental culture that conveys tacit approval for sexual behaviors counter to Church teachings.

Bickel’s research is given support from a study by Sandra Estanek (1996) published in Current Issues in Catholic Higher Education which revealed that many of the most difficult issues relating to the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges and universities are confronted not by teachers in the classroom, but by student affairs administrators responding to students, especially to sexual behavior and sexual identity problems.

In her book, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus, Kathleen Bogle points out that the contemporary college campus (both Catholic and secular) is conducive to hooking up: there is a relatively homogeneous population living in close proximity to each other with no strictly enforced rules monitoring their behavior.  This fosters a sense of safety or comfort—students share the mantra that college is a time to party.

Christopher Kaczor, Loyola Marymount University philosophy professor and author of How to Stay Catholic in College, writes in First Things, “The answer is single-sex student residences.  Research indicates that students in single-sex residences are significantly less likely to engage in binge drinking and the hookup culture than students living in co-ed student residences” (Kaczor, 2011).  He cites several studies supporting his claim (Harford et al., 2002; Wechsler et al., 2000; Willoughby and Carroll, 2009).

In particular, studies analyzing data from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study (CAS) have found that “students living in coed dormitories, when compared with students in single-gender dorms, incurred more problem consequences related to drinking…  The reported differences in problem consequences extend previous studies of underage alcohol use in the CAS, which found that college students residing in coed dormitories and fraternity/sorority house, when compared with students residing in single-gender dormitories, were more likely to report heavy episodic drinking” (Harford et al., 2002).  Nearly twice as many students in coed dorms (39.1 percent) reported binge drinking in the last two weeks than students in single-sex halls (20.6 percent) (Wechsler et al., 2000).

That prevalence of “risk-taking,” say Willoughby and Carroll (2009), is as common with casual sex as it is with drinking.  Despite using different survey data from Harvard’s College Alcohol Study, they similarly found that students in co-ed halls were more than twice as likely to engage in binge-drinking or drink alcohol at least once a week.  But students in co-ed dorms were also more likely to view pornography and have “permissive attitudes toward sexual activity.”  They were more than twice as likely (12.6 percent) to have three or more sexual partners in the last twelve months than students in single-sex residences (4.9 percent).

An important question asked by researchers about such data is whether “students who enjoy risky behavior choose co-ed residences because they seek a more permissive atmosphere. So, the differences between co-ed and single sex residences reflect the kinds of people who choose them, rather than being caused by some difference between single-sex and co-ed residences” (Kaczor, 2011).  But Harford, et al. (2002) found similar background characteristics for students choosing co-ed and single-sex dorms, and so reported only “limited evidence for self-selection.”  Willoughby and Carroll (2009) controlled for students’ religion and other variables but found that the residential differences remained significant.  They concluded that selection “does not play a large role” in the association between risky behavior and residence type.

On a growing number of secular campuses, there is movement toward offering students the opportunity to share co-ed bedrooms—perhaps an indication of things to come on certain Catholic campuses, where student life policies often follow secular trends in American higher education.  According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Borrego, 2001), Swarthmore introduced co-ed housing in part to provide a residential alternative for gay students.  For some, finding a same-sex roommate comfortable with their sexuality was difficult.  Gay students had begun complaining to the college’s housing committee that mandatory same-gender housing was “heterosexist.”  The approval of “gender-neutral” housing at nearby George Washington University in 2010 had students at Georgetown University excited.  They requested a similar policy at the Jesuit Catholic university, and the vice president for student affairs said that he was open to discussing it with the student government (Maglio, 2010).

In a May 2000 article in the National Review, John Biaggio, then the President of Tufts University, refused to implement co-ed rooms explaining that, “While we realize many of our students are sexually active, we don’t see it as our role to encourage it.  I am not saying we are prudish.  We are not acting in loco parentis.  But we are dealing with life-threatening venereal diseases here.”  The Chronicle of  Higher Education (2009) reported that Tufts banned “any sex act in a dorm room while one’s roommate is present” and further stipulated that “any sexual activity in the room should not interfere with a roommate’s privacy, study habits or sleep.”  The office said that the policy stemmed from a significant number of complaints by students uncomfortable with what their roommates were doing in the room.  The Tufts Daily newspaper (Kan, 2009) reported that “the sex policy is intended as a tool to facilitate conversation and compromise between roommates rather than simply proscribe behavior.”  Distancing herself from any perceptions of a judgmental attitudes and the in loco parentis role, one residence hall administrator said that “we want to make perfectly clear that we do not want to hinder someone from engaging in any personal or private activity.”

