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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