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Universities Try 'Sexiling' Policies to Grapple with Dorm Room Libidos

Is it cool to have sex while your roommate is trying to sleep in the next bed? At Tufts University, not so much.

When Tufts University officially banned students from having sex in residence hall room when a roommate is present, it met with two especially strong reactions. Many are glad the administration finally spoke up about an especially awkward occurrence and pleased for the added bit of leverage in managing it. Others are skeptical, doubting that any official policy will deter those who are already prone to shrugging off the norms of social etiquette.

Tufts University's Office of Residential Life indicated to The Tufts Daily, the campus newspaper, that the new policy was the result of a large increase in the number of complaints about sexual activity in shared rooms. The new stipulation to the campus guest policy not only prohibits sex when a roommate is present, but sex that interferes with the roommate's sleeping, studying, and privacy -- an addition that, presumably, is intended to address "sexiling," or compelling someone to leave a shared room.

As Tufts takes this broad step in balancing students' right to sexual activity with their right to private space, colleges across the country are watching to see how it plays out.

"There's no doubt that people working in students services across the country will be paying attention to what happens (given this new policy) at Tufts and asking questions about it at conferences over the next year," said Melanie McClellan, dean of students at the University of West Georgia.

McClellan is interested in how this policy unfolds at Tufts even though-or, perhaps, especially because-UWG does not have a counterpart ban on intimacy in residence hall rooms when a roommate is present.

"Conflict about sex in a room is not nearly as common a conflict as those that have been around forever, like housekeeping and different sleep schedules," McClellan said of the UWG campus in Carrollton, Georgia, where about 3,000 students live in various housing arrangements.

She added that, "If that particular complaint is an issue (between roommates), then it's certainly not the only issue."

In lieu of a standard policy, UWG student services staff is trained to support campus residents as they learn how to communicate about sometimes uncomfortable and personal subjects. Freshmen students participate in a seminar over the fall semester that helps them adjust to the sort of negotiations that are peculiar to the college experience. Peer education occurs in residence halls through sexual health organizations, designed to develop the judgment skills of students.

Tufts' Office of Residential Life has told The Tufts Daily that the new policy isn't intended to be a proscription that eliminates the need for building healthy communication between roommates; rather, it is intended to facilitate the communication.

"We want to make perfectly clear that we do not want to hinder someone from engaging in any personal or private activity," said Carrie Ales-Rich, the office's assistant director for community and judicial affairs, to the campus newspaper. "But when it becomes uncomfortable for the roommate, we want to have something in place that empowers the residents to have a good conversation with the roommate."

That's a point that resonates with J. Bruce Daley.

Daley, a writer from Denver who attended Tufts between 1976 and 1980, is someone who had sex in a dorm room while his roommate was present.  Coming from a military academy background, Daley believes that strong policies prohibiting sexual activity in shared rooms would have deterred him from doing something he regrets.

"I will never forget the look on my roommate's face the next morning," Daley said. "I could see that he felt his privacy had been violated ... He transferred schools after our freshmen year and has spent the rest of his life living in Asia. I am not saying this experience is what caused him to do this. Just saying.