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Parietals, an honest proposal

| Monday, April 11, 2016

So, this month someone finally worked up the gall to criticize parietals — in writing no less. It’s about time someone did. It’s not as though that’s been done before, even behind closed doors. No. Making fun of parietals is an unheard of and heroic feat, nay, a saintly feat, to stand up against the oppressive idea that maybe only one person should sleep in an already-cramped modular bed on any given night. Shame on those oppressive administrators and overweening churchmen destroying gender relations by insisting that non-residents must actually leave residents’ rooms and halls at a certain hour. And what a profound point those lofty authors made in noting Notre Dame’s sordid sexual health report in a ranking sponsored by Trojan, because as a Catholic institution, Our Lady’s University really should pay heed to the judgements of a condom brand. It’s not as though Notre Dame has any legitimate reasons to keep parietals in place, especially in the face of sexual assault for which it isn’t the least bit helpful to have RAs remaining vigilant about who’s in whose room after hours. And if they did have such reasons, they wouldn’t require any sustained thought or investigation. Let’s just keep making fun of them through whispered comments and inept satire. Throw in a few swipes at conservative student consciousness in general and call it good.

But let’s be honest with ourselves here. The “Decriminalize parietals” article in the April 1 edition of The Observer was, mostly, a joke. It also wasn’t really satire, for the record. The whole point of satire à la Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is to consistently say the opposite of what you mean, employing various rhetorical devices to diagnose and suggest a remedy for a social issue. Come to think of it, I don’t really know what the article is trying to say. It’s told from the point of view of students who support parietals but nonetheless concede that parietals should be abolished. So, are they ironizing the position that parietals should be maintained or that they should be abolished? Maybe both?

What’s missing from this alleged satire is any proposed solution, aside from the unstated insinuation that male and female dorms should enforce parietals equally, which sounds rather reasonable to me. In the absence of such a suggestion, though, the article functions not as satire, but parody, which comically exaggerates a particular form of writing, in this case the pleading and alarmist op-ed. By bringing attention to the parietals dilemma, this parody does strike me as worthwhile and effective, even if it’s not particularly edifying.

People like to complain about Notre Dame having a gender relations problem. Sure it does. But so does essentially every other American university. Parietals is by no means to blame for this. Rather, as per my coy suggestions above, issues with collegiate gender relations have more to do with a lack of “sustained thought or investigation.” I’m not necessarily prescribing philosophical analysis so much as a personal questioning of what we really want and what we are made for.

The recent apostolic exhortation “Amoris Lætitia” has much to say in this respect. In the post-synod document, Pope Francis discusses something that only ever seems to receive superficial and unrealistic treatment in American pop culture: love.

This is not the empty “love” found in the lyrics of most top 40s hits. This is love grounded in relationships seen paradigmatically in Jesus’s ministry and in the life of the family, a love which the Pope describes as the word of God, which “is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering.”

Comfort. Companionship. Is that what people seek when “spending a night” (as our original parody puts it) in another’s modular — and I do emphasize — cramped bed, with or without socks? If so, do they get what they’re looking for? Is this the paragon of love right then and there, if love is even involved?

I’m not an authority on the answers to these questions. But they’re questions that we should ask ourselves rather than simply sliding along with prevailing yet unexamined cultural tailwinds rife with false liberation and mindless hedonism—the sort of forces that say “if it feels good it is good” and see individuals as isolated and separate buyers ready for transactions, monetary or otherwise. Parietals serve as a boundary that some must be wary of and consciously cross before other boundaries are overstepped. Such a boundary might well allow time for such questioning and honest considerations.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Charlie Ducey

Charlie Ducey is a senior who studies English at Notre Dame. He is currently a big fan of alternative German rock music.

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  • what no really

    Or, we could endorse the crazy notion that adults should be able to go into rooms in which they’re welcome.

    • Charlie Ducey

      It would seem that you are not asking the right questions.

      • what no really

        It is very truly the only relevant question with regard to the policy. Should adults be able to go where they are invited?

        • Charlie Ducey

          What about personal considerations? Introspection? Love? What about the questions that we ought to really ask ourselves, when push comes to shove? Policy structures our expectations and if we don’t have any expectations for ourselves, what really is the point anyway? Here’s where the real hard thinking comes in: not what the University itself should set as its policies, but what we ourselves should do in living out the “call to love.”

          • This is just you invoking a bunch of terms for emotional appeal (and with a heavy dose of unnecessary pretension), it’s not an argument.

          • what no really

            Generally consenting adults get to make their own decisions with regard to how they wish to live their lives. Some of them might not even agree with your notions of what should be done! Imagine that! The whole point of this discussion is “what the University itself should set as its policies.” You wrote a column about parietals. If you want to lecture people about how you think they should live, then more power to you. But don’t hide behind some nonsense attempt at a justification of a useless and infantilizing policy.

          • Huh

            You’re absolutely right. Consenting adults do get to make their own decisions, and this is the case even with parietals in place – they just have to make the decision to break parietals on top of it. If you thought the article was lecturing people about how to live, you clearly didn’t read the article carefully enough. The article rather forwarded the argument that people should think more about what they do on a Friday night than they normally do: “I’m not necessarily prescribing philosophical analysis so much as a personal questioning of what we really want and what we are made for.” Parietals is a policy measure that ideally gets people to think more about their actions. And impulsive actions is one thing this world could do without.

