Men and women should be able to share a townhouse on their college campus — even if that college is Catholic, says Nicholas Lario, a sophomore at La Salle University.

Turns out, nearly four-fifths of those in La Salle’s student body who voted in a recent student-government referendum agreed with him. The university’s administration has not taken a position on the issue.

Were La Salle to adopt Lario’s proposal, it could be the only Catholic college in the area — perhaps the country — to allow such an arrangement, though many schools have allowed men and women to share dorm rooms and apartments for years.

“There are certainly scenarios where a girl’s best friend is a guy,” said Lario, 20, a criminal justice and sociology major from Haddonfield. “It would allow the best combination of housemates to live together.”

Fourteen percent of La Salle’s 3,175-member undergraduate student body voted on the proposal. Of the 446 votes cast, 353, or 79.1 percent, favored allowing coed units at La Salle’s 359-student townhouse complex, known as St. Miguel Court.

Each townhouse unit houses five students, with three single bedrooms and one double, and two baths. Lario’s proposal specifies that the double room would be single-sex and that the bathrooms would be for either men or women.

The vote is nonbinding and meant as “a tool to determine the level of student interest,” said Beckett Woodworth, 20, student government president and a junior from Glen Ridge, N.J.

Woodworth, who is majoring in political science, philosophy, and economics, said the student association would take up the issue with the appropriate university committee.

La Salle’s president, Colleen Hanycz, said that “if a gender-neutral housing proposal is presented, it would receive careful and thoughtful consideration, taking into account the results of student balloting as well as our Lasallian mission, Catholic values, student safety, and other factors.”

The proposal has stirred some opposition. Christopher Kaczor, a philosophy professor at Loyola Marymount University, cited studies that show binge drinking and “hookups” are greater at colleges with coed living arrangements.

“I don’t think that’s what a Catholic university or any university needs to encourage,” he said.

Catholic colleges are expected to nurture the whole person, physically, spiritually, and intellectually, and coed living doesn’t facilitate that, he said.

Lario said of that criticism: “I don’t think it gives students at La Salle enough credit.”

“Gender-neutral” or “gender-inclusive” housing arrangements are becoming increasingly common at colleges in response to demand, some of it from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Campus Pride notes that more than 200 colleges have some form of such housing.

James Baumann, director of communications for the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, said he understands allowing men and women to live in the same room may conflict with some colleges’ principles.

Where that’s not the case, he said, “we think it is a good option. We want students to be in a position where they are the most comfortable so they can be successful.”

The University of Pennsylvania has allowed people of the opposite sex to be roommates since 2005. Students do not have to state the reason for their preference.

Alfred Plewes, a La Salle senior from Philadelphia, said allowing women and men to share a unit could add variety in food, decor, and styles.

“You could have girls spruce up the place,” said Plewes, 22, a public relations and marketing major. “It might even smell a little better.”

Alec Kostival, 20, of Reading, said he understands the argument that a man and woman who agree to live together could break up mid-semester, making for a messy situation. But college students are young adults and should be able to handle that, said the communications major.

Said Kostival: “It has to be a serious thing that’s thought over by the people in question.”

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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