Research indicates that students tend to overestimate the hook-up culture on their campuses.  A study published in the Journal of American College Health revealed that although 49.1 percent of students (71,860 students at 107 institutions of higher education) reported having engaged in sexual intercourse during their college years, students tend to think that twice as many students are sexually active than actually are.  This perception that “everyone” is engaged in the hook-up culture can contribute to expanding the hook-up culture, because it provides tacit permission to those who are considering participation in the practice.  Students begin to view the behavior as a “normal” part of college life.

For a culture to emerge on Catholic campuses that values chastity and respect for Church teachings on sexual morality, there must a true collaboration between students and student life administrators.  But the literature indicates that on some campuses the student life administrators, many of whom came of age in the freewheeling 1970s, lag behind the more conservative students in creating such a culture.

Creating a Campus Culture That Values Chastity

Discouraged by the hook-up culture on their campuses, there appears to be a student counter-culture emerging.  Student initiated and led, this counterculture is intended to reclaim sexual integrity on campuses.  The Elizabeth Anscombe Society at Providence College, for example, claims to “equip students with the knowledge and social science data that will help them navigate their personal romantic relationships in a happy and healthy way.”  Viviana Garcia, founder and former co-president of the Providence College Anscombe Society, writes that “in the spirit of writer Flannery O’Connor, who held that we have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you, these students are holding fast to their conviction that sexual intimacy can only bring happiness within the committed relationship of marriage” (Garcia, 2009).

The first Elizabeth Anscombe Society was started at Princeton University in 2005. Named for the famed Cambridge philosophy professor and intellectual defender of traditional sexual ethics, the mission of the organization is to “foster an atmosphere where sex is dignified, respectful and beautiful; where human relationships are affirming and supportive; where motherhood is not put at odds with feminism; and where no one is objectified, instrumentalized or demeaned.”

Similar groups are emerging on Catholic campuses.  In 2004, students at the University of Notre Dame launched the Edith Stein Project.  Drawing from the Apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II titled “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women,” Notre Dame students—both men and women—have held conferences each year to discuss issues of gender, sexuality and human dignity.  The coordinators of the Edith Stein Project write that they wish to “examine the degrading attitudes toward our own dignity that are often taken for granted and to question their root causes… we offer that their common cause is a general misunderstanding of the true nature and dignity of the human person.”

The 6th Annual Edith Stein Project Conference in February 2011 was titled “Irreplaceable You: Vocation, Identity, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The conference drew from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic proclamation that “Every Life is a Vocation.”  Conference organizers write, “Each one of us is called to perform an irreplaceable role in the Body of Christ that only we can perform, simply by the virtue of being ourselves in our own distinctive situation.” They promise that the conference will “draw on the richness of Catholic teaching on authentic personhood and sexuality, including presentations on masculinity and femininity, marriage, lay vocation, the priesthood and religious life, the family, homosexuality, Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body and student life.”

At Boston College, there is a group of male students whose mission is to “seek to create a brotherhood of Christian men dedicated to leading virtuous lives.”  The Sons of St. Patrick gather each week in a campus dormitory to discuss philosophy, literature and God.  Fr. Paul McNellis, S.J., a professor in the Philosophy Department who helped with the group’s creation, said that about four years ago some of his former students asked if he would be the moderator for the group.  In an interview for the campus newspaper, Fr. McNellis said: “They wanted a group that got together regularly in fellowship to discuss important topics.  However the topics gradually became more religious as the Sons realized that the strongest bond between them was their shared faith.”

In an interview published in The Heights, Fr. McNellis said the students wanted to live a Christian life without compromise, especially in the way they treated women, and thus to help each other become good men and future good husbands and fathers (Gu, 2010).  In a follow-up interview in The Heights, Fr. McNellis directly addressed the problems inherent in the hook-up culture: “When men get involved in the hook-up culture, they regress.  It infantilizes them.  They develop habits of thinking about themselves and women which are antithetical to being a good husband a good father” (Morrison, 2010).

Fr. McNellis said his motivation to address the male response to the hook-up culture stemmed from his observations of student life: “the thing that struck me as a difference from when I was in college was how little women now expect of men” (Morrison, 2010).  What he sees as “women’s dwindling faith in male behavior” may have been caused by the rise in the divorce rate, the spike in births out of wedlock, and the collapse of the dating culture.  The Sons of St. Patrick are attempting to reverse this culture.  To do that, Fr. McNellis points out that students need to “shed their ties with the hook-up culture in order to start developing the values that are necessary to being a faithful spouse or responsible father.”  He believes that the resurgence of the dating culture can cure the hook-up culture.  He believes that many students want the dating culture to come back, pointing to the “yearly student scramble to obtain tickets to the formal Middlemarch Dance” as evidence of student desire for an alternative to the current hook-up culture.

