Erik Youngdahl and Michelle Garcia share a dorm room at Connecticut's Wesleyan University. But they say there's no funny business going on. Really.
They have set up their beds side-by-side and avert their eyes when one of them is changing clothes.
"People are shocked to hear that it's happening and even that it's possible," said Youngdahl, a 20-year-old sophomore. But "once you actually live in it, it doesn't actually turn into a big deal."
In the 1950s, college dorms were off-limits to members of the opposite sex. Then came the 1970s, when male and female students started crossing paths in coed dormitories. Now, to the astonishment of some baby boomer parents, a growing number of colleges are going even further: coed rooms.
At least two dozen schools, including Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Oberlin College, Clark University and the California Institute of Technology, allow some or all students to share a room with anyone they choose, including someone of the opposite sex. This spring, as students sign up for next year's rooms, more schools are following suit, including Stanford University.
Schools say the demand is mostly from heterosexual students who want to live with close friends who happen to be of the opposite sex. Some gay students who feel more comfortable rooming with someone of the opposite sex are also taking advantage of the option.
"It ultimately comes down to finding someone that you feel is compatible with you," said Jeffrey Chang, a junior at Clark in Worcester, Mass., who co-founded the National Student Genderblind Campaign, a group that is pushing for gender-neutral housing. "Students aren't doing this to make a point. They're not doing this to upset their parents. It's really for practical reasons."
Most schools introduced the coed room option in the past three or four years, and relatively few students are taking part so far. At the University of Pennsylvania, which began offering coed rooms in 2005, about 120 out of 10,400 students took advantage of the option this year.
Garcia and Youngdahl live in a house for students with an interest in Russian studies. They said they were already friendly and didn't think they would be compatible with some of the other people in the house.
"I had just roomed with a boy. I was under the impression at the time that girls were a little bit neater and more quiet," Youngdahl said. "As it turns out, I don't see much of a difference."
Garcia, 19, admitted, "I'm incredibly messy."
Some parents aren't thrilled. Debbie Feldman's daughter, Samantha, a sophomore at Oberlin in Ohio, plans to room with her platonic friend Grey Caspro, a straight guy, next year. Feldman said she was shocked when her daughter told her.
"When you have a male and female sharing such close quarters, I think it's somewhat delusional to think there won't be sexual tension," said Feldman, 52. "Maybe this generation feels more comfortable walking around in their underwear. I'm not sure that's a good thing."