Commentary

Commentary: Re-Visiting Trust

Before Winter Break, on December 10, students and faculty met in All-School Congress to discuss room visitation policy. Several issues were identified, chief among them the current policy’s stigmatizing nature and the heteronormative culture created by its enforcement. An alternative proposal was then passed around, with rules based on intra-dorm and inter-dorm visits rather than gender. These rules, however, just expand the current restrictive parietal policies to encompass all room visits. While they eliminate the heteronormative aspects of room visitation policy, they fail to acknowledge the importance of private spaces for students’ well-being and their development of healthy relationships. In discussing and making changes to our room visitation policy, it’s important that in tackling one problem, we don’t take two steps backward in others.

As Andover students, we are on campus for weeks to months at a time. When we need to get work done, we can go to Lower Left, Gelb Science Center, or the Underwood Room. If we want to work out, we can go to the Snyder Center. There are spaces for practicing music, for working on projects in The Nest, and for cultural events and clubs. But when we need privacy, where do we go?

K.Song/The Phillipian

The Blue Book and the alternate policy proposal suggest that dorm common rooms and other campus spaces provide plenty of space for students to converse in private with friends and socialize. For many students, this is true. Other students like myself, however, just don’t find the same level of comfort when we are not in our rooms. Think about watching a movie or a show with your friends. Would it be the same if it occurred in a common room where anybody could walk in to fill up their water bottle or microwave ramen? Or if the door had to be open 90 degrees and the lights had to be on, with house counselors and dormmates nearby to hear your every word and reaction? Imagine playing cards, just sitting around listening to music, or having a discussion about a controversial or personal issue you don’t want to be overheard. Your room is the only place where you can choose to be with the people you trust, where there is both a physical barrier and an expectation of privacy between you, those you trust, and everyone else. For certain students and dorms, this barrier might be entirely unnecessary, but for others, especially for those in bigger dorms or those who are more introverted and don’t have strong connections with everyone around them, their rooms are a necessary safe haven where they are free from judgement and free to be themselves.

Our rooms are unique places on campus (at least for students of the same gender in binary dorms) because they are readily accessible yet carry the expectation of privacy and safety. There are no other spaces on campus that fulfill the same role. Rules like restricted hours, requiring doors open/lights on, and needing a house counselor to be on duty and patrolling would take away the only private space students have left.

The Blue Book specifies that current room visitation rules apply to “students engaged in any intimate relationship.” These rules are designed to protect students’ safety and the school’s legal obligations and liabilities. Even aside from sex, a dorm room presents a unique environment where students could be pressured into unwanted or unsafe situations with no easy escape. This is true for hazing and bullying of students of any gender or relationship, yet students are trusted not to harass or assault each other when unmonitored behind closed doors. Instead of taking away this trust and clamping down on all room visits, we should aim to extend it to cross-gender visitations. We should trust students to be capable of making good and safe enough decisions in their rooms to not need constant monitoring just because a visitor is of a different gender. In aiming to eliminate heteronormativity, the administration should try to extend their trust rather than renounce it.

Perhaps this outlook is too idealistic; not all students will be able to have healthy and safe relationships and many may fail to recognize and prevent dangerous situations on their own. After all, we are young and our judgement is still developing, especially when it comes to activities like sex. This outlook doesn’t take into account that the school has a legal obligation to protect us while we are on campus. It also doesn’t take into account the effect of societal factors and rape culture on students. I believe, however, that this is the ideal we should be aiming for. Developing the ability to form healthy relationships and communicate clearly and truthfully with others is a big objective of the existing Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion program, and we should continue striving to get closer to a culture of consent and respect. Guidance can come from relationships with teachers, house counselors, and other trusted adults on campus. The system of ensuring student safety should come from positive reinforcement and expectations elsewhere on campus rather than taking away room visitation freedoms.

I understand that policies need to be realistic and keep students safe, but as a school that prides itself on being progressive and innovative, Andover should be working towards developing a room visitation system that is based on trust and reaching higher standards and expectations. Furthermore, we have to consider the importance of dorm rooms as private spaces necessary for fostering all kinds of healthy relationships and the shortage of such spaces elsewhere on campus. We are lucky to have administration and faculty who encourage discussion about room visitation issues. Instead of boxing ourselves in, we should make changes that lead towards a truly better room visitation policy and campus culture.

Samson Zhang is a two-year  Upper from New York, N.Y. and a Associate Video Editor for The Phillipian.  Contact the author at szhang20@andover.edu.