Co-ed housing, short for coeducational housing, is mixed gender housing. This means that there are no segregated sections for female or male students, your room can be right next to anyones. My perception of co-ed housing was shaped by countless American college movies. I actually perceived them as havens for debauchery. Well, that is until I started living in one.
My school only offers a co-ed option for housing. When I heard of this, I was both nervous and excited. Four months down the line, here are a few things I have observed and learned.
1. Culture clash is real.
When people are straight from segregated school systems there is bound to be culture shock and clashing of cultures. Having experienced both Kenyan and Turkish system of student housing, with the latter being very strict heavily policed, I understood this.
Some people absolutely hated it when a person of the opposite gender entered their rooms. They, quite understandably, cited their culture and religion as reasons for this. Girls, especially, were quite apprehensive about living with boys that they had just met. It took a lot of time for us to build trust between each other. Eventually, the tension thawed out and we established great relationships with each other. We learned to respect and understand each other’s space and cultures.
2. Co-ed housing challenges gender stereotypes.
What do you get when you put some young men from hypermasculine African societies and young ladies with progressive ideas? Well, lots of conflicts. While the line was not so clear-cut into two opposite groups, we encountered quite sexist opinions from a few housemates. These students expected female housemates to be the ones to clean and cook while they, for lack of better term, free-loaded.
We had to take a step back and understand that they did not mean to be sexist, that was just how the societies in their countries were set up. It took a while for them to unlearn this toxic mentality, and eventually, they saw the need for them to contribute to the housework. We recently even had a New Year’s party that got virtually everyone busy in the kitchen, cooking up a storm.
3. It’s not all debauchery after all.
The idea of living in co-ed housing leaves many African parents shook. In addition to this, we get a lot of disapproving comments from neighbors in the estate seeing as we are in a very conservative country, Rwanda. I, too, was a victim of the danger of the single story perpetuated by American college movies. What people do not realize is that living in a co-ed house does not translate to orgies and unhealthy sexual contact. On the contrary, we get to really know people and even witness each other’s disgusting behaviors. Our relationships mostly morph into brother-sister relationships. In as much as sometimes romantic relationships could be formed, it is not the case for everyone.
After experiencing co-ed housing, I would not have it any other way. I now believe there should be more open-mindedness in African societies towards more mixed gendered housing.