Nookie

11.22.13

Barnard’s Sexless Dorm Rooms

Are new restrictions on overnight guests at the all-women’s college intended to curb students’ sexuality, or protect fed-up roommates?

For an elite women’s college that claims to turn out “Bold and Beautiful” feminists, Barnard College has been getting media flak for a surprising charge—sexism. In a Young(ist) post that was later picked up by The Nation, Columbia undergrad George Joseph called to task Barnard’s new guest policy for essentially policing the sex lives of students. Under the policy, which went into effect this September, Barnard girls can have overnight guests “for no more than three consecutive nights and no more than six nights total in any 30-day period.” Joseph claims that the new rule is about nothing more than slut-shaming—a way for the college to “stretch its parental tentacles even into the bedroom.”

But what Joseph conveniently leaves out is that the policy is only meant to be enforced on a case-by-case basis. “Over the past couple of years we’ve had any number of complaints and roommate disagreements over the length of somebody’s guest staying in the room or in the suite,” Avis Hinkson, Barnard’s dean, told The Daily Beast. The new rule was put in place, she said, to help out students who felt uncomfortable speaking to their roommates directly, and won’t be enforced in particular cases unless students complain.

Sharon Kwong, a Barnard senior and member of the college’s student government association, is working on suggesting changes to the policy based on the student backlash, which has been substantial. “We’ve had a lot of negative feedback because a lot of students feel that it’s an unnecessary restriction on their personal lives,” Kwong told the Beast.

Though Kwong acknowledges the criticism that Barnard’s new rule allows it to police the sex lives of students, she has a different take on what’s wrong with it.“I and the SGA definitely feel that students should be able to communicate with each other and negotiate with one another,” she said. “That kind of communication and negotiation should take place between students, initiated by students, with the onus being on students.”

“For the people who are uncomfortable talking about it, I’m sorry, but you need to grow up and live in the real world."

Kwong’s concerns were echoed by Arielle Burstein, another Barnard senior, whose boyfriend has been a fixture in her Barnard suite for a year and a half. He’s there so often, she said, that the security guard in her building has stopped making him sign in—to keep her from getting in trouble under the new rules, she thinks.

Burstein’s roommates have never complained to her about her boyfriend’s presence, and she doesn’t have much patience for girls who might resort to going to the housing office in similar cases instead of speaking up directly. “For the people who are uncomfortable talking about it, I’m sorry, but you need to grow up and live in the real world,” she said. “I don't think that we should coddle people and let them go to the administration and go, ‘Oh, I need help because I don't have the guts to talk to my roommate and tell her I’m uncomfortable.’”

Meanwhile, Columbia College has been moving towards making its dorm access policies more flexible and responsive to student critiques. After changing its policy over the summer so that commuting students would no longer be able to apply for dorm access, Columbia’s Office of Residential Programs responded to criticism from student groups and agreed to a new rule that would at least partially reinstate that access. Under the changes, students can sponsor up to three of their off-campus peers, giving them access to a single dorm for the rest of the academic year.

“The residential host is responsible for the non-residential guest at all times while the non-residential guest is in the residence hall,” interim dean Terry Martinez wrote in an email outlining the policy to the student body. Across the street at Barnard, meanwhile, students aren’t even expected to be responsible for negotiate for themselves with their roommates and suitemates. What will it take for Barnard to treat its students like the “strong, beautiful”—and mature—women it claims to nurture?