THE GRAY AREA
By GRAY WHITSETT – COLUMNIST
As children and teenagers, we go to bed at the prescribed time, we eat the food that is served, and we associate with the instructed groups. This is for good reason. Parents exercise large amounts of control, and, while it can certainly be overdone, it is a positive practice. Understandably, children must have forced structure to develop healthily. Given their experience, most young adults don’t know any better.
At some point, typically at age 18, we accept that these constraints evolve into something more like guidelines, the “should but don’t have tos.” We transfer the responsibility of making prudent choices to the individual, and understand that the consequences of these actions are his or hers to bear.
All of this encompasses the natural flow of maturity, the steady devolution of power from authority figures to the individual, and most would agree we are better for it. Unfortunately, Centre College’s visitation policy is one that runs contrary to this notion.
I approach the visitation policy from several angles. As a member of the Student Government Association, I am obliged to support the instructions of Centre’s administration. As a Resident Assistant (RA), I am trusted to enforce rules such as this. As a student, I am required to be obedient in my conduct. And as a columnist, I am to speak my mind in order to write well.
It would be hyperbole to say this presents a moral crisis, but it is true I have an appreciation for many sides of the policy. That being said, certain provisions of Centre’s visitation policy are outdated, unenforceable, and simply needless.
First of all, let me be plain about the segments with which I take issue. The third sentence of the Visitation section’s introduction (found on page 77 of the Student Handbook) states “The housing of guests of the other gender overnight or longer is a violation of College regulations.” This, along with the subsequent “first-year visitation policy,” are the object of my critique, both of which are subject to “a minimum” fine of $25.
As stated in the Handbook, first-years are allotted the following visitation hours for the opposite sex:
- Sunday-Thursday: 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 a.m.
- Friday-Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
These hours are “granted” to the students after three weeks of strictly same-sex visitation. Come spring term, first-years are allowed the normal 24-hour visitation enjoyed by upperclassmen.
Many would say this is simply part of attending Centre – put the work in, get through the semester, and move into the spring unencumbered. I used to feel the same way, until I was hired as an RA and assigned a first-year hall.
One of my primary goals during the opening weeks as an RA of first-years is to maintain this policy. This is part of my job, and because of this I enforce the rule. But I have come to understand this to be nearly impossible. Short of poaching my residents’ doors or hiring a team of people to patrol the hall, there is no way to consistently impose the visitation policy.
My only tools are reminding residents of the restrictions and setting a strong tone during orientation. While the latter is more effective, there is little way to guarantee the policy’s long-term function as new students become more acclimated.
What the policy actually becomes is an easily broken rule that undermines my legitimacy as an RA, and furthermore, makes Centre appear like a toothless entity that doesn’t really care which rule you break, so long as it is done discreetly.
Of course this is not true, but this is a terrible message to send first-years, and being as it is quite nearly the first major rule with which they come in contact, it sets a dangerous precedent. I am not implying violating the visitation policy automatically leads to radical behavior, but it may indicate to students a certain polite disobedience accepted on campus.
This leads directly into my second frustration – the general policy for opposite sex visitation. Upperclassmen, myself included, exercise this polite disobedience as well, constantly breaking the opposite sex rule, and many are not aware they are doing it because they do not think such a silly rule actually exists.
The notion an adult cannot choose to stay the night with an adult member of the opposite sex – romantically, platonically, or otherwise – is simply ridiculous.
While there is an obligatory counterargument concerning the first-year policy (something like ensuring a student’s immersion into college is not complicated by intimate endeavors, which is as groundless as it is patronizing), I can think of no rebuttal on the opposite sex rule outside of the administration being uncomfortable with the possibility of students having sexual intercourse, an idea I believe is neither the prerogative nor the business of anyone but the participants.
Disregarding its unenforceability, the policy is an antiquated rule from a forgotten era of Centre College that no one really buys into anymore. And yet it still exists. I suppose rolling over each year because no one bothers to read it, much less question it.
I know that probably few of us have actually gotten in trouble because of it, and I am not trying to say we live under some tyrannical administration that denies us our rights, but I am sure there are those who have been reprimanded. Allowing a broken policy to persist based solely on the prospect of limited damage is just bad governance.
The opposite sex rule, along with the first-year policy, are not admissible programs. They are well-intended, but they do not work. On this topic the administration has to understand that students are no longer children, and the best way to promote mature behavior is to stop treating them as such.