Recent sensationalist headlines about Barnard’s new guest policy—which was enacted in September and limits overnight visits for any one guest to three consecutive nights and/or six nights within any 30-day period—would have you know that Barnard is the next Brigham Young University.
In fact, Barnard’s policy is neither unusual nor unreasonable. While changes in enforcement remain to be seen, this policy is actually less restrictive than Columbia’s—students in Columbia residence halls are limited to hosting any individual for only five days in any 30-day period.
As a first-year, my best friends were all on my hall. I was intimidated by the wealth of spectacularly high-achieving and interesting people at Columbia, by the overwhelming number of clubs presented at the club fair, and by the abundance of events on campus. Sulz-Reid 2 was a small, palatable respite from that. During NSOP, despite careful moving plans scrambled by Hurricane Irene and battling an excruciating case of strep throat, late-night chats with the strangers who were to be my neighbors felt like a weeklong slumber party. As the year progressed from formal Residential Life programs where we shared mugs of tea and questions about major choice to midnight chats in the bathroom and shared ventures into collegiate debauchery, it was no wonder that I grew incredibly close to many of my hallmates. We still laugh about the “ghost room,” a room deserted halfway through the year that became the site of late-night conversations and a few awkward hookups. Without my residence hall, I might have been lost.
Residence halls are not apartments—by choosing to live on campus, we have chosen to live in a community of our peers. This brings both resources and restrictions: We trade the ability to sublet rooms or put our suites up on Airbnb over fall break for community-building events and resources like RAs. These rooms and facilities are specifically for members of the community. According to Barnard’s Residence Hall Handbook, “the intent of guest privileges is to allow for reasonable visitation by a resident’s friends, not long term or live-in visitors.”
The limitation to this idea of a residence hall community, though, is that our friends—with whom we share classes, clubs, dining halls, and many other touchstones of student life—live in many University residence halls, both at Barnard and Columbia. Students are welcome to host partners or friends overnight if both the host and the guest live in either Columbia or Barnard housing, but both Barnard’s and Columbia’s policies restrict these stays when those students are split between the two systems. This has nothing to do with the guest policy, which aims to limit outside visitors. Instead, this is fundamentally about swipe access, which divides Columbia College, School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of General Studies, and Barnard undergraduates who live on-campus into those who are fellow students and those who are unwelcome visitors. Barnard and Columbia’s Residential Life and Residential Programs offices have divided our community into two unnecessarily separate groups.
By establishing a baseline for what defines reasonable visitation, Barnard is affirming the right of roommates and suitemates to live without an unwanted third party. “Just talk to your roommate” is only good advice until your roommate says no, or until compromise means that her cousin stays only 15 nights a month instead of 30. If Res Life continues to enforce this rule only in cases of roommate disagreement—although, given past surprises like sudden changes in enforcement of the part-time policy, that’s a dangerous assumption to make—then it is only a tool to resolve guest discomfort in favor of the other community residents.
The media brouhaha surrounding this policy change is ridiculous: Like last year’s Nutella scandal, this is just another case of poorly researched, clickbait articles comprised of the alluring combination of Ivy League privilege and a guaranteed headline-grabber like sex or chocolate. The important takeaway from this coverage is to remember that the residence halls are designed to be a community where limits on visitors are reasonable and that our schools could do well to re-examine the definition of who exactly these visitors are.
The author is a Barnard College junior majoring in economics. She is a member of Spectator’s editorial board.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.