"Big Four" Highlights


Dorm Morality

Alarming study shows lax rules for students at Catholic colleges

As a parent of a college-bound child, you check a school’s academic credentials, course offerings and majors, teacher-student ratios, the size and comfort of dorm rooms, and maybe even sample the cafeteria food.

But do you check what may prove to be the most influential aspect of your child’s college experience, for good or ill? What about dorm visit policies for males and females? What is the curfew, if any?

The Cardinal Newman Society, which monitors the practices of Catholic colleges and universities, recently released a study that may surprise you. Adam Wilson, director of communications, spoke with Fathers for Good about the positive and the negative findings.

Fathers for Good: What is the dorm visitation report all about, and how did you get the information?

Wilson: The purpose of our report, “Visitation Policies at U.S. Catholic Colleges,” is to start a conversation among Catholics and college leaders about the importance of cultivating an atmosphere that supports chastity on Catholic campuses. By raising awareness about the overall bad state of visitation policies at Catholic colleges, we hope to aid more Catholic college leaders in identifying solutions that can make a real difference in students’ lives.

We culled the information for the report from online sources including student handbooks, residence life handbooks, and community standards pages. We directly contacted college officials in cases where the information was unclear.

FFG: What percentage of Catholic resident colleges/universities have any sort of dorm visit rules? Would most parents approve of these rules?

Wilson: Nearly all Catholic colleges set some form of policy for visitation, but the fact is that the rules at most of these institutions are so lax that they would be unheard of in good Catholic homes. The picture is actually quite bleak. More than a quarter permit students of the opposite sex to visit in bedrooms without any time limit on weekends. For about half of the colleges, 2 a.m. is the latest time men and women are allowed to be in each other’s rooms. Still, several permit visitation even later, until 3 or 4 a.m. Only a handful require that doors remain open during visitation. Nine Catholic colleges prohibit all opposite-sex visitation, and most of these are recommended in our Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.

FFG: Whatever happened to schools acting in loco parentis – acting in the place of parents?

Wilson: There was a time when most Catholic colleges took responsibility for the moral, social, and spiritual development of their students. But throughout the 1960s and 70s the majority of Catholic higher education began walking away from considerations of student moral formation. It’s not that the leaders of most of these institutions decided one day to intentionally subvert the morality of students. The problem is that most Catholic colleges became so swept away with the idea of competition for secular prestige that considerations like this simply fell to the wayside. There is a new opportunity now for Catholic college presidents and residence life staff to put their Catholic mission into practice through improving visitation policies.

FFG: What do you say to parents or administrators who say that kids have to learn to regulate their own sexual lives to be mature?

Wilson: Several studies have demonstrated that the casual sex scene has taken over colleges and universities in the U.S., not excepting Catholic campuses. Even if our contemporary status quo was better, Catholic college administrators would still have a duty to God—and to the families that entrust their children to them—to help students avoid the near occasion of sin. The reality of the “hook-up” culture, however, makes this responsibility all the more imperative.

Other studies have established that students at Catholic colleges are losing their faith and abandoning Church teachings at an alarming rate. Since students spend most of their time at college in dorms, Catholic institutions have an opportunity to reverse these disturbing trends by setting the right policies and promoting virtue.

FFG: How should a parent use the information in the study?

Wilson: Careful evaluation of the dorm situation should be an essential part of the college search for any Catholic family. Residence life has a dramatic impact on the kinds of habits and friendships students form during their college years. If parents are interested in putting their kids on the right moral path, they should take a careful look at the findings in our report before selecting a Catholic college for their son or daughter. Our Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College gives even more information about which Catholic colleges are offering students the best environments to grow in their faith.

For the full text of the report, visit the Cardinal Newman Society website.