          • what no really

            “This isn’t about lecturing people about how to live but maybe people should act more like I think they should act and think more like I think.”

            Some people don’t have a problem being in the room of a person of the opposite sex after an arbitrary hour.

          • Huh

            What are you quoting? Because that’s not in the article.

            I think what you are doing is projecting your preconceived biases about what people who support parietals are like onto the author in a very unfair and dishonest way.

          • what no really

            I was pointing out that you claimed this wasn’t a lecture but rather making an argument about how people should think and act differently. Which seems kind of like a lecture!

          • João Pedro Santos

            “Impulsive actions” such as sexual activity only have a problem if people forget to use contraception. Otherwise I see no problem.

        • Kathryn Dennee

          Too often we fail to live out our call to love, and too often do we fail to manage ourselves like responsible adults. The university “doesn’t treat undergrads like adults” because undergrads often don’t accept much of the responsibility that accompanies adulthood. The inverse may also be true in some circumstances. After all, an undergrad’s 4 years has been sequestered as a “magical in between time” during which campus transforms into a carnival on warm weekend evenings.

          • João Pedro Santos

            “The university “doesn’t treat undergrads like adults” because undergrads often don’t accept much of the responsibility that accompanies adulthood.”
            As far as I’m concerned, if an undergrad commits a crime, they will go to jail as if they would if they were 30 or 40 years old. So if they have the same duties as someone older, they should also have the same rights.

    • Monica

      This oversimplifies things–it’s not just whose room you’re in; it’s also whose house you’re in. If my section-mate invites a boy over, she’s inviting him into my house, too. I’m glad there are restrictions on that, and I deeply value the sense of privacy and home community that parietals create.

      • what no really

        A sensible solution would be to create a parietals system you can opt into. or out of.

        • Monica

          I’m curious about this–what do you mean? Voting on visitation hours by dorm/floor/section?

          • what no really

            No, when you’re filling out the residence app before you get to ND, it’s included as an option. Would you prefer to live with parietals or without?

          • Monica Gorman

            So, some dorms with parietals and some without? Or do you mean to go room-by-room?

          • what no really

            Dorm by dorm or section by section, depending on how the numbers fall.

  • clarifying

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you’re suggesting parietals decreases the likelihood of sexual assault occurring. I’ve actually heard quite the opposite–if a girl gets stuck in a guy’s room after parietals, she ends up being forced to stay the night for fear of being punished for leaving, increasing the chance of an assault occurring. I have a couple of friends to whom this has already occurred.
    You also criticize the authors for not offering “any proposed solution,” but you don’t seem to offer any sort of point here either. You don’t give an honest proposal for parietals as the title of your article would suggest, you simply wander around criticizing an article without addressing the real problem.

    • Charlie Ducey

      The point is that the reasons for why a person might violate parietals must be considered more deeply. It’s about questioning one’s owns motivations. The lack of thought is the problem, so a deeper sort of thought is the solution.

      • You respond to a good counterargument that expresses coherent claims with supporting evidence by claiming that your opponents exhibit a “lack of thought”. What “clarifying” is highlighting is that you didn’t engage in any “deeper sort of thought”–you didn’t even think about the harms inflicted by parietals, take them into consideration, or respond to arguments of this kind. This is an obvious counterargument which someone with your view must answer, and you didn’t even address it, and then you presume to condescend to your opponents. Condescension must be earned.

        • Charlie Ducey

          You’re correct to say that I did not address the problems of parietals. But aren’t those problems more to do with the enforcement of parietals than parietals themselves? In the example above, the problem is not that parietals exist, but that someone has to choose, presumably, between being caught for violating parietals or being in an uncomfortable, unsafe position. The whole point of parietals is to dissuade against that unfortunate position in the first place. Hence, the call to thought here has more to do with considering the culture that leads to these situations.

          • EverythingIreadheresucks

            So we should just change the entire culture of a generation instead of change some rules that no one is going to follow and do more harm than good because of that? You’re an ambitious one.

          • Monica

            “change the entire culture of a generation”
            This has been the project of the Catholic Church for 100 generations. Ambitious? Heavens, yes. That’s the point.

          • EverythingIreadheresucks

            Yes, the point of every successful organization is to set lofty goals that can’t be achieved and only breed contempt. When you make rules that a majority of people view as pointless and not worth following, you lose the credibility to enforce rules you view as more important. You need to choose your battles. Obviously since the Catholic Church has been shrinking for years, they haven’t figured this out yet. And neither have you.

          • Monica Gorman

            In the Catholic Church, we do what we believe to be right, we do it as best we can (with the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit), and we don’t worry about whether the world thinks it’s possible. And we keep growing. http://www.pewforum.org/2013/02/13/the-global-catholic-population/

          • EverythingIreadheresucks

            Well, first of all in your own source it says the percentage of Catholics has gone from 17% to 16% from 1910 to 2010. And second of all, if you take a look at this, http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/ , from your same source but with more recent data, you can see that American Catholics have declined rapidly in the last few years by more than 3 percent.

