For the past two years, the chances to build community through room visitations have been sparse; however, problems surrounding room visitation extend well beyond the recent pandemic. Look no further than the countless couples who turn to isolated spaces like the sanctuary or classrooms to share intimate moments (we know you’ve seen them in Gelb, Pearson, Graves, Elson, Morse… you get the point). This experience, one that is deeply awkward for students (and faculty who have had the luxury of walking in on them), creates an unsafe environment for students to explore healthy relationships. The duty of room visitation does not, however, stop at ensuring safety in intimate moments. Room visitations are critical for students to build community. For too long, room visitations and sex have been synonymous, and despite recent changes to the visitation policy, there is still a strong association between the two. What is a viable proposal to address these challenges? We believe the best room visitation policy is an open visitation policy, without universal restrictions for those old enough to consent (sixteen in Massachusetts). We recognize that such a policy would come with safety and liability concerns. A more feasible amendment to the policy would be an expansion of visitation hours coupled with extensive forums with faculty.
Students need spaces to cultivate community and explore consensual sexual and non-sexual relationships. It’s no secret that Andover students have signed up for a heavy workload and intense schedule. As the many Sykes initiatives will tell you, a lifestyle with all work and no play is unsustainable and unhealthy. An expansion of visitation hours would offer more ways for students to come together and make connections in a space that isn’t necessarily crowded, like the den, or academic, like the library. The burden of Covid-19 has also fallen particularly hard on day students, who had even more limited opportunities than usual to connect with peers. Private spaces are critical to uplifting the morale of students, boarders and day students alike. We need more places that are relaxing and comfortable. Room visits are the solution.
There much progress to be made in decoupling room visitation from sex, not just with students but also with faculty. Though significant, new policy changes are not a blanket solution to the problems of the old system. Simply removing the term parietal and generalizing policies regardless of gender is not enough to remove the stigma of such visits. Like parietals, the nature of the room visitation policy still creates the expectation of a sexual relationship. We must engage in critical conversations and hold open forums with faculty on how to both foster a safe environment for exploring sexual relationships and remove the stigma of room visits.
Admittedly, creating a room visit policy that simultaneously satisfies the needs of students and concerns of adults will be a very tall task, but it is one that we are committed to. With an expansion of room visitation hours and wider community conversations, we are eager to take the first step towards a better policy. A policy that strengthens communities of joy within dorms, for boarders and day students. A policy that allows students to share intimate moments in a safer setting. A better room visitation policy is absolutely possible. It is one that we hope to achieve through transparent leadership and open dialogue. We are excited for the opportunities presented by the upcoming school year and look forward to pursuing the best room visitation policy for our community.
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