After a splendid night celebrating Deerfield’s massive win over Choate, you and a close friend decide to enjoy the rest of night watching a movie in your dorm. You prop open the door with a trash can, settle on a movie, grab a bag of chips and begin snuggling underneath the blankets. Life couldn’t be better. However, just as you’re about to press the play button, a faculty member bursts through the door. “Is everything here okay?” You stare blankly. They meticulously scan the room, before turning back to you and your friend, trying to find any trace of incriminating evidence. “Everything’s fine…” You reply, slightly rattled. “Good! By the way, you shouldn’t have the door closed that far. If I can’t see you, you need to open the door more.”
Remembering that Section 1.5.1 of the Deerfield Student Handbook only requires lowerclassmen’s door to be open as wide as a trash can (all Deerfield students read the handbook, duh!), you politely ask for clarification. The faculty member insists for you to open the door and as a student, you have no choice but to obey, ending Saturday night early.
Deerfield prides itself in helping students cultivate meaningful relationships and invites speakers every year to lecture the student population about fostering healthy relationships. Yet, the Academy’s stringent visitation rules and its implementation thereof convey a blatant mistrust in student’s ability to navigate and explore their relationships and sexuality. From gender binary dorm rules to esoteric Deerfield rules to security chasing people hooking-up on spring day, Deerfield is behind its times.
While other peer schools like St. Paul’s, Northfield Mount Hermon, Hotchkiss, and Choate have installed gender neutral dorms (some since 2018), Deerfield has continued to group students in male and female dorms and enforce gender binary visitation rules. Though there has been much discussion around the new Simmons Dorm, it is still going to be a boys dorm, reflecting Deerfield’s hesitancy to follow the lead of other schools. Visitation rules not only assume that sexual relationships only exist among opposite sex students, it also assume that all students who ask for parietals are engaged in heterosexual relationships.
Although some students may engage in intimate physical activities during visitation, the Deerfield Student Handbook explicitly states that “we should not assume that students requesting Visitation are engaged in an intimate, physical, or sexual relationship.” The open-door policy presumes that a closed door automatically leads to sex and subsequently, sexualizes the need for privacy. Instead, students may prefer to watch a movie during the period or talk privately without constant interruption.
And given that our teenage years are crucial to forming our identities, it is imperative that we can form deeper connections with our peers. As all other major campus spaces are public, dorms become necessary safe spaces to hold private and meaningful conversations. For example, students may feel uncomfortable discussing sensitive and personal topics under a faculty member’s watchful eye. Rigid visitation policy and open-door policy destroys the intimacy, privacy, and trust in these environments. Faculty should be able to trust that students, after signing in, will follow and respect the visitation rules. Even if students are indeed engaging in intimate physical activities, we should allow students to explore themselves and their bodies in a safe, private space.
And though it is important to acknowledge Deerfield’s prevalent hook-up culture and history of sexual assault on campus, the alternative isn’t that students will magically stop engaging in intimate, physical, and sexual activity. Instead, students will seek other unsupervised and unsafe spaces like the woods, the Hess (yuck), and any location with a semblance of privacy. As the times keep changing, Deerfield should keep up, striving to create safe spaces for all students.