Morality in exile

funny-pictures-college-sex-catsWhen the Commonwealth of Massachusetts chartered Tufts College in 1852, the original act of incorporation said the college should promote “virtue and piety and learning in such of the languages and liberal and useful arts as shall be recommended.” The college began when Boston businessman helped the Universalist Church open a college there by donating 20 acres of land to it. Hosea Ballou, a Universalist clergyman was the college’s first president.

Fast forward a few years to this story in the Los Angeles Times. It’s utterly bizarre. Basically the news hook is that Tufts has a new policy:

This year’s dorm dwellers have a new rule to live by: “You may not engage in sexual activity while your roommate is present in the room,” says the book on residential life. “Any sexual activity within your assigned room should not ever deprive your roommate(s) of privacy, study or sleep time.”

One is tempted to ask: This needed to be put in writing? If a put-upon roommate is unable to take a stand, does it really help to be able to point to a rule and say (essentially), “I’m telling”?

That, of course, remains to be seen.

Tufts, a liberal arts college near Boston founded in 1852, is believed to be the first university to explicitly forbid sex in the presence of roommates (unless, presumably, the other person is the roommate).

Turns out that I never lived in a dorm — moving straight to off-campus housing. But from what I hear, the poor souls who have to inhabit dormitories are moving in and out of the first five circles of hell throughout the year. I have a cousin who has had unbelievably bad luck with dorm mates, having to deal with everything from psychological problems to serious inattention to hygiene.

But the Los Angeles Times takes this dismissive, breezy approach to this policy change. It jokes that the policy change isn’t necessary since dorm mates have always figured out how to notify roommates that they’re doing the horizontal mambo. Here’s a sample quote:

[Leslie] Lobel, a 50-year-old Santa Monica mother of two teens, thinks the rule is ridiculous. “Life is about getting along with other people. I feel sorry for the kids for whom this rule is necessary. They communicate by text on everything. Why can’t they communicate that?”

Others talk about how they text code words or put Post-it notes on the door so that roommates won’t come knocking. We’re assured this is all no big deal. We get jokes about how campus crowding “sexiles” (a neologism for being exiled from the dorm for the purpose of sex) even more students these days. Here’s the balancing quote:

UCLA senior Daniel Wang, however, said he didn’t think the Tufts rule was such a bad thing. One of his friends had to deal with her roommate having sex while she was trying to sleep.

“She was too scared to do anything about it,” said Wang. “I mean, what do you say?”

But then we learn about how sex communication is difficult and how Tufts might be trying to address a potential legal problem. Could it be considered sexual harassment to have to hear your dorm mate fumbling around drunk with his latest conquest?

In other words, the only morality now is fought over by lawyers.

And you know what isn’t mentioned? Where to begin? There is no feminist angle, nothing about the role of alcohol in this issue, nothing of substance about the hook-up culture that leads to this rule change. And, most importantly, there is no thought given that there could a moral or religious angle.

That means that we don’t learn anything about the sex-in-room policies of Christian schools, for instance. And yet I have a hunch it’s not allowed — with or without roommates working on Calculus nearby. (Could it explain why the last decade has seen a significant growth in the Christian college scene in the last decade?) And what about those students — maybe they’re Muslim, Jewish, Christian or some other obscure group — with religious codes that are in contrast with this (according to the Times, that is) ubiquitous culture. Anything from them? No?

And the thing is that this story was bylined by two reporters — Robin Abcarian and Kate Linthicum — with an assist from DeeDee Correll in Boulder, Colo. That these pretty obvious ghosts eluded those three and their editors says a lot.

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  • Dave

    There is no feminist angle

    This is the most surprising omission. I recall campus feminism in hyperdrive to protect those-who-must-not-be-called-coeds from just about everything. But maybe I’m disclosing myself to be a decade or two behind the beat.

  • Jerry

    What is there about the mess to say except ‘cute cat picture’?

  • Andy

    Yes, needless to say, sex in the dorm wasn’t allowed at my Christian college. Of course, sex in general wasn’t permitted if the student wasn’t married. (No doubt seen as a tyrannical restriction from certain points of view.)

    Yes, there were some who did anyway, whether under the bleachers or at the state college down the road.

    But then there were the rest of us, quietly disproving the silly notion that today’s young adults are too undisciplined to stay pure until marriage.

  • C. Wingate

    The University of Maryland could have used such a rule back when I was a summer student around 1980. I was stuck with a guy who had to go at it with his girlfriend every night. This could be mostly maneuvered around (though I walked in on them twice); the breaking point came when he expected me to find somewhere else to live for a weekend so he and his girlfriend could engage in some sort of sexual marathon or something (one doesn’t really want to know). Amazingly, the dorm administration didn’t think there was anything wrong with his demand.

    Which takes us to another O tempora angle: how did having a place to copulate take precedence over having a place to sleep?

  • tmatt

    C. Wingate:

    Didn’t you mean, in that final phrase, “take precedence over having a place to live, study and sleep”? I think we are referring to academic institutions. No?

  • Jon in the Nati

    I lived in the dorms for three years during my undergrad (which ended only a couple of years ago). I had a roommate for two of those years. Luckily, this guy had the decency to at least clear it with me before he and his girl were going to get down.

    There is no way that a ‘no sex in your roommate’s presence’ rule should have to be put into writing. That being the case, it is unfortunately news that one college has done so. Being ‘sexiled’ is a very real thing; maybe I hung with a different crowd, but most of my friends could keep their pants on long enough to get some privacy.

    A little human decency would be nice.

  • John Willard

    I am currently in my undergraduate at Binghamton University. College is so often portrayed as an idyllic time, but I have begun to think recently that really it is such a dehumanizing experience. I don’t think that the expectation that students will be having pre-marital sex should be viewed merely as the young acting out or being undisciplined; rather I think that it is one of the primary manifestations of the total and unbelievable despair that is wracking our youth today.

  • C. Wingate

    Tmatt, studying could be done in the library (indeed, round the clock in the bowels of the undergraduate library); food was provided in the dining halls or the most excellent establishments lining US 1. Sleeping and dressing were the only things the dorm room was absolutely needed for. Well, and sexual congress.

  • Deacon Michael D. Harmon

    Any cat fancier or any person with a wacked-out sense of humor (the two categories have significant overlap, I find) who is not surveying at least weekly is missing a ton of fun. IMHO, at least.

  • Jon in the Nati

    I must second what the good deacon recommended. “lolcats” are not for everyone, but I can’t seem to get enough of them.

    Don’t know what that says about me, but there it is…

  • Christian education

    There really needs to be a separation between the girls and boys dorms and neither should be mixed. If there is to be studying, then there should be a common room available to study. People need to get to know each other better as friends before they get serious in a relationship.