Volume 15, Number 8
November 11, 2008

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The Procrastinator

bilwriteGirls and Boys

In general, Turkish dormitories, as you know, are far from being co-ed. On one hand there are some trials to mix students, like any civilized society would do. On the other hand students continue to face blows to basic freedoms. The most recent ones I saw came in the form of two notices posted in my female-exclusive dorm. The first was handwritten and it read that male students are only allowed in the common kitchen/dining room for the purpose of eating, and not for conversation or studying. The second notice was official, bearing the seal of the dormitory’s administration, warning residents that in case anyone of the opposite sex steps into the male/female blocks of the "co-ed" 77th and 78th dorms, this will result in their temporary removal from the dormitories for two weeks, or up to two semesters.
When reading these notices, I feel offended. Obviously, the dormitory administration, having solved such problems as mice running on the kitchen counters and half-efficient showers, has decided to add amendments to their regulations. Obviously, its officers are not aware that male and female students may want to come together, not necessarily for "obscene" reasons, but for having conversations and studying; two essential activities of student life that would be practiced best in the warmth of dorms, say, on cold winter nights.

Beyond this, I am also offended ethically. Our school, a leading institution in many fields, teaches genetics, philosophy, and cultural studies. Minds, bodies and their representations are discovered and restructured. Yet when it comes to the unwritten, but existing rights of communication and residence, those who are 18 years old and above are restricted from hosting fellow opposite-gender students in their virtual homes and from living with people of their choice. I am not stating that all dorms should be co-ed since it is more convenient for some people to live with people of their own sex, just as it is acceptable and normal for others to share kitchens, corridors or rooms with people of the opposite sex. Respect is the key issue here, one that is ignored by the current regulations. What is also ignored is Bilkent's position as an academic competitor against prominent universities around the world, the housing facilities of which offer different types of accommodation for different choices regarding sex.

Yet, this approach is understandable. After all, what they call a “female” dorm elsewhere is referred to as a "girls" dorm in Turkey. While the name for a “ female” basketball team would be a "women’s" team, we in Turkey, find the name "girl’s" team appropriate. The belief that university students are not adults with certain rights, but rather children to be taken care of and watched closely, has been inured so unhealthily within the society that an overwhelming majority of dorm administrations regard keeping "girls" away from "boys" as a serious part of their jobs.

My reaction is shame. We are a nation of paradoxes. We suffer a great deal from the actions of official and unofficial chastity-guards. We do not let the sons and daughters of this country sit at the same desk in primary schools, we do not let them have conversations in their residence halls when there is nowhere else to go, and then we wonder why unspeakable cases of sexual assault and abuse occupy the newspapers everyday, and why inter-sex communication is impossible in Turkey. All of these can be attributed to the fact that this culture still finds it most inappropriate and immoral to allow people to live in sexually healthy environments, even when they are legally adults and in a university of their choice.

Well aware that the status-quo will not change when I utter these words, I still think they should be said, in the hope that some time in the future, the next generation of little "boys" and "girls" (that is, students) of Bilkent can actually invite their opposite sex peers into their dorm kitchens to converse...not just to watch each other eat.

UPDATE: As of today, November 7, the dormitory administration seems to have realized their mistake and taken down the notice about common kitchens. But with no guarantee that the dorm residents won't face such warnings in the future, I still think that the article maintains its significance.

Damla Okay(AMER/IV)

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