Such small groups of students, of course, cannot change the culture alone.  From the moment they step on campus for freshman orientation, college students are steeped in the radicalism-turned-orthodoxy that is the hook-up culture.  Students need support from the administration and the faculty to counter that culture.  They need to help create alternative campus environments that counter the cultural pressure that has “normalized” sexual deviance.  Students need an alternative to the culture of sexual permissiveness that currently shapes students’ expectations.  They need help creating moral communities in which Church teachings on sexual morality are understood and cherished.

Recommendations for Further Study

While we have seen that the published literature offers some idea of sexuality on college campuses—and Catholic campuses in particular—Catholic educators would benefit greatly by allowing and even encouraging more extensive research on student behaviors and the impact of college policies, programs and campus life on sexual attitudes and activity.

We suggest specific areas that warrant further research:

Causes and consequences of the hook-up culture for males

Much of the research on hooking up on college campuses focuses on female students.  It is assumed that women are often victims of the hook-up culture.  But anecdotal evidence exists that males also suffer consequences from the student culture on many campuses.

Measurable consequences of the hook-up culture

What is the incidence of STDs, pregnancy and abortion on Catholic campuses, and how does it compare to other colleges?  Is there evidence of psychological consequences from student sexual activity?  How does sexual activity impact academic performance?

Differences between Protestant and Catholic college campuses and their students

It is clear that the culture on evangelical campuses is dramatically different from that on Catholic campuses.  What can Catholic campus administrators learn from them?  Why do students behave differently at evangelical institutions?  Why do Catholic students behave differently from evangelical students?

Alcohol and drug abuse on Catholic campuses

CASA has provided some very good research on substance abuse on college campuses, showing a link to increased sexual activity.  Additional research looking particularly at substance abuse on Catholic campuses and among Catholic students, and exploring further the link to sexual activity would be helpful to Catholic college leaders.  Do policies and programs that have been effective in reducing alcohol and drug abuse correlate with declines in student sexual activity?

Co-ed dormitory housing

Whereas single-sex student housing was the norm at Catholic colleges a few decades ago, most have transitioned to co-ed halls, with men and women often separated by wing or floor.  As a consequence, the opportunities for sexual activity in campus housing have clearly increased.  Some Catholic colleges, like the University of Notre Dame and those with a strong Catholic identity, continue to offer single-sex housing.  A year into his tenure as the president of the Catholic University of America, John Garvey announced that the university would return to single-sex housing.  Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Garvey observes the destructive nature of binge drinking and the hook-up culture, as well as the role of the university in instilling virtue. There is a great need for additional research on whether the co-ed dormitory living contributes to the emergence of a hook-up campus culture, as anecdotal evidence suggests.  What are the measurable benefits and costs of co-ed residence halls?

Appendix A

As far back as 1999, a majority of college presidents identified alcohol abuse as one of the most serious problems facing students on campus.  In April 2002, a Federal Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism issued a report titled A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges.  The Task Force—composed of college presidents, researchers and students—spent three years extensively analyzing the literature on the use of alcohol on college campuses.  In a section called “What Parents Need to Know About College Drinking,” the reader is presented with a litany of disturbing statistics:

Death: 1,400 college students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.

Injury: 500,000 college students are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.

Assault: More than 600,000 college students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

Sexual Abuse: More than 70,000 college students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Unsafe Sex: 400,000 college students have sex without taking precautions against STDs, and more than 100,000 college students report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.

Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

Health Problems/Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 college students develop an alcohol-related health problem, and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of college students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use.

Drunk Driving: In 2001, 2.1 million college students reported driving under the influence of alcohol.

Vandalism: About 11 percent of college students report that they have damaged property while under the influence of alcohol.

Property Damage: More than 25 percent of administrators from schools with low drinking levels and more than 50 percent from schools with high drinking levels say their campuses have a “moderate” or “major” problem with alcohol-related property damage.

Police Involvement: About 5 percent of college students are involved with the police or campus security as a result of their drinking.  About 110,000 students are arrested for alcohol-related violations, such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.

Alcohol Abuse and Dependence: 31 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for alcohol dependence in the past 12 months.

About the Authors

Dr. Anne Hendershott is the 2010-2011 John Paul II Fellow in Student Development for the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education. She served 15 years at the University of San Diego as director of urban studies and chair of the sociology department until 2008, when she moved to New York to become distinguished visiting professor of urban studies at King’s College.  Her articles have appeared in The Wall Street JournalWorld Magazine and National Review, and her books include Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher EducationThe Politics of AbortionMoving for Work and The Reluctant Caregivers. Hendershott received her B.A. and M.S. degrees from Central Connecticut State University and her Ph.D. in Sociology from Kent State University.

Nicholas Dunn has served as a research assistant to Dr. Hendershott for two years.  He is a senior at The King’s College in New York City, where he studies philosophy, politics and economics.  He has written for Human Life Review and Catholic World Report and was a research intern at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute at the United Nations.


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