No Longer Sexiled: Universities Grapple with Sex in Dorms

Anna Clark

When Tufts University officially banned students from having sex in residence hall room when a roommate is present, it met with two especially strong reactions. Colleges across the country are watching to see how it plays out.

When Tufts University
officially banned students from having sex in residence hall room when a
roommate is present, it met with two especially strong reactions. Many are glad
the administration finally spoke up about an especially awkward occurrence and
pleased for the added bit of leverage in managing it. Others are skeptical,
doubting that any official policy will deter those who are already prone to
shrugging off the norms of social etiquette.

Tufts
University’s Office of Residential Life indicated to The
Tufts Daily
, the campus newspaper, that the new policy was the result
of a large increase in the number of complaints about sexual activity in shared
rooms. The new stipulation to the campus guest policy not only prohibits sex
when a roommate is present, but sex that interferes with the roommate’s
sleeping, studying, and privacy — an addition that, presumably, is intended to
address "sexiling," or compelling someone to leave a shared room.

As Tufts takes this broad
step in balancing students’ right to sexual activity with their right to
private space, colleges across the country are watching to see how it plays out.

"There’s no doubt that
people working in students services across the country will be paying attention
to what happens (given this new policy) at Tufts and asking questions about it
at conferences over the next year," said Melanie McClellan, dean of students at
the University of West Georgia.

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McClellan is interested
in how this policy unfolds at Tufts even though-or, perhaps, especially
because-UWG does not have a counterpart ban on intimacy in residence hall rooms
when a roommate is present.

"Conflict about sex in a
room is not nearly as common a conflict as those that have been around forever,
like housekeeping and different sleep schedules," McClellan said of the UWG
campus in Carrollton, Georgia, where about 3,000 students live in various
housing arrangements.

She added that, "If that
particular complaint is an issue (between roommates), then it’s certainly not
the only issue."

In lieu of a standard
policy, UWG student services staff is trained to support campus residents as
they learn how to communicate about sometimes uncomfortable and personal
subjects. Freshmen students participate in a seminar over the fall semester
that helps them adjust to the sort of negotiations that are peculiar to the
college experience. Peer education occurs in residence halls through sexual
health organizations, designed to develop the judgment skills of students.

Tufts’ Office of
Residential Life has told The Tufts Daily
that the new policy isn’t intended to be a proscription that eliminates the
need for building healthy communication between roommates; rather, it is
intended to facilitate the communication.

"We want to make
perfectly clear that we do not want to hinder someone from engaging in any
personal or private activity," said Carrie Ales-Rich, the office’s
assistant director for community and judicial affairs, to the campus newspaper.
"But when it becomes uncomfortable for the roommate, we want to have
something in place that empowers the residents to have a good conversation with
the roommate."

That’s a point that resonates
with J. Bruce Daley.

Daley, a writer from
Denver who attended Tufts between 1976 and 1980, is someone who had sex in a
dorm room while his roommate was present. 
Coming from a military academy background, Daley believes that strong
policies prohibiting sexual activity in shared rooms would have deterred him
from doing something he regrets.

"I will never forget
the look on my roommate’s face the next morning," Daley said. "I
could see that he felt his privacy had been violated … He transferred schools
after our freshmen year and has spent the rest of his life living in Asia. I am
not saying this experience is what caused him to do this. Just saying.

"It’s not something I am
proud of now, but … policies like this need to be enforced to protect students
from their own bad judgment," he added.

Because young people are
prone to making mistakes, Daley said that he believes Tufts is right in
maintaining a ban on dorm room sex when a roommate is present.

"I think (the new
policy is) necessary," Daley said. "Medical research is showing that
at 18, the human mind is not fully developed. Guidelines like these are not
going to prevent college students from having sex, but they may help prevent
some students from making careless, thoughtless mistakes."

But across town at
Harvard University, senior Lena Chen wonders about the motivations behind the
Tufts policy.

"I don’t know if the Tufts rule was prompted by students’
unwillingness to talk directly with their roommates about this, but I think
it’s important to encourage young people to have frank discussions of
potentially awkward topics like dorm sex," said Chen, who blogs at SexAndTheIvy.com and lived on campus for
three years.

"College is a good time
to practice how to negotiate your personal space and interpersonal needs," Chen
added. "It’s easy to let a lot of things slide in hopes of avoiding conflict,
but being passive aggressive only leads to built-up resentments and poor
communication skills in the long run. I hope an official policy doesn’t
dissuade Tufts students from learning how to address touchy issues like this on
their own."

