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The GW Hatchet

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Professor challenges Catholic University’s single-sex housing

GW Law professor John Banzhaf claims the single-sex dorms at Catholic University violate terms of the D.C. Human Rights Act. File Photo

GW law professor John Banzhaf is preparing a legal challenge against Catholic University of America’s plan to assign students to single-sex residence halls.

In an intent-to-sue notice mailed to CUA President John Garvey yesterday, Banzhaf said the move qualified as sex discrimination under the D.C. Human Rights Act.

“This takes us back to the 1950s and 1960s when dorms were segregated. But we’ve come a long way now, and we shouldn’t go back,” Banzhaf, 70, said. “They’re going back to the ‘good old days’ when boys were in one dorm and girls in the other. That was fine in ‘Leave It To Beaver,’ but it’s not appropriate now.”

Banzhaf said the “business necessity” exemption of the D.C. Human Rights Act – which grants an exception for discrimination when “business cannot be conducted” – is moot for Catholic University because they have instituted mixed-gender housing since 1982.

The law, however, does allow religious organizations to limit housing accommodations.

Gustavo Velasquez, the director of the District’s Office of Human Rights, said though the lawsuit has not yet been filed, he believes CUA may find exemption as a religious organization from the D.C. Human Rights Act.

“I’m not sure that co-ed dormitories are a right under this law,” Velasquez said. “To me, there is something much more fundamental in questioning this suit. Who is being discriminated against? What is the effect of discrimination? What is the injury here?”

Katie Lee, Catholic University’s director of communications, said in a statement that Garvey had not yet received Banzhaf’s lawsuit notice.

“The University is confident that the law does not require men and women to be housed together in residence halls,” Lee said.

Garvey admitted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week that the policy was “slightly old-fashioned,” but wrote that single-sex housing would help deter students from binge drinking and having casual sex.

CUA plans to implement the move in phases, beginning with single-sex residence halls for freshmen next year. The policy comes in contrast to GW’s decision to institute gender-neutral housing starting this fall.

Banzhaf said he is waiting for a response from CUA to his intent-to-sue notice before filing the suit with the District Office of Human Rights.




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