The administration’s revisions to Andover’s dorm room visitation policy now require all students visiting a dorm room, regardless of gender, to receive permission from house counselors. Previously, permissions were needed only for opposite-gender visits during specific hours—typically on Friday and Saturday evenings.
According to Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, the impetus behind the policy change was to disrupt heteronormativity in creating a more equitable and inclusive policy.
“We’ve made lots and lots of assumptions about gender and gender identity previously. We also fed into our binary dormitory structures that most of our dorms are either designated for girls or for boys, and we made assumptions about students who were visiting those dorms. When we looked at this issue deliberately several years ago with student leaders, there was a sense that we really wanted our expectations and rules to be far more inclusive and really to disrupt some of those assumptions and gendered practices,” said Elliott.
Although dormitory visits are currently restricted due to Covid-19, these new revisions to the Blue Book were made with the hopes that restrictions loosen up over time, according to Elliott.
The revision has sparked debate among the Andover community. Sui Yu ’23 believes that the administration should take measures other than revising the visitation policy in order to combat heteronormativity, stating that the revised rules may impact marginalized students negatively.
“I understand their intentions behind it but I think ultimately it’s just going to create more animosity towards students who are already marginalized. So, I think it kind of creates a divide [amongst] the student body. They expanded all-gender housing this year, which I think is great, but I think there are other steps to combat heteronormativity, and I don’t think parietals are the best way,” said Yu.
Student Body Co-President Mary Muromcew ’22 highlighted the way the new policy was described by Pine Knoll Cluster Dean David Gardner during the most recent Deans Meeting.
“At Deans Meeting, Dr. Gardner phrased that it’s about trust between the dorm community and outsiders… which makes more sense to me than the angle that was previously coming from, which was more incorrectly just about the assumption that parietals were only about people having sex with each other which is unfair,” said Muromcew.
Muromcew continued, “My hope is that later in the year once dorm communities have built trust with each other, that there could be more flexibility for visitation hours and such especially in upperclassmen dorms who will have a more mature understanding of consent and healthy relationships in general. But that remains to be seen, and it’s really dependent on how dorm communities grow throughout the year.”
Victor Mvemba ’22, while noting that the change in rules was unexpected, expressed his understanding as to why the administration revised this policy. Mvemba also acknowledged the tension among students surrounding the new dormitory visitation policy.
“The gravity of the situation is so much more tense than I feel like it needs to be—or not like it needs to be but more like than it seems it should be. Especially when you’re thinking about the same gender, just hanging out with a group of friends and you want to go to your room. The topic of heteronormativity at Andover has been a big thing for a while now. And people were always challenging the idea, but I don’t think anyone expected them to make this rule. I think they need to have them because keeping people safe and making sure that people are accounted for is the biggest thing,” said Mvemba.
Leilani Grace ’25 also opposes added restrictions to students’ freedom. Before sign in, students should be able to have the liberty to choose where they want to be during their free time, according to Grace.
“Just for permission? I mean, why do you need permission? If you’re coming back in time, let’s say, for [Juniors] at least, it’s lights out at 11:00 p.m. or sign-in at 8:00 p.m. If you’re coming back in time for that, then why does it matter where you go during your time of the day? Why should teachers or parental figures have control over that? That is the time when you get to go out to campus, go out to other peoples’ dorms, and that should be your choice,” said Grace.
Grace continued, “We already have so many restrictions based on what time we have to be back in dorms or what time we can leave dorms, so I feel like that should be a point of freedom where we shouldn’t have to worry about where we have to go during our time that we don’t have to be back at the dorm.”
Visitations have recently been a topic of discussion among boarding school communities, as schools struggle to find new policies that satisfy both faculty, parents, and students while honoring values of safety, trust, and inclusivity. At Phillips Exeter Academy, current dorm visitations policy allows opposite-gender students to visit dorms within certain times of the day while requiring all doors to be open during room visitation. Hotchkiss Academy’s rules are dependent on the decision of the dorm head, but in most cases allow for visits with the door closed.
Jada Aryee ’22 reflected on the ways in which other schools have adjusted their visitation permissions in the context of Andover’s changes and offered an alternative perspective to better fulfill students’ freedom of choice.
“As for [Exeter’s visitation policy], it might be beneficial [for Andover] to take up some of [lowerclassmen] time allowances because I know a lot of upperclassmen [talk] about how they’re being held to the same standards as younger students. When you get older, there should be more freedom in what you do, who you associate yourself with, and when you’re allowed to associate yourself with other people,” said Aryee.
While acknowledging these concerns brought up by the students, Elliott emphasized the need for such rules as well as the development of trust.
“I can imagine that for some kids, this feels really limiting in terms of when their friends can come and visit. One of the goals of our work several years ago was to think about how we could build trust between students and faculty members who live in dorms so that faculty members felt like they could keep kids safe. And they could also trust kids who were having friends come over. [But], because we’ve had almost 18 months of no visiting, it felt like this was a moment to try to say, let’s try this. Let’s see if we can, you know, almost hit a reset or restart button and have our rules align with what we say we believe,” said Elliott.