Student petition challenges visitation policy

Courtesy of Katelyn Ziskind
Duquesne sophomore Katelyn Ziskind began a petition calling for changes and clarifications to the university’s visitation policies in the residence halls.

Olivia Donia | Staff Writer

10/11/2018

This is the second article in the Duke Deep Dives series.

A petition to change Duquesne University’s residence hall visitation policies began on Wednesday, Sept. 26 by a Duquesne student, and gathered upwards of 1,600 signatures in the first 24 hours of it being live.

Sophomore Katelyn Ziskind began the petition after having difficulty signing out a guest in Duquesne Towers. The petition, however, lists multiple concerns, including those regarding overnight guests and sign-in and sign-out times when visiting residence halls.

The current housing policy, with the exception of Brottier Hall, allows students to sign in guests between 8 a.m. and midnight and mandates all guests be signed out of the dorms by 2 a.m. Students may have overnight guests in their dorms, provided that the guest fills out the proper form before midnight and is of the same sex as the student signing them in.

The petition originally began asking for changes in the policy, but, upon receiving feedback from other interested students, Ziskind clarified her requests.

“Overnights should be allowed regardless of the guest’s sex and what time they arrive on campus. (Signing people in after 12 should be allowed),” Ziskind’s petition on Change.org reads. “Guests should also be allowed to stay past 2 a.m.”

The petition, which was posted on various Duquesne-related Facebook groups and pages, received much attention from other students.

“I can’t understand how separating people of the opposite gender during ‘late hours’ has any impact on our education as students here,” wrote Julia Lackner in the comments.

“My daughter attends Duquesne, and her Dad and I feel the dorm policy is incredibly restrictive. When her sister visited, both girls felt like criminals … even I felt like an intruder just taking her stuff to her room,” one parent commented.

In the comments of the petition posted to the Duquesne University Class of 2021 Facebook page, student Ashlee Werman added, “They have a limit of 6 overnight guest sign-ins allowed a semester, so that should change as well. As well as you can only sign people in overnight for 2 nights.”

Many students objected to what was seen as a lack of freedom and responsibility for students who are not only legal adults, but also pay for their room and board.

“We are adults paying for the room that we live in and the policies that we are supposed to live under are undermining the independence and self-identity of adulthood we are trying to establish within ourselves,” wrote Ross Aguilar in the comments of the petition.

Others pointed to the policy of forbidding opposite-sex overnight visitors while permitting same-sex ones as ignoring the reality of LGBT+ students on Duquesne’s campus.

“If this rule was implemented to deter sexual activity, it seems those who crafted it forgot of homosexuality,” read one comment.

Some, however, believed Duquesne’s housing policies were perfectly fair for the university’s status as a private Catholic institution.

One comment on the petition’s Facebook post read, “Y’all do know it’s a private Catholic university…”

Ultimately, the petition led Ziskind to seek a meeting with the Office of Residence Life. On Sept. 28, two days after the petition was originally posted, Ziskind met with Dan Cangilla, the university’s associate director for housing operations. The meeting, at which a Duke writer was present, covered topics ranging from limits on overnight guests to the issue of allowing opposite-sex guests stay the night.

Ziskind focused on the limitations on overnight visits. While acknowledging that the rule was largely in place for safety, she argued that the policy leads to Duquesne students wasting overnight stays on students who might otherwise live on campus, but only in a different building.

According to Cangilla, the overnight limit is in place simply for the safety of Duquesne students and to ensure that people who are not supposed to be there are not in the residence halls.

“Duquesne University values the health, safety and well-being of all members of the University community,” the Office of Residence Life said in a statement. “The Residence Life Visitation Policy is in place to provide a safe, secure and distraction-free living and learning environment in accordance with the University’s Mission and Catholic Identity.”

Another reason Cangilla stated, and with which Ziskind agreed, was to ensure that people who are not residents of the dorm are not staying there illegally. Limiting how many overnight guests a student may have per semester cuts down on the ability of non-Duquesne residents living in the dorms free of charge.

Cangilla additionally raised concerns regarding the rights of other students on the floor. He cited previous instances of students complaining to the Office of Residence life that their roommate was frequently having guests over, which was disruptive.

“Students should have the opportunity to be safe and secure in their home,” Cangilla said. “These rules are in place to facilitate that.”

One of the more contentious points raised at the meeting was Ziskind’s challenge of the ban on opposite-sex overnights.

“We are a Catholic university. We are not going to allow overnights of the opposite sex,” Cangilla said.

