First All-School Congress in Five Years Facilitates Student-Faculty Discussion on Room Visitation Policies

Sahil Tekchandani ’19, Flagstaff Cluster Co-President, facilitated one of 15 discussions occurring in
different rooms of Samuel Phillips Hall during All-School Congress on Monday.

Over 200 students and faculty members dispersed throughout 15 classrooms in Samuel Phillips Hall to attend the first All-School Congress (ASC) in five years. The Congress provided an opportunity for students and faculty to share their opinions on room visitation policies.

The Congress was hosted by Student Council members on Monday. Student Council worked with the Deans Team to organize the Congress.

Preliminary stages of the ASC began during Fall Term, when Cluster and School Co-Presidents discussed current parietal rules at the Dean’s Table. According to Associate Dean of Students Rajesh Mundra, there was a level of miscommunication and judgement surrounding room visitations last year.

“[An ASC] came up because we thought [it] would be the best way to involve students and faculty in a joint discussion about an issue that both [parties] care about,” said Mundra.

During the ASC, students and faculty were divided into classrooms for small group discussions. The bulk of the small discussions allocated time to talk about current room visitation policies and a proposed alternative policy written by Andover, Deerfield, Choate, Phillips Exeter Academy, and Northfield Mount Hermon.

According to Anne Gardner, Protestant Chaplain and Director of  Spiritual and Religious Life, each activity was designed to foster student-faculty relationships.

“These kinds of opportunities [allow] really wonderful discussions between people who don’t know each other,” said Gardner. “[The activities] instructed us to turn to somebody that was near us, so the adults were not intended to talk to other adults, nor students with other students.”

Attendees were first asked to share what they hoped would result from an ASC. Moderators then passed out printouts of the Blue Book that stated Andover’s current room visitation policy.

According to Co-President Nick Demetroulakos ’19, one of the main issues that were raised by students and faculty was the heteronormativity present in current parietal policies, as well as the stereotype that parietals are used solely for sexual relationships.

Demetroulakos said, “For me, [the issue of heteronormativity] is what is important [for] parietal rules. It was nice to hear faculty express explicitly [that] there needs to be a change.”

Another topic of discussion was room visitation hours. According to Chi Igbokwe ’21, the discussion room she was in came to an agreement that current room visitation hours during weekdays were inconvenient for both faculty and students. A moment that stood out for Igbokwe was when faculty shared how parietal hours affected them.

“One main point was how faculty want to support the use of parietals, but because the times are from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., [faculty] have to take care of their kids [and other businesses],” said Igbokwe.

Massachusetts’ age of consent, pressure from parents, the institutional liability for students’ safety, and others were topics of discussion for why the current visitation policies exist at Andover. Moderators distributed the alternative policy drafted by Andover and other peer schools.

Mundra said, “Each school has their own culture and architecture of dorms, and it’s hard to come up with a common policy that works everywhere. [The alternative policy] was meant to generate discussion.”

The alternative policy made a distinction between common room, intra-dorm, and inter-dorm visitations. Common room visitations allowed students from any dorm to be invited between 8:00 a.m. and check-in time.

Intra-dorm visitations applied to visitations between students who live in the same dorm. Students may visit their peers with closed doors until study hours; during study hours, students must remain in their own room. Students are also required to come back to their room after 10:30 p.m.

Inter-dorm visitations would apply to any visitor who did not reside in the dorm they were invited to and begin at 6:00 p.m. From 6:00 p.m. to the beginning of study hours, any student could be invited to a peer’s room, provided they sign in and the door is open 90 degrees, regardless of the students’ gender identity. A faculty member does not need to be on duty.

When an adult is on duty, visitors must sign in and doors must be left open with an object left at the doorway to denote a room visit in progress. Seniors could have closed doors but sleepovers would not be allowed.

According to Igbokwe, the revised policy seemed to be more inclusive and addressed the issue of heteronormativity surrounding Andover’s current parietal rules. The specific parts of the revised dorm visitation policy that could be implemented at Andover were a topic of discussion.

“If [Andover] presents itself as a more inclusive and liberal school, we shouldn’t backtrack with rules like having students return to their room by 10:30 p.m.,” said Igbokwe.

Another difference in the proposed alternative policy was the affiliation of day students to dorms and the different rules regarding day student sleepovers. Tanush Mittal ’22, a day student from Reading, Mass., appreciated the proposal’s effort to better integrate the day student population but thought the addition of day student sleepovers would not serve that purpose.

“[Sleepovers] would not make that much of a difference because everyone has a lot of work. The new policy… excludes day students and gives less of a chance to visit [boarding students],” said Mittal.

According to Demetroulakos, the discussions from the ASC reflected the complications of finding a visitation policy that benefits all students and faculty. Demetroulakos said, however, that change can begin with improving student-faculty communication, students’ willingness to discuss consent, and the heteronormativity of the dorm system.

“We need to zoom out from room visitation to look at what’s moving behind the scenes before we can address drafting a room visitation policy that is effective,” said Demetroulakos.

There was not a definitive change in room visitation policies as a result of the ASC and there is nothing specific planned, according to Mundra. The Dean of Students Office believes, however, that the ASC was a great start for students and faculty to hear each other’s perspectives regarding a more inclusive room visitation policy.

“This opened the door and raised a level of trust, care, and solidarity around the three values of safety, trust, and inclusion,” said Mundra. “I hope [this] sets us up well to dig deeper into developing a policy that maybe not everyone will agree with, but I hope there will be more understanding [when there is a new policy].”

Editor’s Note: Olivia Tung is an Associate Photo Editor for The Phillipian.