On Monday night, The Phillipian published a staff report detailing some policy changes regarding parietals to be enacted in the 2015-2016 school year. The student response has been highly negative, as students have vehemently protested the change.One argument against the change is that the new rules will lead to an increase of illegal parietals and will move sex into academic buildings, rather than leading to a decrease in sexual activity on campus. While I see there is a valid cause for concern, there is a lot of constructive conversation that can be held beyond the scope of the unintended consequences of the policies. While it can be fairly easily concluded that the aforementioned results are possible to arise, there are other considerations to be taken into account that do not rely on students working around the system.
On page ten of the Blue Book, there are four reasons listed that “sexual intimacy between students at Phillips Academy is inappropriate”. The first of these deals with the physical health of students that may be jeopardized by STIs and/or pregnancy. I agree that protecting students from STIs and pregnancy are valid objectives. A better sex education program, however, would go further towards this goal than the proposed parietal changes. Changing the parietal rules in an attempt to stop students from having sex is an easy way to cover up the problem without fixing it.
The fact of the matter is that students come to Andover to be prepared for life. Rather than expecting students to practice abstinence for the duration of high school, it would be better to teach them safe sex practices and allow them enough limited freedom to make good decisions on their own. It should be a student’s choice. Provided that a student has reached the legal age of consent, allowing them to make informed decisions regarding their intimate lives is a reasonable and helpful policy worth trying.
The second reason given for intimacy being inappropriate at Andover, according to the Blue Book, is that it can be potentially emotionally damaging. Less sex on campus does not equate with less emotional damage. Taking away the ability for students to talk about the sexual side of their relationship (because it wouldn’t exist) will not help them to have healthy relationships. I fully agree, however, with the changes for Juniors, most of whom are legally below the age of consent. Mature approaches to all facets of healthy relationships take time to develop, however, it may be beneficial to all involved to discuss how much freedom is necessary for this development to take place.
The third reason given for intimacy being inappropriate is that there is a spectrum of values and moral beliefs among the student body. Rather than arguing that there are values and moral beliefs for and against these issues, I suggest that we consider why we are giving some values more weight than others. Students are not forced to have parietals and consensual intimacy between two people does not include other parties. If intimacy were so restricted that it occurred significantly less on campus, it would not impact those whose values would bar them from such intimacies, as it would those who do not impose such restrictions on themselves.
The fourth reason given in the Blue Book is that students have a right to privacy and a right to be free of exposure to others’ sexual behaviors. This raises the question as to why measures aren’t being taken to prevent exposure by making parietals more private, rather than removing sexual intimacy from the equation. The open door policies do not respect the students having the parietal’s privacy any more than it respects the wishes of students outside who do not wish to be involved. The current parietal system (at least as I have seen it) does both. A possible remedy to discomfort on either side is to educate students about how to be respectful of others’ wishes when planning intimacy in parietals.
While I acknowledge that not all faculty members are comfortable with the thought of sexual intimacy taking place under their watch, discussion with students and case by case permissions may be better suited than a blanket policy to alleviate tension. While it may be difficult for house counselors and/or complements in larger dorms to have a sense of what is going on, it is still possible for them to have a sense as to what they will and will not allow on their watch. Parietals can be denied, and perhaps the policy could be adjusted so that house counselors are allowed to amend the terms of the parietal. The question I hope to raise here is whether responsible practices surrounding sexual intimacy among legally consenting adolescents is best approached with individual attention and limited freedom, or with general policies that remove the need for discussion at all.
In closing, I feel it necessary to say that the suggestions and criticisms included are not intended to demean the faculty’s decision in any way. They have been tasked with educating over a thousand young people both in and out of the classroom, and endeavor to cater to their well-being. While unquestionably well-intentioned, however, the parietal policy reform is a controversial one that may be open to improvement through rational discussion. The problem to be addressed is not so much sexual intimacy, but rather our approach towards it.