When Ziskind raised the objection that not everyone who attends Duquesne is Catholic, Cangilla responded that, when agreeing to come to Duquesne, students agree to the housing policy, whether they themselves are Catholic or not. The housing policies, he said, fall in line with the Catholic mission and the Spiritan identity of Duquesne.

“We are not going to apologize for that,” Cangilla stated.

Ziskind further objected to the fact that, while students may accept the housing policies — and, therefore, the Spiritan nature thereof — when choosing to live on campus, students are required to live on campus for their freshman and sophomore years. For her, this delineates a lack of choice: students may, as Cangilla said, agree to the housing policies by choosing to live on campus, but students do not have the choice to live off-campus for the first two years.

Cangilla again reiterated that, by choosing to attend Duquesne, students agree to abide by all of the housing policies. They are, after all, free to attend another university if they find the rules that egregious.

Ziskind argued, however, that students come to Duquesne for the education, not the living situation. Cangilla answered that, again, all policies are based on Duquesne’s Spiritan identity, regardless of whether the students who attend are Catholic.

In particular, Ziskind pointed to the inconvenience caused by the ban on opposite-sex overnights on family members who come to visit Duquesne students.

Cangilla responded, “We have policies in place for family members.”

It should be noted, however, that Residence Life Handbook only contains policies for overnight visitation of spouses and siblings between the ages of five and sixteen regardless of gender. After the age of sixteen, though, siblings are no longer covered by this policy. With no further policy in the handbook, it must be assumed that, after the age of sixteen, only same-sex siblings may be permitted as overnight guests.

The issue of the same-sex overnight rule as it pertains to homosexuality was also raised. Ziskind contended that, under the current policy, only heterosexual overnight visitation is actually curtailed. In theory, a LGBT+ student could have their significant other spend the night in their room and not be in violation of the policy.

Cangilla responded that this is not the case: “The cohabitation policy covers straight and gay students.”

Any student, gay or straight, found to be in violation of the cohabitation policy would be dealt with accordingly, he assured.

It ought to be noted that the University’s policy on cohabitation explicitly mentions overt sexual behavior or overnight visitation by a member of the opposite sex, but the wording regarding same-sex cohabitation is unclear. The policy on cohabitation, as iterated in the handbook, reads:

“Cohabitation is not permitted in the Living Learning Centers. Overt sexual behavior and/or overnight visitation by a member of the opposite sex represent a flagrant violation of the visitation policy. Excessive frequency and/or duration of the stay could also indicate a violation of the cohabitation policy … Cohabitation is not permitted at any time and may result in the permanent loss of visitation privileges.”

Furthermore, Ziskind raised the point that many students still visit with their opposite-sex friends who live in the same building, albeit on different floors, after the 2 a.m. deadline.

Cangilla reaffirmed that this will count — and has been counted — as a violation of the cohabitation policy and will, similarly, be dealt with accordingly.

One point on which slightly more agreement was reached was the issue of sign-in times vs. sign-out times. Ziskind argued against the rule requiring all sign-ins must be done before midnight, while the deadline to be signed out it 2 a.m.

“If you come back after 12,” Ziskind said, “you technically still have until 2 [until guests must be signed out], but you can’t sign anyone in.”

Cangilla, though arguing that this rule still leaves students with enough time to visit, has said that this rule has been changed in the past. Some upperclassmen may remember that, previously, freshmen were not permitted to sign anyone in until noon and all guests had to be signed out by midnight.

At a couple points in the meeting, Ziskind brought the popularity of the petition: “A lot of people disagree with [the housing policies].”

Cangilla countered that a lot of people also agree with them.

“These are the policies that work for us now,” he said. “They may not work for you, they may not work for other individuals … [These] rules work for the community we have now.”

Cangilla repeatedly stressed that the housing policies are in place for the safety of the students. The policies, according to Cangilla, are effective, they work and they meet the goals they were established to accommodate. The point of the policies is to ensure that the Duquesne community as a whole is safe and respected.

“I’m not going to change rules for some people,” Cangilla stated.

While not necessarily agreeing to any sort of change in policy, Cangilla did stress that housing policies have been reviewed and changed in the past as a result of student dissatisfaction. He told Ziskind that the Office of Residence Life would be happy to consider her requests if she submitted a list to them.

“If you have specific suggestions, we’d love to hear them,” Cangilla told Ziskind.

After the meeting, Ziskind posted an update to the Change.org petition, largely sticking to her original position.

“Mr. Cangilla argued that this is a Catholic University and we are aware of the rules before we come here,” she wrote. “I understand this, however, if over 1600 people are unhappy with the rules, then change should definitely be a concern.”

The issue seems to have reached many Duquesne students, with the number of signatures on Ziskind’s petition reaching 1,876 thus far.

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