Sex in the time of COVID-19: questions about no visitor policy, campus survelliance

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Like many universities, DePauw struggles to balance keeping campus safe during COVID-19 and allowing students to participate in traditional college experiences.

One policy––preventing students from visiting residences other than their own––has drawn criticism from students in the way that it is enforced.

This no-visitor policy has caused some students to raise concerns around the extent of rule enforcement through various surveillance and tracking technologies on campus. 

During a DePauw Dialogue breakout session on Wednesday titled “Improving Students’ Relationship with Policy Enforcement and Campus Policing,” conversation heavily revolved around the no-visitor policy and its enforcement. 

Students wanted to know how their movement on campus is tracked and how the surveillance is used to implicate students. In addition to this, one unanswered question lingered in the Zoom chat box: “given DePauw’s strict no guest policy, where does administration expect on-campus students to engage in safe, consensual sex?”

Julia Proctor, chair of the COVID-19 task force and assistant dean of campus life, said the decision to not allow students to enter other residences was informed by COVID-19 guidelines set forth by the CDC as well as Indiana State Department of Health.

“We have students on campus who have health situations that increase their risks related to COVID-19 and we have a lot of students who are very cautious about COVID-19,” Proctor said. “We need to ensure that these students have a level of safety and comfort in their living spaces, whether they reside in University-owned housing or privately-owned fraternity and sorority houses.”

In a poll conducted on The DePauw’s Instagram (@thedepauw) of the 135 student responses, 20% agree with the university’s policy that restricts visitors. Nearly 50% of the 118 student responses self-reported visiting another residence.

Proctor said throughout the Fall and into the start of the Spring term students have made the “conscious decision” to enter other residences despite this policy being in place since the start of the academic year. 

These events come to Proctor’s attention in a few ways: either a student tests positive and they disclose their activity through the Contact Tracing Amnesty Policy, they can be reported by a student Resident Assistant (RA), or in other cases, violations are reported by “health conscious students” who, Proctor says, “are concerned about unknown individuals in their living environment when students have decided to enter a residence other than their own.” 

The latter instances are brought to DePauw COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee’s attention through an anonymous COVID-19 concerns form on the university website. 

These concerns, Dorian Shager, dean of campus life says, will be followed up by retroactively examining video footage and ID readers to confirm or disprove the accused student’s conduct.

The consequences for not abiding by this policy can result in the guilty student “not being allowed to attend in-person classes, may not be eligible for university quarantine spaces, and they not be allowed to practice with their athletics teams, or may be required to leave campus,” as stated on the Student Compliance webpage.

These security practices are not new though. Shager said the security cameras were implemented in the 2015-16 school year due to students’ requests. He pointed to vandalism and car break-ins as examples of when the surveillance footage would have been used historically. In addition to this, Shager says that there are two police cars, but only one patrols the campus on a normal basis.

There are currently more than 100 cameras around campus, according to Chief of DePauw Police Charlene Shrewsbury. She also confirmed that some of the security cameras are 1080 p high definition. Shrewsbury says the cameras are in the stairwells of university housing units (excluding houses and duplexes), on intersections, public streets, and parking lots, as well as inside and outside of non-residential university buildings. 

An estimated budget of $200,000 was put toward updating the camera systems, Brad Kelsheimer, former vice president for finance and administration, told The DePauw in a 2015 article. The DePauw was unable to confirm the final numbers, though. 

Of the 149 student responses, only 13% feel comfortable with the university using security footage and ID Readers to identify students in violation of university COVID-19 guidelines.

The camera’s are not constantly monitored, Shrewsbury said. There are only nine cameras up at a time, which she says are the ones that surround the DePauw Police station. Shrewsbury said that they don’t have the staffing to monitor the cameras anyway, since they are understaffed by three officers.

“I don’t think students believe that other students are filing complaints but they do file Silent Witness complaints of COVID-19 policy violations,” Shrewsbury said. “If we receive those because we always follow up on every call and complaint that we receive, we will go and look to see if the information that is being shared is correct, because I do not want anyone to be held accountable for something that they did not do.”

One junior wrote to The DePauw about what they believe is “draconian usage” of surveillance, which extends to prevent students from having sex with their significant other. Since they admit to breaking university policy, the student asked not to be named to avoid repercussions. 

“The university is infringing not only on our right to privacy, but our biological need for sex,” they said. “This goes way beyond the purview of the university as an educational institution.” 

Students are not allowed to visit sexual partners other living units , as the only exception to this rule is for student RAs. “The policy for visiting other residences is you are required to not go into other living units other than your own,” Shager said. 

In an email response to The DePauw, Sarah Ryan, assistant dean of students and director of DePauw’s Women’s Center, reaffirmed the university policy, however Ryan also understands the concerns students raised surrounding the lack of neutral spaces on campus to engage in sexual activity. 

“Healthy, happy sex can be an important part of one’s physical, emotional, and social health,” Ryan said. “Right now, COVID-19 is presenting significant barriers for college students’ well-being.”

Ryan, a self-proclaimed sex-positive feminist, offered several solutions for students who are seeking out COVID-19-safe sex that conforms to university policies. The safest recommendation, according to Ryan, is masturbation. They attributed the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s for informing the safer sex practices necessary in the current pandemic. 

“While self-pleasure isn’t a topic that many people feel comfortable discussing openly, the safest sex anyone can engage in right now is with oneself,” Ryan said. “The next safest partner is someone you live with. And for those who choose to engage in sexual activity with someone else, choosing one consistent partner and trying to minimize risk with the activities you engage in is recommended.”

Since neither the student above or their partner have a car to have sex in, they said that they have broken guidelines to have sex in their room. “I don’t regret it,” the student said. “[Sex is a way] for many couples to reaffirm their love and please their significant other.

When addressing a rumor that citations are given to students who engage in intercourse in a vehicle, Shrewsbury said that all a DePauw Police officer will do is approach them to make sure that it is consensual, and if it is, they will ask the students to stop and go on their way. 

“No one has been cited and no one has been arrested for having sex in a vehicle,” Shrewsbury said. “I know that is a rumor that is out there, but that is not true. There has not been a citation, nor has anyone been sent to community standards.” 

The student above referenced the New York City Health’s safer sex and COVID-19 recomendations that, like the solutions offered by Ryan, provide educational information to mitigate the spread during intercourse. “The [university policy] doesn’t take into account that students will have sex either way,” the student said. “They are putting us all in danger by not providing guidelines that account for the fact that people will have sex.”

But this student claims to follow all of the other guidelines. They haven’t visited friends in their rooms or invited them to theirs, and they wear a mask everywhere they need to. They worry about being caught, but not enough to stop having intercourse with their significant other. 

“It is an important part of our relationship,” the student said. “It is even more absurd considering that I see my significant other on a nearly daily basis anyways.” 

Even before COVID-19, the student says they disagreed with the university using security cameras, ID Readers, and public safety to identify students. However, now they are worried about being caught on video entering or leaving the other’s residence, even though they are also hanging out everyday in COVID-19-safe designated areas. 

“Security cameras, public safety, and things alike do not provide me with a sense of security and safety, but with a sense of anxiety” the student said. “While I do think public safety and security cameras can, and should, be used to uphold some sense of order, DePauw has been using them more and more to keep students in check.” 

Note: the survey results shared only include responses from current students who we could identify. All alumni, parents, and other respondents were omitted from the results shared in the story. Between 12-16 responses were omitted per survey.