This is a point that
resonates with Sean Cook, who worked in residential life for about 15 years. He
left his position at Penn State this fall to work professionally as a life
coach specializing in the college experience for parents and students. From his
perspective, he has seen an upward trend in college students’ reluctance to
communicate honestly and fairly with roommates-especially on issues as personal
as sex.

"Many people deal with [an]
awkward situation by not discussing it at all," Cook said, noting that many
more young people today have never shared a room in their lives, and so aren’t
accustomed to negotiating shared space.

Indeed, Cook has seen sex used as a weapon between roommates.

"Basically (having sex
when a roommate is present) is sometimes a passive aggressive way to get rid of
the roommate, not just that night but for good," Cook said. "This is inappropriate
behavior that some use as a trump card because it’s not easily mediated (by a
resident advisor)."

On Penn State’s campus,
freshmen simply don’t have single rooms and while there is no official ban on
sexual activity when a roommate is present, the campus requires students to
have the permission of their roommate when they want to bring a guest over.
Cook said the tactic of having sex when the roommate is present can push
student services staff into separating roommates-and so, in effect, offering private
space as a reward.

He noted that some
schools view this issue as sexual harassment; that is, it creates a persistent
and hostile environment for the roommate. Students have threatened to bring
lawsuits about this, Cook said, when a school seems to be "failing to address
the issue." Legally, then, these schools feel compelled to respond in a prompt
and decisive way.

Often, the first time
Cook would hear about conflict between roommates was when a parent called him.

"When a parent is calling
and the student isn’t, that’s the wrong person," Cook said. "It seems like
there’s more and more of a customer service mentality (when it comes to the
college experience); parents want their kids to go to school and not be
bothered by anyone. But a good education is not just about grades."

An emphasis on learning
positive communication is also important to Erin Elias, who was a resident
advisor at Syracuse University and has since worked as a sexual health educator
in Massachusetts. In her first years as a college student living on campus, she
said that she and her roommates were respectful about guests and privacy … but
as an RA, she became more aware of the challenges other roommates face.

"A few (students) would come to me, frustrated with a
roommate who monopolized the room," said Elias. "But this
‘monopolizing’ could be their roommate having sex in the dorm room, or
even just having a roommate who was up all night, talking on the phone. 

"This is why the root of
this ban should focus on roommate communication rather than just banning the
activities that cause problems between roommates," Elias said.

"Roommates should understand and discuss how their
sexual relationships with others affect their living situation with their
roommate; there should be more talking, more middle ground, and more mutual
understanding," Elias added.

For many students,
that’s easier said than done, perhaps. But many others — even most others-do
find a balance with their roommates.

Colleen is a sophomore at
the University of Wisconsin in Madison who asked that her real name not be
used. She said that she communicates about bringing guests over through texts
during a night out; living this year with her best friend, she feels that their
communication is open and understanding.

"To be honest, it’s
normal when roommates are "sexiled" and no one thinks anything weird
or abnormal about it," Colleen said.

She added that campus
environment that is supportive of healthy sexuality contributes to a positive
environment for students living in residence halls.

"At UW – Madison we have a
pretty active campus that’s open with sex and if you are going to do it, do it
safely," Colleen said. "We openly embrace our gay and lesbian community and
there are constant talks about how to make sex safe so I think there’s a pretty
positive atmosphere here about a healthy atmosphere in residence halls."

Commentary Race

Have a Problem With Black-Only Spaces? Get Over It

Ruth Jeannoel

As the parade of police killings of Black people continues, Black people have a right to mourn together—and without white people.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Dear Non-Black People:

If you hear about a healing space being organized for Black folks only, don’t question or try to be part of that space.

Simply, DON’T.

After again witnessing the recorded killings of Black people by police, I am trying to show up for my family, my community, and victims such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I am tired of injustice and ready for action.

But as a Black trans youth from the Miami, Florida-based S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective told me, “Before taking action, we must create space for healing.” With this comment, they led us in the right direction.

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Together, this trans young person, my fellow organizers, and I planned a Black-only community healing circle in Miami. We recognized a need for Black people to come together and care for each other. A collective space to heal is better than suffering and grieving alone.

As we began mobilizing people to attend the community circle, our efforts were met with confusion and resistance by white and Latinx people alike. Social media comments questioned why there needed to be a Black-only space and alleged that such an event was “not fair” and exclusionary.

