Barring love at first sight between roommates on orientation day, living with one's significant other may seem as hopeful as requesting Hogan as a sophomore.
Unofficial couples' housing at Columbia is an under-the-radar phenomenon: accepted by RAs, ignored by housing administrators and with mixed results among those students who chose it. Columbia has no rules surrounding students living with other students they might be dating, but the University also doesn't supply designated couples housing or married housing for undergraduate students.
"The only official rule is that a double room can only be occupied by members of the same gender," assistant director of housing services Rob Lutomski said. Other than that, he said, "If your desire is to live with your significant other, you can."
Every Columbia residence hall is co-ed. All upperclassmen suites can be co-ed, and Lutomski said he estimates about 70 percent actually are. Two-person suites, which can be co-ed, are available in Watt and in EC Flats. Because the rooms are singles, there is the "separate space" between genders that rules insist upon. 96 to 98 percent of two-person groups, however, are single sex, Lutomski estimated.
"We don't pry," Lutomski said, "It's your home."
A pair of SEAS '04 students is glad Lutomski feels that way. The opposite-sex couple has been sharing an East Campus exclusion double since last fall. "We had been mostly staying in each other's rooms for two years before that, so we went ahead with trying to live together in a more planned-out way this year," they wrote in an e-mail.
The two lived across the hall from each other during their first year and have dated ever since. "From our perspective, [couples' housing] would be good because we've been a pretty stable couple for a few years now, so it's not like we would get a room together and then break up and demand that [University Housing Council] re-house us separately. However, these kind of long-term relationships aren't the norm at Columbia, so it makes sense for UHC to doubt the responsibility and commitment of couples signing up to live together," they wrote.
Some couples in the past have broken up during the school year and asked to be reassigned, which Lutomski said is not a problem. Echoing Field of Dreams, he said, "If you ask for it, we'll move you." Columbia allows students to transfer continually, and Barnard housing offers students two chances to change their housing: Fall Room Change Period and Spring Room Change Period.
A nameless CC '07 couple chose not to live together so they'd avoid the need to move. Though both chose and were accepted to the Living Learning Center, "we decided not to live together because it is impossible to tell where things will stand six months from now and how things will go during the next school year," the boy said.
"It's just a precaution," his girlfriend added. And apparently referencing author Chinua Achebe, she noted, "What if things fall apart?"
Lutomski said students are not obligated to share their reasons for requesting a room change, so it is impossible to say how often the breakup forces someone into the doghouse, or Wien. "The expectation is that students know what their boundaries are," he said. But, to avoid a "brouhaha" of any sort, he said the housing system at Columbia is "flexible, liberal, open ... We want students to be comfortable."
Amber Reed and girlfriend Kim Norman, both BC '05, are very comfortable sharing a room in the 601 W. 110th St. College Residence with their turtle named "Frog." Barnard and Columbia students in same-sex relationships are free to share a room while dating. Last year, the girls began living together as friends in Brooks Hall, then began a relationship and pushed their single beds together. "Our RA had to know," but didn't say anything, Reed said.
She and Norman are going to live together for the third time, but as seniors they will have single rooms within a suite in 616. The girls both said they like that they are never lonely. "You get used to someone being there; you form a dependency," Reed said. "If you get in a fight and you are together, it forces you to work things out."
Reed and Norman said the benefits outweigh any drawbacks, but that two people have to be ready to move in with one another. "[Living together] could really push it one way or the other. It could really change a relationship," Norman said. She added that because students must select a room six months before they move into it, and then are required to stay there for one year, the stakes of a couple living together in college are even higher than in the real world.
The female half of the EC exclusion double said, "Last year when we were mostly living together in my room, we stepped on each other's toes a lot because there wasn't any alternative space or people to escape to. It was just a little too isolating to be with each other every second of the day in a tiny room far from everyone we knew, but the suite has really made that kind of stress disappear."
"It's difficult to motivate yourself to make friends when you're living with someone you're dating," Reed said, garnering a nod from Norman.