Many of us have been there; if not, we’ve all heard the horror stories: strange noises filtering through the walls in the middle of the night, uncomfortable scenes upon a roommate’s unexpected return or even that awkward feeling of knowing that someone is sharing your roommate’s bed just a few feet away. When someone breaks the residence hall rules and sneaks in a boyfriend or girlfriend for the night, things can get uncomfortable or even downright unbearable.
In just a few short months, however, the ban against these furtive trysts will be lifted. Last week, the UT Division of Housing and Food Service, in cooperation with the University Residence Hall Association, notified residents that next fall, “all residence halls with the exception of Prather and Littlefield will have ‘no gender restriction’ guest policy.’” As always, roommates will have to consent to any overnight stays and sign a written agreement, but now visitors of the opposite sex may stay up to three consecutive nights.
This news comes as a welcome relief to some students and as an outrage to others. Many worry that UT’s liberal policies have finally been taken too far. Does the University encourage risky sexual activity among its residents, most of whom are underclassmen? It seems unlikely. Besides, anyone who really wants a significant other to spend the night will find a way to make it happen, regardless of residence hall policies. Students should view the gender-blind guest policy not as a University-sponsored encouragement of bad behavior but as a step toward modernity and equality.
First, we can’t assume that every visitor of the opposite sex is there for fornication. To achieve true equality, modern society must place less emphasis on physical characteristics such as gender and more on individual attributes, including the ability to exercise self-control and form platonic friendships. From a more practical perspective, out-of-town guests shouldn’t have to pay for a hotel room simply because they’re visiting a student of the opposite sex.
More importantly, this policy represents a nod toward the LGBT community. Under the current rules, gay and lesbian students can have significant others spend the night, but straight students cannot. The new policy should not be interpreted as the University saying, in effect, “If they can have boyfriends or girlfriends as overnight guests, the straight students should be able to as well.” Instead, the gender-blind policy recognizes the legitimacy of same-sex couples. Allowing them to spend the night together while straight couples cannot ignores and undermines the validity of same-sex relationships. To disregard the implications of current rules for same-sex couples is to suggest that their relationships either are not as “serious” as straight couples’ or do not pose many of the same risks. In order to equalize rights for students of all sexual orientations, the University could either place a ban on all overnight guests or lift the gender restriction. The new policy extends rights rather than revoking them and reflects the University’s high opinion of its students as principled adults.
Of course, mischievous students can find a way to abuse any overnight guest policy, and the new gender-blind rule is not likely to reduce the frequency of uncomfortable roommate run-ins. However, students should appreciate the new policy for its egalitarianism and respect the residence halls’ guidelines to ensure that it remains in place.
Oliver is an English and sociology freshman.