Barnard’s New Overnight Guest Policy

by Zoe Baker-Peng

This new policy seems a bit of a throwback…

Barnard’s new overnight guest policy, introduced at the beginning of the semester, caused quite a stir among students. The previous overnight guest policy allowed a student to have a maximum of two students stay the night with no time limits. While that may have been too lenient, the new rules strictly state: “any individual may be hosted as a guest in the Barnard residence halls for no more than three consecutive nights and no more than six nights total in any 30-day period”. The new rules are a remarkable change from the once relaxed procedure and are not widely advertised – even some of the RA briefings seemed unwilling to discuss the policy in detail. Students’ complaints range from the implications of “slut shaming” (students who have used up their six nights will be denied further overnight guests) to the suggestion that we are suddenly being closely monitored and “parented.” I spoke to Dean Hinkson via an email interview to understand the reasoning behind the new policy.

The most popular rumors explaining the change focus on Barnard clamping down on energy costs (e.g. your guest taking showers for which they aren’t paying) or that a student had her boyfriend living in her dorm room. Dean Hinkson stresses that neither of these rumors are true. She says, “there was not any one specific situation that triggered this change. This new policy was put in place because we have heard repeated concerns and complaints from students during recent semesters about their discomfort with guests staying in their suites or rooms, and Barnard’s previous policy was extremely lax in comparison to our peer institutions.”

The overnight guest policy is now the same as Columbia’s policy. That seems like a sensible solution in terms of university cohesion, but there are significant differences between Columbia and Barnard. Firstly, Columbia’s policy is rarely enforced and secondly, Columbia is a coeducational institution. If Barnard’s policy is not strictly enforced then potential issues will obviously not be a problem. But are we being penalized as an all-women’s college? The guest policy will primarily affect students who are in relationships and who often bring their girlfriend/boyfriend back to stay the night. If we take the scenario of a relationship between a Barnard student and a Columbia (or any other college or university) student, it seems unfair that their nights together are limited while a relationship between two Barnard students or two Columbia students is not.

Dean Hinkson says that “it is important to keep in mind that this policy is not intended to regulate student’s lives or relationships”. While that may not be the primary purpose, the policy cannot help but do just that. Six nights in a month for overnight guests seems like a tough crackdown on Barnard’s part; we have gone from absolute freedom to chalking down our remaining free nights.

…but maybe it will alleviate tension between roommates?

Dean Hinkson adds, however, that “there are students who might have trouble being straightforward about discomfort with frequent guests, as well as students who might feel that any guest for any length of time is an imposition. These can be sensitive matters for roommates or suite-mates to disagree about, and the policy intends to help students navigate these situations and arrive at resolutions that are fair and reasonable.” These are serious issues and it is imperative that Barnard creates a safe and welcoming living space for all students. For many students, the all-female dorms create a secure and open environment, and guests can disrupt the equilibrium that exists between roommates/suite-mates/dorm residents.

The policy will mediate between “roommates [who] sometimes do not see eye-to-eye on this topic” and “students [who] aren’t comfortable speaking with one another about those concerns.” This is, of course, important, but is it the best way? One part of living in college housing is learning to adapt to new situations and figuring out how to solve the difficulties of sharing a living area. Conversations between students that result in negotiations are an important part of understanding how to deal with conflict and differing opinions. While Dean Hinkson makes clear that “the policy intends to help students navigate these situations and arrive at resolutions that are fair and reasonable,” it also strictly controls students’ choices and decisions.

Students do need guidelines and introducing a lucid policy is a good idea. As Dean Hinkson says, “this policy is about providing the Barnard community–both students and administrators–with a consistent structure for addressing and resolving issues related to any non-resident visitor including friends, family members, and significant others.” Perhaps the maximum of six nights needs to be re-evaluated. When I asked why the policy stated six nights rather than fifteen days out of thirty or even just a week, Dean Hinkson explained, “Based on what we’ve heard from students, a week or fifteen days is not a reasonable amount of time for roommates or suite-mates to accommodate a guest.” Yes, maybe a week or fifteen days is too much time when the nights are consecutive and, in this light, the three consecutive night maximum seems fair enough. But a total of six nights out of thirty could seem pedantic.

Whether or not this is an issue that affects or bothers you, it is important that Barnard students are aware of changes in policies. Dean Hinkson says that “as with any policy on campus, it will be reviewed and evaluated on an ongoing basis,” so if you feel strongly about the new changes, contact Res Life or your SGA representative and get your voice heard.

Zoe Baker-Peng is a sophomore at Barnard and Managing Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Barnard College Archives and Barnard College.

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