We know the struggle against white supremacy is a multiracial movement and needs all people. So we planned and shared that there would be spaces for non-Black people of color and white people at the same time. We explained that this particular healing circle—and the fight against police violence—must be centered around Blackness.

But there was still blowback. One Facebook commenter wrote,

Segregation and racial separation is not acceptable. Disappointing.

That is straight bullshit.

To be clear, Black-only space is itself acceptable, and there’s a difference between Black people choosing to come together and white people systematically excluding others from their institutions and definitions of humanity.

But as I recognize that Black people can’t have room to mourn by ourselves without white tears, white shame, white guilt—and, yes, white supremacy—I am angry.

That is what racist laws have often tried to do: Control how Black people assemble. Enslaved people were often barred from gathering, unless it was with white consent or for church.

Even today, we see resistance when Black folks come together, for a variety of reasons. Earlier this year, in Nashville, Tennessee, Black Lives Matter activists were forced to move their meeting out of a library because it was a Black-only meeting. Last year, students at University of Missouri held a series of protests to demand an end to systemic racism and structural racism on their campus. The student group, Concerned Students 1950, called for their own Black-only-healing space, and they too received backlash from their white counterparts and the media.

At our healing circle in Miami, a couple of white people tried to be part of the Black-only space, which was held in another room. One of the white youths came late and asked why she had to be in a different room from Black attendees. I asked her this question: Do you feel like you are treated the same as your Black peers when they walk down the street?

When she answered no, I told her that difference made it important for Black people to connect without white people in the room. We talked about how to engage in political study that can shape how we view—and change—this world.

She understood. It was simple.

I have less compassion for adults who are doing social justice work and who do not understand. If you do not recognize your privilege as a non-Black person, then you need to reassess why you are in this movement.

Are you here to save the world? Do you feel guilty because of what your family may have done in the past or present? Are you marching to show that you are a “good” person?

If you are organizing to shift and shake up white supremacy but can’t understand your privilege under this construct, then this movement is not for you.

For the white folk and non-Black people of color who are sincerely fighting the anti-Blackness at the root of most police killings, get your people. Many of them are “progressive” allies with whom I’ve been in meetings, rallies, or protests. It is time for you to organize actions and events for yourselves to challenge each other on anti-Blackness and identify ways to fight against racial oppression, instead of asking to be in Black-only spaces.

Objecting to a Black-only space is about self-interest and determining who gets to participate. And it shows how little our allies understand that white supremacy gives European-descended people power, privilege, and profit—or that non-Black people of color often also benefit from white supremacy just because they aren’t Black in this anti-Black world.

Our critics were using racial privilege to access a space that was not for them or by them. In the way that white supremacy and capitalism are about individualism and racing to the top, they were putting their individual feelings, rights, and power above Black people’s rights to fellowship and talk about how racism has affected them.

We deserve Black-only community healing because this is our pain. We are the ones who are most frequently affected by police violence and killings. And we know there is a racial empathy gap, which means that white Americans, in particular, are less likely to feel our pain. And the last thing Black people need right now is to be in a room with people who can’t or won’t try to comprehend, who make our hurt into a spectacle, or who deny it with their defensiveness.

Our communal responses to that pain and healing are not about you. And non-Black people can’t determine the agenda for Black action—or who gets a seat at our table.

To Black folks reading this article, just know that we deserve to come together to cry, be angry, be confused, and be ready to fight without shame, pain, or apologies.

And, actually, we don’t need to explain this, any more than we need to explain that Black people are oppressed in this country.

Commentary Politics

No, Republicans, Porn Is Still Not a Public Health Crisis

Martha Kempner

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography.

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, the Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography. Without much debate, a subcommittee of Republican delegates agreed to add to a draft of the party’s 2016 platform an amendment declaring pornography is endangering our children and destroying lives. As Rewire argued when Utah passed a resolution with similar language, pornography is neither dangerous nor a public health crisis.

According to CNN, the amendment to the platform reads:

The internet must not become a safe haven for predators. Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life [sic] of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography which [is] closely linked to human trafficking.

Mary Frances Forrester, a delegate from North Carolina, told Yahoo News in an interview that she had worked with conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America (CWA) on the amendment’s language. On its website, CWA explains that its mission is “to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens—first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society—thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”

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The amendment does not elaborate on the ways in which this internet monster is supposedly harmful to children. Forrester, however, told Yahoo News that she worries that pornography is addictive: “It’s such an insidious epidemic and there are no rules for our children. It seems … [young people] do not have the discernment and so they become addicted before they have the maturity to understand the consequences.”

