Disclaimer: This write up will not be applicable to all people in all places in the world. Its written for a specific context.
Until April 2012, atleast for one course per semester I had to attend my classes alongside about 100 others. And from the begining of college the natural organization of the class room or LT(short for lecture Theatre) as we call it here has intrigued me. I think this class(i am talking about class as in schools-a class rooms and class as in social sciences) room phenomenon caught my eyes from high school itself. Until primary education, the class teacher is responsible for your sitting arrangement, well if not all then in most places. Its only from the high schools that you get to sit at a place of your own choice. If the teacher’s fond of you, you’ll get by other wise there’s still a chance that you may not get to sit where you want. But one thing in this class organization changes completely. There’s a completely acceptable, and never questionable turn of the social space of a class room from a heterogenous one to a homogenous one at the bench level. From 2 boys and girl of 2 boys and 2 girls or 2 girls and a boy to either 3 boys or 3 girls or 4 from each gender. That is the homogenity I am talking about.
Now, biologically the explaination is simple and I am sure anyone reading this will be to make out that all the hormonal changes kicking in the two sexes are responsible for all the awkward interactions.
Coupled with that, the ways in which we are brought up in this part of the world, despite girls and boys being mutual friends, hanging out with each other but while not in class- yes thats what i am talking about, while not in class. Lets push it further.
First coming to 8th grade from the 7th, one loses a lot of old friends made in 7 years of primary school. Later, going from 10th to 11th once again there’s a reshuffle based on who chooses what from science, commerce and arts(which is not arts but social sciences but its arts). And once again after 12th. For most students the 2 year phase between 10th grade and college is a transitory one. Lots of new people to meet but nobody’s looking for a lasting reltionship romantic or platonic, whatever. Most students are enrolled in tuitions for cracking the plethora of entrance exams that they are expected to right after completing grade 12. So again, one can understand that not a lot of people think about who’s sitting where and how because it doesn’t really matter. However, this is about that time when some of the mutual hanging out turns into making out and stuff like that but the spatial organization of the class rooms remains the same. Lets push it even further.
Most people get into 4 year college programs. Some get into 5 as well. And especially with the way a large section of popular movies depict college life to be, scoring with boys/girls is definitely one of the priorities for most people. Its natural, its obvious and its acceptable, its a norm. But kind of as a sub-culture. Something that is not talked about much in the open, loudly. Its tacit. One can understand the manner in which freshers behave with each other in the class rooms in their first years of college. In the initial weeks, probably since nobody knows anybody from the opposite sex while they have had a little interaction with some of the membrs of their own sex since dorm rooms are shared on an intra-sex basis and not on an inter-sex basis. So that probably answers the question as to why do we dont start sitting randomly from day one. Now there are more factors to be considered as to how is the class room space organized but we’ll refrain from looking at factors other then gender for now.
College festivals, lab work, even examinations and obviously relationships induce a lot of inter-sexual interactions but despite that the class rooms remain segregated except for certain love buds refraining from adhering to the custom. Over time, as groups of friends are formed people do start sitting in sort of clusters but despite this the overall organization of the class rooms, be it the huge halls, or the smaller ones, remains the same. Strange!
A lot of debate has happened and continues to happen over whether hostels should allow boys and girls to live together or not. While the extremely heterogenous nature of socio-cultural situations in India make it impossible to come to a nation wide consensus, if one for a moment assumes that colleges had co-ed hostels, then probably the way in which our class rooms are organized might be different. Infact, i think there’s a fair chance of that happening. Boys and girls being roommates, boys and girls in the same dormitory will obviously have interacted more and much often compared to boys and girls say living across the street in other hostel in the same university. And I think this could change things around.
In another scenario where co-ed hostels is not a reality we will obviously not see the change right away. And lets not expect to see the change right away. The core question at hand remains the same: Why is there a large amount of segregation between sexes in the class room even when there is so much interaction outside the class room ? The same can be questioned about the fact that on most campuses one will find many peopl hankering about the kind of mannerisms that people in general expect from couples while moving around on campus walks and other activities and how such expectations are strenous and everything. So at the personal level everyone wants to have a very free atmosphere, wants to let couples kissing away, co-ed hostels, people sitting in class wherever they want to but each one of these will be skeptical if the others whom they dont really know will be willing to let all this happen. Many times i have seen in my own environment where there’s a bench and single person occupying that seat with the other one empty, if the person is from the opposite sex, one will think thrice before sitting there even if the person is know to him/her. I was personally told to not sit with her by a lady friend in tutorial sessions for no logical reason at all. But the obvious explanation could have been that she was uncomfortable about how other people would think of it. Personally it was embarrassing and a twisted version of what the hell was going to to come thrashing out of my mouth but the situation stopped me from doing anythin uncivilized. Now whether its a she or a he, well its difficult for a he to be uncomfortable in presence of a she since there are hardly any shes around but nevertheless, people do kind of get uncomfortable when a known person from the opposite sex turns up to sit beside you.
As mentioned above, all of us want to have a free atmosphere where people hangout without inhibitions. But we believe that its only us who’s talking about an inhibitionless world of interaction amongst the sexes while all others are the same old conservative gonads. (I beg your pardon for the profanity). And so while each one individually wants to have a different environment, one is skeptical as to what the others want and will assume that the others want the status quo to perpetuate!