Jack Boyette, Campus Carrier senior guest- contributor
In March, Berry’s visitation policy began receiving criticism from students. The policy restricts times when it is acceptable for students to visit residence areas assigned to the opposite gender. In effect, these restrictions establish a gender-based curfew under which visitation is prohibited between 1:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. on weekdays and 2:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. on weekends.
The growing controversy surrounding this curfew policy has focused on its discriminatory nature, its lack of enforceability and its precedence in light of peer institution policies.
Concern regarding the policy’s discriminatory nature was first raised at a SGA meeting by members of “Listen,” a student organization dedicated to advocating for Berry’s LGBTQ+ community. Students cited the policies failure to consider the existence of queer couples on campus as well as its failure to include provisions for transgender students.
“The visitation policy does not acknowledge me as a genderqueer person on this campus. The policy boxes me into a binary, which as a non-binary individual is frustrating.” – Elliot Alexander (Listen Co-president, Class of 2021)
When Berry College President Steve Briggs was asked to respond to Listen’s grievances in his State of the College address, he dismissed them. Rather than acknowledge the historically marginalized group’s concern, he claimed that the policy was in no way discriminatory. Rather than justify his claim, Briggs appealed to the policy’s historical precedence and alleged, rather ridiculously, that the policy exists to promote healthy sleep habits. Regrettably, these statements undermine the college’s commitment to establishing a safe and welcoming environment for student expression as outlined in the Viking Code.
“[Berry College is] committed to students and open dialogue surrounding issues of concern to students…” – The Viking Code Student Handbook 2019-2020 (pg. 16)
Concerns have also been raised regarding the curfew policy’s enforceability, a job overseen by student RAs. Many of these individuals have expressed a desire to abolish the policy. They emphasize that enforcement of the curfew is entirely unrealistic without violating student privacy and unnecessarily complicating their job.
“As an RA, I was frustrated with the policy because I didn’t feel it was my place to regulate the love lives of my peers. I started a petition to gage support for policy reform amongst other RAs and found that about 60 percent of them supported change.” – Daniel George (RA 2018-2019, Class of 2020)
Of the eight schools in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA), Berry College is one of only two that enforce a gender-based curfew on all students. This is significant because these eight schools represent Berry College’s “peer institutions,” against which the college measures itself athletically, scholastically and in terms of policy.
The policies of these peer institutions maintain student safety without compromising freedom of choice. Accordingly, their policies do not allow for unaccompanied individuals to access halls assigned to the opposite gender and also do not allow for cohabitation. Instead they respect students as mature adults rather than paternalistically mandating curfew compliance.
According to the Hendrix College Student Handbook, “The residence hall visitation policy at Hendrix is one that promotes growth of the personal and social responsibilities of each student.” – Hendrix College Student Handbook
It must be stressed that reforming visitation policy will not grant students free reign to access any hall at any time. Rather, it will grant students the privilege to be invited onto any hall at any time so long as they are accompanied by someone who lives on that hall and so long as all residents living in the particular room or suite which they are visiting are comfortable with their presence. Visitation policy reform is not only an acknowledgement of concerns raised by members of our community, but also an acknowledgement that Berry students are mature adults.
When the curfew policy was established, the administration failed to acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ+ students. Briggs continues this tradition by actively dismissing members of our community. Berry’s administration must confront reality. The college is now home to a sizeable queer population, making an already unenforceable policy antiquated and inapplicable.
If the college hopes to compete with peer institutions in attracting future generations of high school seniors, then they must demonstrate an institutional commitment towards advancing school policy into the 21st century. The visitation policy is the best place to start.