Friday, October 2, 2009

Let's (Not) Talk About Sex, Baby

Posted by Richie Jay

Now that the new Tufts sexile rule has been universally panned as a really, really, really bad idea, I think it's time to propose a better alternative:

I keep arguing the point that this would be a much better rule if it weren't about sex. Simply put, roommates all have a right to feel safe and comfortable in their room, and if some guest is making them feel otherwise (for any reason, not just sex), then the issue should be addressed. Having schools police consensual private behavior is creepy, largely unenforceable, and may even present legal and ethical issues, but a simple, straightforward guest policy that has nothing do with sex and everything to do with the well-being of students would be much more enforceable. In my experience, sexiling is not as big of a problem as this policy seems to suggest (at most schools, upperclassmen live in singles, off-campus houses, or other accommodations that offer at least some modicum of privacy some of the time, and where that doesn't occur, roommates find ways to make relationships work in a mutually agreeable way). Also, this policy downplays the fact that guests other than sexual partners can actually be a greater source of tension or discomfort.

I told my dad I was sure that much better policies exist--ones that avoid sex and lay out a clear, enforceable general guest policy--and then I found this: Dartmouth College's guest policy from 2001 (when I was a student and a freshman hall advisor). Here are some excerpts:

"Host students are responsible for the actions of their guests and should make sure their guests are familiar with community expectations. It is the responsibility of the host to check with their roommate(s) before inviting a guest to the room. Any student who feels inconvenienced by the guest(s) of another student should discuss the matter first with the host student and then, if necessary, with live-in staff...in the Office of Residential Life."

"Residential Life staff...ensure that individual behavior does not interfere with the legitimate rights of other members of the community."

"the primary rights to sleep and study in the residential communities."

"Students who by virtue of their behavior or attitude toward themselves or other residents show an inability to live in a group setting, refuse intervention...may be asked to leave any residential community."

Simple. The worst consequence of this rule, which essentially boils down to the one line I italicized and gives any one roomie veto power over any guest, is a private feud between roomies (and, frankly, if it avoids an awkward public fight about sexual behavior, it's a net positive)--as compared to Tufts' new rule, which could literally result in an administrative hearing on what does or does not constitute "sexual activity" and whether or not said activity was going on in the presence of a third party who preferred not to observe and/or participate. The rule also appears to leave roommates powerless to address other sources of discomfort in the absence of observable sexual intercourse.

And, again, in my experience both as a student and a floor advisor, these kinds of conflicts almost always get resolved without having to resort to rule books, and especially without having to interrogate individuals about their sexual behaviors.

UPDATE: It turns out that Tufts already has a very straightforward (though grammatically incorrect) guest policy, which makes this whole sexile rule business even stupider and more unnecessary:

Overnight Guests

Students may allow overnight guests as long as his/her roommate (if applicable) has given permission for this to occur. A guest ’s visit should not, in any way, deprive a roommate of privacy, study time, or sleep. Students may not host more than two (2) overnight guests at a time...Students with Tufts-affiliated significant others (whether same sex or opposite) are expected to adhere to the residential guest policy.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Now that is a well reasoned and thought out piece of writing (as opposed to my style of 'off the top of my head' posts)