Writing in Crisis Magazine today, The Cardinal Newman Society’s Adam Wilson argued that restricting opposite-sex visitation in college dorms sends a strong pro-chastity message to students, but Wilson noted that new research released by the Society shows a majority of Catholic colleges allow opposite-sex bedroom visitation behind closed doors until late into the night.
“There is no single policy that can reform college campus life, but placing greater limits on opposite-sex visitation to student residences — those that serve as bedrooms— is likely to have a significant impact on the ‘hook-up’ culture and sends a strong message in support of chastity,” said Wilson, director of communications at the Newman Society and managing editor of The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.“ And that’s one thing that all leaders of Catholic colleges should be able to agree upon: chastity should be the expectation on Catholic campuses, not the exception.”
In a new report, “Visitation Policies at U.S. Catholic Colleges,” the Newman Society reviewed the dorm visitation policies at 191 residential Catholic college campuses in the United States. The research showed that 95 percent of Catholic colleges permit at least some of the students, usually upperclassmen, to visit with members of the opposite sex in dorm rooms for some part of the night.
Permitting opposite-sex visitation is “the norm in American higher education, but it’s an extraordinary social shift for Catholic colleges that still retain the language of moral formation and Catholic campus living,” said Wilson.
The Newman Society’s report also found that more than a quarter of residential Catholic colleges permit all-night opposite-sex visits on weekends, with only five of these colleges imposing restrictions on visiting hours during the week.
“Whether intended or not, that’s an open invitation to sexual activity,” Wilson said.
These Catholic colleges include some of the largest and most notable in the U.S., such as Boston College, DePaul University, Georgetown University, Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University New Orleans, Santa Clara University, St. Joseph’s University, University of Dayton, University of San Francisco and Villanova University. “But it’s surprising to see how many smaller Catholic colleges have also abandoned dorm policies that were universally embraced just a few decades ago,” noted Wilson.
“Research shows that the pervasive ‘hook up’ culture on the typical American campus is found even at many Catholic colleges ... Solutions are by no means simple, as the casual sex scene has become an accepted norm of college life — even seemingly acceptable to many Catholic parents who would never allow such behavior in their homes,” said Wilson. “But while there’s no quick fix, Catholic colleges can at least start to address the problem by observing the residence life policies of those few faithful Catholic institutions and their other Christian counterparts that promote a culture of chastity.”
The report also compares the visitation policies and policies on prohibiting sexual relations in the dorms between 40 Catholic colleges that belong to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and 40 non-Catholic Christian institutions belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).
“We chose top colleges ranked highly in various categories by U.S. News and World-Report — not because we expected the rankings to have any clear relationship to visitation policies, but the rankings seemed a convenient method for selecting a variety of colleges that are similarly competitive with students of similar backgrounds,” Wilson explained.
The Catholic institutions in the sample were found to have “more relaxed” visitation policies, with over a quarter permitting “open” or 24-hour visitation in campus residences. None of the CCCU colleges in the sample allowed open visitation hours in their dorms. And only two of the Catholic colleges prohibited opposite-sex visitation altogether, compared to seven of the CCCU colleges. The Catholic colleges also allowed visitation later into the night, with most allowing visits until 2 a.m. Only one of the Catholic colleges in the sample had an open-bolt policy directing that doors cannot be locked during opposite-sex visitation, while over half of the CCCU colleges sampled employed an open-door or open-bolt policy.
The CCCU colleges were also shown to have more restrictive policies about sexual activity in the dorms:
Fully three quarters of the sampled CCCU institutions have policies that explicitly prohibit sex, compared to about a quarter of the sampled Catholic colleges. Many other Catholic colleges offer vague proscriptions against ‘cohabitation,’ but in at least some instances cohabitation appears to mean long-term living arrangements, so the term is unclear to students. And others prohibit sleepovers by students of the opposite sex, without regulating sexual activity during available visiting hours.
But not all of the findings in the report were “bad,” Wilson noted. Nine Catholic colleges were found to “have retained traditional Catholic mores; i.e., there is no opposite-sex visitation in student residences [on weekends], save occasional open-house events in some cases.” Those colleges include: Aquinas College (Tenn.), Christendom College, Divine Word College, Holy Apostles College and Seminary, John Paul the Great Catholic University, Northeast Catholic College, Thomas Aquinas College, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and Wyoming Catholic College. With the exception of Divine Word College, all of these institutions are recommended in The Newman Guide.
“These colleges demonstrate that a culture that promotes chastity can be achieved with appropriate dorm polices as well as educational efforts,” said Wilson.
The nine colleges that don't allow opposite-sex visitation on weekends, along with Franciscan University of Steubenville and Ave Maria University, also prohibit weekday night opposite-sex visitation.
Additionally, a number of Catholic colleges do have “more reasonable” visitation hours, and have open-door and open-bolt rules “that help discourage sexual activity.”
“At a Catholic college, the campus residences should be an environment to grow in virtue. But this ideal is far from the norm at the majority of Catholic colleges throughout the U.S.,” Wilson wrote at Crisis Magazine.
“Catholic teaching reserves sexual intimacy for marriage. It also bids us to avoid the near occasion of sin,” he continued. “How can we hold these beliefs, yet continue to invite young men and women into each other’s bedrooms late into the night, behind closed doors?”
Wilson closed his article with the hope that “more Catholic college leaders will take to heart the Church’s call to help students encounter Christ on campus, by giving them a healthy campus experience that helps them grow in virtue and holiness.”
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