Philosophy with Attitude

Jan A. Nielsen and David F. Andrea

Marston House Rooms 202 and 204



We would like to begin by stating that no sanction has been recommended at this time, and that the Residence Hall Director who brought these charges against us made no attempt to advise us of her thoughts on the matter of sanctions. We are, therefore, going on our own interpretation of the seriousness of the matter in considering our sanction. This being the case, we feel that the history of the case should be outlined in order that the judicial officer be fully informed as to the nature of the case.

In September of this year, the Marston House Hall Council had its preliminary meeting. As the screening chair at the time, I (Jan Nielsen) was a member of the council, and therefore present for the discussion of where the all-male and all-female bathrooms should be placed within the dorm. It was proposed that the all-male bathroom be placed in the upper short wing, where David and I live, and the all-female be placed in the next hallway over, which had a majority of female residents. I stated my objection to this placement as follows: "I know this is the most convenient for everyone else, so I can't vote against it, but it's going to be very inconvenient for David and me because we like to shower together. We won't be able to use our bathroom, because it's all-male, or the one next door, because it's all-female, and we'd rather not use the other one on this floor because my ex-boyfriend is there and it would be rather awkward. This means we'll have to go downstairs all the time..." and so forth. My objection was noted by the Resident Assistant, Tanya Rogers, and the vote was passed to make those two bathrooms the all-male and all-female. The point here is that I openly stated that David and I showered together, and the RA said nothing about any rules to the contrary, but rather gave me her regrets and said that sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the convenience of others.

This being the case, David and I continued to shower together in the downstairs co-ed bathrooms until mid-October, when we were preparing to shower in the downstairs short wing. We heard a knock on the door, and Tanya entered. She asked us if we were going to shower together, and we said yes, whereupon she told us that we couldn't do it, and that we would be written up if she caught us. She did not tell us where the rule had originated, or why we were suddenly not allowed to do so, so naturally we were curious as to why the ruling had been put into place, and what background there was for enforcing it.

We set up an appointment to speak with her about the matter, and though we explained that Marston residents (and indeed, residents of the Minis in general) have been showering together for years (even our RA last year showered with her boyfriend when he came up, and I showered with my boyfriend of last year in the same hallway without incident), she said there was nothing she could do. The policy had come straight from Molly Green, this year's Residence Hall Director, and she would not allow any compromise on the matter -- we had asked if we might shower in certain hallways at certain times, to insure that we did not offend any of the residents, as that had evidently been the initial cause of the ruling.

Since the ruling had come from Ms. Green, we decided that our best bet would be to speak to her about the policy -- to try to see where she was coming from, and if there was any possibility of compromise. We made an appointment with her (and I would like to stress the point that we were the ones who initiated the appointment), and though we talked for at least an hour and a half, we were unable to make any sort of headway. We tried to explain that, due to our schedules, David and I have very little time together, and showering together at night was one of our few luxuries; she said that there were so many other ways we could "be intimate" with each other that surely we didn't need this one. We pointed out that the shower stalls are a private area, in that they are separated from the rest of the bathroom by a curtain, but she said that, no, the bathrooms are completely public and that we were not to show affection in that manner.

We asked for a written statement on the ruling -- basically, we wanted to see the published University policy that we were supposedly violating. She looked through all her resourses, including the RA handbooks, the housing agreement, and the Student Code of Conduct, and, not finding that rule in particular, said that we would be prosecuted under Article III, section 17 of the SCC: "conduct which is disorderly, lewd, or indecent." We asked for a definition of lewd or indecent behavior, and she could give us none but her own opinion; that seemed extremely dangerous to us, because if there is no accepted definition for a certain behavior, then everyone is liable for any action that anyone might consider lewd or indecent, whether it be walking down the hallway in a bathrobe or making love in one's own room. Needless to say, we were not at all pleased with the turn this meeting had taken, but it did not seem wise to fight overmuch due to our position.

Anyway, this went on for an hour and a half, at which point Ms. Green stated that she was already late for another meeting and had to go. We asked her if there was anyone else we could talk with about the matter -- someone with more authority, at any rate -- and her response was to tell us that she did not like to be "bullied," and that she would take all of our comments into account in any future dealings. She never did tell us who else we could talk to, and to close the meeting, she told us that we should consider this meeting to be our warning, despite the fact that we had initiated it for our own benefit.

