Friday, April 04, 2008

US Appeals Court rules that roommates service may not "ask" sexual orientation


Some visitors to my blogs are familiar in my story about my expulsion from William and Mary in November 1961 for admitting "latent homosexuality" to the Dean of Men. The story is on my main blog here. There was a roommate issue in the sequence that led to this.

How times have changed. The Ninth Circuit has ruled that a commercial website roommates.com may not ask the sexual orientation of clients, even though some people believe that it would be relevant. Prospective college students often use the site. The site has a rather detailed "terms of service" that does not mention sexual orientation.

The main story is by Adam Tanner on Reuters, "Straight or gay? U.S. court says Web site can't ask," link here. The story also appears on MSNBC. The Court made a comparison to asking religion or race by phone before conducting business. So this is a "don't ask" without a "don't tell."

There are reports that co-ed dorms are more common. When I stayed in McCollum Hall at the University of Kansas in the 1960s as a graduate student, the dorm was co-ed my last year there, with a partition in each floor's lobby to separate the genders. Two wings were for men, one for women. I recall other anomalies of the period: undergraduate women had curfews, men did not. Schools believed that they acted in loco parentis.

Steven Menashi has a somewhat convoluted discussion of the issue of sexual orientation in college dorms in the Dartmouth Review from Oct. 2, 2000, "Colleges' Housing Hypocrisy," link here. The article discusses the objection from many mainstream and elite schools from the military "don't ask don't tell" policy (and the Solomon Amendment) as it can affect the enrollment in their ROTC programs on campus, and as it also affects their receipt of needed DOD funds. Yet the schools do sometimes have issues with gay students in dorms. Sometimes a few of them have separate wings, and many of them will separate roommates on request of the straight student. (I recall somewhere seeing Moskos note that with regard to Northwestern University.) A few apparently will not. The situation may be changing gradually, is this article is now seven years old.

In my case, I believe that William and Mary should simply have separated us (and waited until completely after Thanksgiving Weekend to call me in). Had the Dean simply done that, I might be a W&M graduate rather than a GWU graduate, and might have led a different life, and had a much better social experience in college, even in the early 1960s. My life might have been very different. Who knows, maybe I would have gone to med school, and become a CDC epidemiologist when AIDS broke out in the 1980s, or been an NIH researcher. (I'm more of a content, numbers and research person than a patients person.) Either life would have appealed to me.

Times do change.

I have an earlier posting on the tendency for parents to check out assigned or prospective roommates with Facebook and other social networking sites (based on a USA Today story), here.



Update: Breaking News, April 6:

John McCain today, speaking in Pensacola FL, called for military expansion. He said resuming the draft was neither "necessary" nor "desirable." But then he called "disgraceful" the practice of many universities of trying to deny access to ROTC. He did not say or admit that this problem is related to the "don't ask don't tell" policy and the Solomon Amendment, but he said that the "rights" of all students should be fully respected, as if to hint that he could someday be open to repealing DADT.

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