A Philosophical Look At Opposite-Sex Roommates

I never really expected to revisit the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student that committed suicide off the George Washington bridge after his dormmate videotaped Clementi in an amorous tryst with a fellow male student.  Indeed, I hoped that his death would serve as an awakening toward the importance of sex within the confines of the marital institution rather than a rallying point for the LGBQT community to twist this tragedy to advance its social awareness agenda. 

Beginning this August, Rutgers University will offer opposite-sex living arrangements to its freshman students.  Parents wary of this program may certainly be concerned; the parent cannot override the wishes of the student.  With the goal of creating an “inclusive community”, the ability to select opposite sex dormmates is being heralded as a breakthrough in gender-awareness at the university.  Purportedly, the response is overwhelmingly positive. 

Rutgers’ decision to facilitate co-ed living arrangements likely had its inception long before Clementi’s death.  And with the weight of public support and advocacy groups, it seems unlikely the university will reverse course anytime soon.  Like many social issues, homosexuality and its identity in society is still hotly contested.  Were it as simple as providing studies showing the effect of homosexuality within the college environment and its effect on society, an institution would either ratify or reject the proposal allowing close-quarters opposite-sex living arrangements.  Many political, social, and educational think tanks have conducted such studies – but the results are scattered across the social gambit.  Black is white and white is black.  Consider the entire debate in California regarding same-sex marriages and Proposition 8.  One side presented evidence on the virtues (or lack of detriment) of homosexual marriages, while the other attacked the findings of such “evidence.”  All else being equal, the judge merely considered the argument he judged “more right.”

In that respect, Rutgers has chosen the position it considers “more right.”  Its own studies linked with popular opinion legitimize its decision.

Whether we agree or disagree, a fundamental question underlies the entire debate: is there any one, right answer?   Or does humanity live in a world of gray where black and white are but theories in an otherwise pragmatic world? 

The tendency, I feel, is to ignore the fundamental question and instead look to the practical benefits and consequences.   Rutgers University examined a problem – homosexual exclusion – and fashioned a remedy designed to both fix the problem and serve as a beneficial template for others. 

Most of humanity reasons as such: what is right?  As much as we try to consider the consequences of any one action, we are often left with conflicting studies and opinions such that the end result is either throwing up ones hands in exasperation or recognizing that any true answer is elusive and therefore unknowable.  Likely humanity’s failing lies in its perception that we cannot fully know truth and so, with limited information, we make decisions as rational – and sometimes irrational – human beings.

Were it possible for Rutgers to see the full implications of its decision toward homosexual inclusion in housing, it’s quite possible that it would reject what it currently accepts.

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2 thoughts on “A Philosophical Look At Opposite-Sex Roommates

  1. I think you’re right in that Rutgers didn’t consider the morality of the question at all in making its decision to allow mixed-sex rooming.

    I’m also not wholly at odds with your summary of the basic questions raised by Rutgers’ decision:

    Whether we agree or disagree, a fundamental question underlies the entire debate: is there any one, right answer? Or does humanity live in a world of gray where black and white are but theories in an otherwise pragmatic world?

    The only conclusion I can suggest is that the situation demonstrates how secular institutions make very different decisions based upon wholly different considerations than those who would consider themselves to be believers.

    In some ways, making secular decisions on secular grounds is comforting if not consistent. The fear of religious, or moral decision-making, is that our public institutions (whether schools or government) might impose morality on people with different beliefs or no belief. When you think of examples like Iran, or even states like South Carolina, and to a lesser extent Arizona, this is troubling.

    But in a way, the Rutgers decision does exactly this: as a public institution, Rutgers imposes on the people of New Jersey the moral judgment that it’s ok for opposite sex roommates to live together – presumably while unmarried. Most students will probably do this anyway. But this eventuality, does not detract from the simple observation that Rutgers is making a decision with moral implications.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Tory.

    Commonly, it seems, a concerted moral analysis fails to enter into minds of decision-makers. But also consider that the failure to conduct a moral analysis plagues not only public institutions, but it also exists in both the private sector and among the religious.

    It’s sad – but not surprising – that even the greatest giants – individuals, universities, companies – have fallen off the morality bandwagon.

    Whether one considers morality or rather chooses a course based on secular motivations, the end – at least in this instance with Rutgers – still results in a decision with moral implications.

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