As far as the reasoning behind the policy, it seems that Ms. Green has the impression that she is protecting the unseen majority from our lewd and indecent behavior... although she said that if more people had a problem with the policy than with our showering together, she would consider changing it. With that in mind, we asked if we might post signs in the bathrooms of the Mini Dorms stating her policy, and she said that we could do whatever we pleased... but she did not mention that we needed the prior approval of each RA to post them: when we did so, they were taken down almost immediately in several of the dorms. We found this to be quite distrurbing, as not only had it cost us several dollars to make the copies, it seem a flagrant violation of our First Amendment rights, and the policy itself a violation of our own integrity and personal ethics.

At this time David and I are engaged to be married; our parents have not only approved the fact that we shower together, but also encourage us to do so. We have spoken to many of the residents of Marston House and the Minis in general, and all but one have agreed with us that the policy is unfair and unnecessary; the one who disagreed said that, in a nutshell, it was against her religious beliefs and thus that no one should be allowed to do it. (We have been told by several residents that it was she who initiated the complaint, even though we have never showered in her hallway, nor even seen her on our way to them. It seems that the mere fact that we shower together is offensive... so the University at this point is basing its policy on one person's religion, which is also a violation of the First Amendment.) We do have to support of many residents, but many of them are afraid to speak up -- the possibility of reprisal is very real to us, and why shouldn't it be if RHDs are permitted to take students' private lives into their own hands?

As far as this violation (which took place in November) is concerned, we were indeed caught together in the all-male bathroom, and for this I fully take responsibility. However, I would appreciate it if the circumstances that drove us to shower there were taken into account: we have the permission of all the residents in this hallway to shower together, so there are no complaints coming from those who use it the most frequently. We were, simply put, afraid to shower anywhere else for fear of being caught, or even being prosecuted for the suspicion that we were showering together, which seems like a real possibility in the hallways with two shower stalls. We have showered separately in those bathrooms, but I have reason believe, due to her previous statements, that if Ms. Green were to hear us, she would assume we were together and write us up anyway.

When we had the informal meeting for this violation, Ms. Green drew our attention to the incident report and asked us if we agreed with it. Since the incident was described as it had taken place, we agreed, and she suggested to us that we check the middle box on the Summary of Informal Meeting form. We were fully under the impression that it was the incident report we were agreeing to and not the supposed rule we had violated, and this impression was sustained until we spoke with Linda, the Judicial Coordinator, who asked us why we had agreed to the charges if we did not feel they were true (the charges being that we had violated the rights of others). By this point, of course, it was far too late for us to change our plea, and so we find ourselves trying to chose a sanction that we feel would be appropriate for a violation with which we do not entirely agree.

As far as the sanction itself is concerned, we have tried to take into account the seriousness of the incident, the impact that it may have on the community of Marston House, the previous circumstances, and our own past disciplinary records, as is specified in the materials we were given. We are already involved strongly in the Marston community: both of us are on the Screening Committee and the Tutoring Committee, and I will be the secretary next semester. We put a lot of time into our classes -- we're both science majors, so labs and the like take up a great deal of our time, and I am considering a career in education, so I have been taking EDUC 500 this past semester. It looks just as busy next semester, so in considering a sanction we must also consider the time that we have to give.

Given the nature of the offense, the lack of precedence in both the Mini Dorms (and, from what we've been told, the Judicial System in general), and our commitment to our dorm, we feel that a form of discretionary sanction would be the most appropriate. We have been advised that a warning would not be strong enough; a period of probation would probably be too much; loss of privilages and fines are not appropriate; and restitution is impossible; and we certainly do not feel that eviction is necessary in this case. We would like to put together an educational program, possibly on the history of Marston House and the Minis: we feel that this year's freshman class is missing a lot of the history we have, and that they would benefit from learning about it.

Of course we are open to any other suggestions, but we have little but our advocate's advice to go on, since Ms. Green has not recommended anything to us. (Indeed, she sent us to the Judicial Committee because, in her words, she did not feel she could treat our case fairly.) I personally feel that this has been something of a learning experience in itself: I feel that I have some insight into the workings of the University's Residence Hall policies, and the nature of judicial structure that might even apply to the "real world." However, I am also dismayed by the possibility for personal emplacement of policy that is based only on the judgement of one individual, which may or may not accurately reflect the feelings of the residents it most directly affects. I have always felt that my own ethical system was sufficent to keep me in line, and that people our age should be given a little more freedom than those still in high school: we are, at least by this point, slightly more mature. And I am frightened by what seems very much to be the return of the policies of in loco parentis that our parents fought against twenty-five years ago; how long will it be before we must again keep the doors halfway open with three feet on the floor?

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