            If your movement wants to remain ignorant to how best to maintain its power that’s your business. But by implementing rules that no one wants to follow, you’re not doing yourself any favors. People don’t follow rules that don’t have a good reason and/or go against their personal beliefs. Look at how prohibition turned out. Look how many people smoke pot. And then look how the U. S. is on track to legalize it. Trying to pacify the masses never works out, and that’s just what Notre Dame is trying to do with these pointless rules. Not to mention how they do more harm than good in certain cases (see clarifying’s original comment). Just try to think about it.

          • Monica Gorman

            The goal of the Catholic Church has never been “to maintain power.” It doesn’t sound like you understand the Church.

          • EverythingIreadheresucks

            How is that not the goal? In a perfect world according to you everyone would be Catholic and the laws everywhere would reflect Catholic beliefs. It’s not that hard to understand. I know you can do it.

          • Monica Gorman

            I never said that.

          • EverythingIreadheresucks

            You said the Church was growing. You implied that is what you want. If more people follow your religion, the Church has more influence. Unless you want there to be less Catholics in the world?

          • Monica Gorman

            But it’s not about the power of the institution, and I don’t think that Catholic beliefs per se should be enshrined in civil law.

      • João Pedro Santos

        “The point is that the reasons for why a person might violate parietals must be considered more deeply.”
        People violate parietals because parietals are stupid and unnecessary.

    • Huh

      But if one follows the policy of parietals in the first place one would never be stuck in a room they couldn’t get out of for fear of breaking parietals… That’s a silly argument, and anecdotal at best. So the solution is simply to follow parietals in the first place. The counter point you raise is not a problem with parietals, but a problem with people that break parietals.

    • Nightkin

      So, a woman getting stuck at a man’s house because of a snowstorm is more at risk of getting assaulted by a man she trusted enough to be with in the first place?
      That isn’t a logical conclusion.

  • João Pedro Santos

    If you want to police adults’ sexuality, you should rather go to Saudi Arabia.

  • The short version: there’s quantitative research that says that ND is rubbish on sexual health, but because a condom company had something to do with it I’m going to ignore that and restate my gut feelings a bunch.

    • Charlie Ducey

      Sexual health is more than condom availability.

      • Another pretentious platitude that means absolutely nothing.

        • Charlie Ducey

          There’s rarely anything more plattitudinous than calling everything a plattitude. Try actually reading the article and thinking about it. Do most violations of parietals help anyone? Are they well thought out?

  • MC

    Thank you for this article. Great response to the awful “satire” of the first and to the misunderstanding of freedom and license that is so common among millennials.

    • João Pedro Santos

      Do you even know the meaning of freedom?

      • MC

        Do you?

        • João Pedro Santos

          I don’t thing that someone who opposes consexual sexual activity between adults knows the meaning of freedom…

          • MC

            I don’t think I ever expressed an opposition to that.

  • Charlie Ducey

    But, Ben, let’s be honest here. The situation that clarifying brought up is not a problem with parietals. It’s a problem with people being in the very situation that parietals is meant to prevent. And the main energy behind violating parietals is hookup culture, which often blurs the line of consent, because, for one, it often involves intoxication, in which state consent cannot be given according to any legal definition. You’re shurking your own burden by failing to consider the harm that violations of parietals entail.

    • João Pedro Santos

      “And the main energy behind violating parietals is hookup culture, which often blurs the line of consent, because, for one, it often involves intoxication, in which state consent cannot be given according to any legal definition.”
      Are you even serious? There is no excuse for rape. Just because someone said “yes” at a time, it doesn’t mean they have to say “yes” in other occasion. Understand that.

    • The societies with the best sexual health and the lowest incidences of sexual violence are the societies that are most casual and open about sex–the European countries. In 2010 the US reported 27.3 rapes per 100,000 people. The UK reported 17.0. The Netherlands reported 9.2. Denmark reported 6.4. The US also has a much higher teen birth rate (55.6 per 1000, vs 29.6 in the UK, 7.7 in the Netherlands, 8.2 in Denmark). Parietals and other forms of sexual suppression do not work.

      • Charlie Ducey

        Ben, it’s nice that the European countries have lower rates of rape and teenager pregnancies, but your argument is patently invalid. Just because some statistics show better outcomes in sexual health, it does not follow that one particular attitude about sexual openness is the cause. There are far more factors at play and you’re also vastly simplifying the situation in Europe and America and assuming that there is some easy transfer between the two. This is not the right approach, and again shurks the burden of considering our own personal motivations through appeal to statistics.

  • Charlie Ducey

    You’re right on point: there’s more to parietals than sexual relations, but it’s fairly apparent that parietals are directed at preventing sexual liaisons in dorm rooms. I will note, though, that some dorms do have 24-hour spaces, such as the basement of Keenan. Yes, there are inconveniences and possible strains on gender relations, but people can always go to LaFun.

  • Charlie Ducey

    Ben, I am saying precisely none of that. I’m not doing social science here. I am simply asking people to do a little introspection.