“Biological” porn addiction was one of the 18 “points of fact” that were included in a Utah Senate resolution that was ultimately signed by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in April. As Rewire explained when the resolution first passed out of committee in February, none of these “facts” are supported by scientific research.

The myth of porn addiction typically suggests that young people who view pornography and enjoy it will be hard-wired to need more and more pornography, in much the same way that a drug addict needs their next fix. The myth goes on to allege that porn addicts will not just need more porn but will need more explicit or violent porn in order to get off. This will prevent them from having healthy sexual relationships in real life, and might even lead them to become sexually violent as well.

This is a scary story, for sure, but it is not supported by research. Yes, porn does activate the same pleasure centers in the brain that are activated by, for example, cocaine or heroin. But as Nicole Prause, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Rewire back in February, so does looking at pictures of “chocolate, cheese, or puppies playing.” Prause went on to explain: “Sex film viewing does not lead to loss of control, erectile dysfunction, enhanced cue (sex image) reactivity, or withdrawal.” Without these symptoms, she said, we can assume “sex films are not addicting.”

Though the GOP’s draft platform amendment is far less explicit about why porn is harmful than Utah’s resolution, the Republicans on the subcommittee clearly want to evoke fears of child pornography, sexual predators, and trafficking. It is as though they want us to believe that pornography on the internet is the exclusive domain of those wishing to molest or exploit our children.

Child pornography is certainly an issue, as are sexual predators and human trafficking. But conflating all those problems and treating all porn as if it worsens them across the board does nothing to solve them, and diverts attention from actual potential solutions.

David Ley, a clinical psychologist, told Rewire in a recent email that the majority of porn on the internet depicts adults. Equating all internet porn with child pornography and molestation is dangerous, Ley wrote, not just because it vilifies a perfectly healthy sexual behavior but because it takes focus away from the real dangers to children: “The modern dialogue about child porn is just a version of the stranger danger stories of men in trenchcoats in alleys—it tells kids to fear the unknown, the stranger, when in fact, 90 percent of sexual abuse of children occurs at hands of people known to the victim—relatives, wrestling coaches, teachers, pastors, and priests.” He added: “By blaming porn, they put the problem external, when in fact, it is something internal which we need to address.”

The Republican platform amendment, by using words like “public health crisis,” “public menace” “predators” and “destroying the life,” seems designed to make us afraid, but it does nothing to actually make us safer.

If Republicans were truly interested in making us safer and healthier, they could focus on real public health crises like the rise of STIs; the imminent threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea; the looming risk of the Zika virus; and, of course, the ever-present hazards of gun violence. But the GOP does not seem interested in solving real problems—it spearheaded the prohibition against research into gun violence that continues today, it has cut funding for the public health infrastructure to prevent and treat STIs, and it is working to cut Title X contraception funding despite the emergence of Zika, which can be sexually transmitted and causes birth defects that can only be prevented by preventing pregnancy.

This amendment is not about public health; it is about imposing conservative values on our sexual behavior, relationships, and gender expression. This is evident in other elements of the draft platform, which uphold that marriage is between a man and a women; ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its ruling affirming the right to same-sex marriage; declare dangerous the Obama administration’s rule that schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of their gender identity; and support conversion therapy, a highly criticized practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation and has been deemed ineffective and harmful by the American Psychological Association.

Americans like porn. Happy, well-adjusted adults like porn. Republicans like porn. In 2015, there were 21.2 billion visits to the popular website PornHub. The site’s analytics suggest that visitors around the world spent a total of 4,392,486,580 hours watching the site’s adult entertainment. Remember, this is only one way that web users access internet porn—so it doesn’t capture all of the visits or hours spent on what may have trumped baseball as America’s favorite pastime.

As Rewire covered in February, porn is not a perfect art form for many reasons; it is not, however, an epidemic. And Concerned Women for America, Mary Frances Forrester, and the Republican subcommittee may not like how often Americans turn on their laptops and stick their hands down their pants, but that doesn’t make it a public health crisis.

Party platforms are often eclipsed by the rest of what happens at the convention, which will take place next week. Given the spectacle that a convention headlined by presumptive nominee (and seasoned reality television star) Donald Trump is bound to be, this amendment may not be discussed after next week. But that doesn’t mean that it is unimportant or will not have an effect on Republican lawmakers. Attempts to codify strict sexual mores are a dangerous part of our history—Anthony Comstock’s crusade against pornography ultimately extended to laws that made contraception illegal—that we cannot afford to repeat.