Judging by the editorial pages of some newspapers, many colleges have become bastions of intolerance against the very idea of free expression. They coddle their prickly, self-righteous student bodies to avoid accusations of sexism, racism and homophobia. Luckily for us, Trinity University has escaped this scourge (to the extent that it exists).
But we have suffered from a different kind of creeping paternalism, one example of which I encountered last week when I tried to enter Thomas Hall to socialize with friends. I swiped my card and the reader beeped, but the door stayed locked. Confused, I was stuck outside until someone with a functioning card came by. I solved the mystery later “” David Tuttle had sent out an email on the subject a few days before. Off-campus students (including those in City Vista, like myself) had their access to the dorms revoked.
“As many of our off-campus students have learned…only on-campus students have access to the residence halls “¦ With this decision we have chosen to prioritize security over convenience” Tuttle wrote.
Security over convenience. So I’d been locked out on purpose. I was also locked out of Prassel later that week, when my friend inside left his phone on silent and missed my frustrated calls. It was a minor inconvenience “” nothing worth rioting over. But what security argument is the administration really making here? Each and every student lives behind yet another locked door “” the one to their room. And everyone living on-campus has access to every other dorm. There’s nothing stopping our juniors in South from raiding and pillaging through the halls of Witt-Winn, if they so please. Our administrators seem to believe that off-campus students pose a unique threat to their on-campus friends.
Except I don’t think that is what they believe. Seniors living off-campus are plainly no more dangerous than juniors living on it. Instead, I think this is part of a pattern: the well-intentioned but overprotective administration increasingly treating adult students as children. In 2002, Trinity University instituted a hard-liquor ban, with the oft-stated goal of protecting first-years from unsafe drinking. That this ban also punishes sophomores, juniors and seniors, many of legal age, seems of no consequence. And as of this year, we’ve become a “˜tobacco-free campus’ “” banning smoking, chewing and vaping any product containing tobacco anywhere on campus. Students who’ve smoked for years “” including many of our foreign students from countries with prevalent smoking cultures “” be damned. Underneath it all is the assumption that the administration knows best “” that these adults need its constant protection to keep from hurting themselves. Students living off campus don’t have to be given on-campus access. So they aren’t. It’s safer that way “” who knows what could happen when one student wanders into another student’s dorm hallway?
The administration professes to place great trust in students, and indeed sponsors a number of programs, like the Optimal Buzz, that treat them as adults and talk reasonably about how to be safe. But these bans betray their true intentions. Students can no longer smoke, or vape or drink whiskey. In the case of the smoking ban, the administration did solicit some student’s opinions with a poll. But when push comes to shove, they prohibit entire categories of behavior without holding a vote.
Trinity’s students are (almost) all legal adults. We can handle ourselves. And when it comes to policies that control our actions, that limit the perfectly legal freedoms we would otherwise enjoy, we deserve the power to decide. How would the administration give it to us?
First, they should work with our class senators on these policies. Student Government Association (SGA) would vote on the existing prohibitions of hard liquor, smoking and other forms of tobacco use. Absent a large majority (say two-thirds) of Senate approval, they would be revoked. Second, SGA and the administration should continue to keep students safe without infringing on their freedoms. Instead of a blanket ban, SGA could consider banning hard liquor for first-years. They should examine our current alcohol guidelines, and revise them to be gentler on safe drinking or harsher on the unsafe kind. Instead of a smoking ban, SGA could confine smoking to certain designated areas. And if they did pass such a ban, they should consider allowing vaping and chewing tobacco, which are much less bothersome to other students.
By taking these steps, the administration could demonstrate its commitment to respecting students as reasonable adults and equal partners at Trinity. Anything less smacks of a moralizing paternalism unfit for a modern university.