Problematic Parietals

Each year, Andover students congregate with their dormmates to renew that most unfortunate of P.A. traditions: the ever-awkward, ever-giggly, parietal talk. Whether you’ve sat through this lecture one time or four, in a boys or girls dormitory, I would wager that each meeting was a somewhat ridiculous affair. In my own experience, at least, the speech that boys hear is a stunningly audacious non-sequitur. To begin, we are told that a parietal is having a member of the opposite sex in one’s room. However, the house counselor says, parietals are not for engaging in sexual activity (or at least not all the time.) Actually, they say, parietals are intended for any number of quintessentially platonic activities; Monopoly, friendly conversation, and studying are often cited as proper parietal pastimes. I appreciate the “Leave It to Beaver” parietal ideal as much as anyone; my room has seen its share of co-ed card games and Scrabble sessions. There is a certain hedonistic quality to be had in the comically wholesome parietal, and if the parietal talk ended after the aforementioned description, one might not have trouble thinking of parietals as good, clean fun. Unfortunately, as we all know, this symphony has another, more sinister movement to come. If the first part of the parietal talk makes young Andover men feel like Eddie Haskel, the second paints the picture of an army of young would-be R. Kellys. All of a sudden, it feels like that carpet of trust is swept out from under us as our house counselors speak of the importance of treating a hypothetical lady friend with dignity and respect. This is not to say such things are not important, because they are (and all you men out there shouldn’t dare think otherwise.) But if you recall we had just been informed that these parietal things really aren’t about sex. (Perhaps they are?) As talk of sexual relations creeps back into the dialog in the form of painstaking Q&A about statutory rape laws, the room becomes filled with gravely serious expressions, more than several of which conceal a freshly hardened cynicism. And indeed, I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling cynical, confused, or both about Andover’s room-visiting rules. The concept of a parietal hearkens back to an era that was decidedly less enlightened than our own with regards to gender relations. Before coeducation, before men and women walked on even nominally equal playing fields, the faculty and administrators at Andover might have been wise to keep the cuffs on male-female interaction, if only because those teenagers, like any, were a product of their times. Likewise, our generation is an admirable testament to the achievements of women and men who worked to do away with sexual inequality. With this in mind, the time has come for a re-evaluation of Andover’s antiquated room-visiting policies. Although Andover’s current parietal policy is rightly cognizant of the timeless fallibility of youth, its regulations don’t do much more than give nervous parents a false sense of security. To all the moms and dads who expect a few rules to stand against the evolutionary juggernaut of their children’s furious hormones, I’m sorry, but the rules are doomed to be broken, in spirit if not in letter. Darkened common rooms, empty class buildings, and lonely corners of Andover’s expansive lawns are just a few of the many places where students can enjoy each others’ company free from prying eyes and dated regulations. Moreover, one can see why a couple might opt to have an unauthorized parietal or look for other places to be alone. Most students who have had parietals know that it matters little whether a girl and boy plan to populate their private time with harmless smooching or with acts of depravity unfit even for the Features pages; more often than not, awkward exchanges with house counselors and the behavior of dormmate passers-by seems more tailored to the latter. This is because, unfortunately, Andover openly discourages sexual activity while still crudely peddling out inter-sex privacy with the clear assumption that sexual activity will take place. This assumption (and we thought that there were none) is curious because it takes for granted that young men desire young women and vice-versa; surely one can’t accuse the school of being ignorant of its gay and lesbian students. It does not seem to bother the school (nor me, for that matter) that gay and lesbian students can pursue their romantic interests independent of parietal rules. The other side of this arrangement, however, highlights the folly of our school’s room-visiting rules; even if a student is gay, he or she is still unable to room-visit with members of the opposite sex because our policy is designed around singularly heterosexual suspicion. Should Andover institutionalize students’ sexual orientation in order to preserve our sex-centric parietal policy? Should we continue to pretend that the Senior’s closed-door parietal is so coveted because board games are so much more fulfilling with the door shut? Or maybe the school should adopt the “three feet on the ground policy” seen at some of our peer schools, so that students don’t get too horizontal with their recreation. My answers: no, no, and no again, for the time has come to do away with this Blue Book dinosaur. In place of our current policy, Andover should remove all universal restrictions on room-visiting for students who are old enough to consent to sex (sixteen in Massachusetts.) In order to calm fretful parents an individual student’s parents could decide how comfortable they are with their son or daughter interacting with the opposite sex. Arrangements could be made to accommodate young men and women who are in committed relationships, or who are simply good friends, to avoid the current awkwardness. Parents could also permit their children to room-visit freely in co-ed groups of, let’s say, two or more members of each sex. This arrangement would allow parents to engage in one area of their child’s life where the school can do quite little. The re-negotiation of room-visiting arrangements could happen at any time during the year, fostering an evolving dialog between students, their house counselors, and their parents about each student’s romantic joys and frustrations .If a student didn’t want to have to discuss any of these manners with their house counselors or parents, he or she wouldn’t have much trouble. Admittedly, this plan isn’t perfect, but the time is right for a change in Andover’s parietal policy.