Dressed to Distress

I was furious when I first read Paul Murphy’s “dance matters” e-mail, which initially struck me as an unjustified attack on my freedom of dress and expression. Nevertheless, after mulling over the e-mail in the days since receiving it, I have come to realize that people do not always choose to dance or dress a certain way. Sometimes, they are pressured into it. Although I do not believe that students’ choices to dance or dress in a provocative manner are inherently bad, I understand that the reasons for their decisions can be problematic. If students are wearing minimal clothing simply because they are more comfortable in such attire, then there should be no policies in place that minimize the agency they have over their own bodies. If students are, however, dressing provocatively because the hookup culture pressures them to, then our community needs to make a continued effort to deconstruct said culture. In addition to being socially coerced into wearing certain attire, some students, particularly girls, are also pressured into grinding. As a new Lower at the Video Dance, I can still remember a group of large and rowdy upperclassmen boys who seemed to take pleasure in encroaching upon the personal space of us small underclassmen girls. Though I was able to avoid them, I remember feeling uncomfortable at the dance and wary of their presence even after the dance ended. As a new Lower, I would have been privately grateful for any clarification of the rules. No one should grind with another person without explicit consent. The fact that there are students that feel pressured to act a certain way should prompt us as a community to continue to dismantle roots of the hookup culture. Although I originally felt that the rules infringed upon students’ power over choices regarding their own bodies, I now feel that they at least attempt to address the ongoing problem of people feeling forced to dance with a partner. If students are comfortable enough to coerce their peers into uncomfortable scenarios in public, then what are they comfortable doing when no one is watching? It is important for the administration to understand that the real issue here is not that students are showing too much skin or getting too cozy on the dance floor. The issue is that although some students dance and dress a certain way of their own accord, others make such decisions based off of external pressures, and at times, it becomes difficult to differentiate between the two. Although Andover excels in many areas regarding community health, the administration seems to skirt around the issue of student sexuality. If we want to promote decency in regard to relationships and hookups, we should support dialogue that teaches students how to establish boundaries and emphasize consent. We cannot put the burden of decency solely on those that are pressured into difficult situations. Therefore, although I applaud the administration’s attempt to remedy the discomfort experienced by some at dances, I feel that their emphasis should have been on the roots of the culture rather than the resulting environment. Nevertheless, while frustration with the administration is justifiable under the current circumstances, I also think it is crucial to not let vexation cloud our judgements. Although I feel that by focusing on a very narrow aspect of the greater ills of the hookup culture the administration may have missed their mark, this policy was undoubtedly implemented with the best interest of the students in mind. We cannot ignore the fact that this was an earnest attempt to cultivate safe spaces, particularly for our younger and more impressionable students. To disregard how this policy may benefit their development, comfort and safety at Andover would be insensitive and selfish. This e-mail and policy should be used as a springboard for productive dialogue. Rather than use it as an example of yet another administrative decision made without student consultation, we should use it as an opportunity for us to collaborate with administrators in the future on ways to deconstruct our hookup culture. Though frustration with and opposition to the policy are justified, we should remember to consider the voices of those that may support it.