Should our intimacy be controlled? Voices from the community on parietals, sexual assault, and moving forward. (Previous: Part I: Administration Perspective)
Faculty Perspective: Dr. O’Neil
I am not the only faculty member on campus who thinks that managing parietals is the worst part of my job. It is particularly acute for those of us who live in large upperclassmen dorms. On a weekend night in Rosenwald-Shumway, there can easily be more than ten parietal requests, meaning that the faculty member on duty is checking on the status of teenage intimate relationships sometimes as many as fifty times a night. I know that many of us take a deep breath before knocking on the door, hoping as we open it that there is nothing on the other side that we don’t want to see. Violations are not only embarrassing for the students, but excruciatingly so for the faculty. To be clear, I do not have a problem with productive discomfort in an educational setting; what I have a problem with, rather, is the awkwardness that derives from having to deal with situations that are uncomfortable in ways that are neither appropriate to nor productive in an academic and educational context. And while I am, like many of my colleagues, relieved that the Dean of Students’ office has issued clear guidelines streamlining expectations for both students and faculty across the different dorms, I am unconvinced that this useful change addresses the more fundamental problem: that parietals do not contribute to the sexual education of our students or coincide with the educational objectives of the Academy.
Adolescence is undoubtedly a period of sexual curiosity and development. It is not the responsibility of Deerfield Academy or its faculty to change that, first and foremost because to do so would be impossible. It is, however, our job to work to ensure that campus life, from the classroom to the athletic field to the dorm room, is shaped by and in response to meaningful pedagogical objectives. In the case of adolescent sexual development, that means preparing our students to make informed, deliberate, and healthy decisions about sexual relationships, not providing them with at best semi-regulated spaces for experimentation that has no place at a school. Perhaps what I am saying can be framed in terms of Cindy Pierce’s excellent presentation earlier this term. While several students I spoke with saw a contradiction between Pierce’s encouragement to proceed with confidence in their sexual relationships and the news that their private interactions would be more closely monitored, I would argue that there is in fact no contradiction. In order to best provide you with the knowledge, resources, and support you need in order to develop such confidence, we must work within boundaries appropriate to an educational setting.
In both her book and presentation, Pierce uses the Thatcher School as a model for how boarding schools can create communities that teach students to make smart decisions about sex without condoning sexual relationships on campus. The Thatcher School does not allow parietals, but does include as part of its curriculum an obligatory four-year Human Relations and Sexuality program that deals in-depth with topics including intimate relationships, sexuality, and sexual assault. The school also explicitly details the appropriate amount of physical contact between students—hand holding, hugging, and kissing are acceptable at certain times but not at others, and sexual intimacy is never allowed—and makes it clear that violations of those policies are grounds for discipline and possibly dismissal. Students, consequently, learn about sexuality and learn to define and embrace healthy sexual relationships the way one should learn in a school: through a combination of study, conversation, and clear institutional boundaries. It should be noted that the successes of the Thatcher School’s approach have not been merely pedagogical: surveys have shown that while on-campus sexual activity has significantly decreased, students’ satisfaction with campus culture and social life has increased.
As I believe our primary concern should be preparing our students to live curious, healthy, and productive lives, I advocate implementing a similar policy at DA.