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Handbook rules on affection need clarification

The MVNU student handbook prohibits “inappropriate social behavior or public display of affection,” and says “Any display of affection must be appropriate and considerate of other students and visitors.”

But what do we define as “appropriate” vs. “inappropriate affection?” How much of this issue is dictated on campus by social laws, rather than biblical ones?

Clearly, what is considered inappropriate display of affection depends on the context, and who you ask to define it. For example, to some people a “chaste” kiss by a parting couple off to class is completely acceptable. To others, this may be highly offensive.

In some cases, I have seen people totally ignore lengthy public kisses between dating couples. On the other hand, I also have been publicly reprimanded by strangers on campus for a prolonged hug between my boyfriend and I.

While I have no desire to intentionally make anyone uncomfortable, I know of no biblical precedent that says it is sinful to hug someone, even if that hug lasts longer than 3 seconds. So, the question comes down to whether the PDA makes someone else uncomfortable.

Students certainly have a responsibility to respect public spaces and their peers’ boundaries. They have a moral and social obligation to act with maturity and discretion. However, those who witness PDA on campus also must respond with good judgment.

As mentioned, I have been reprimanded by strangers for various levels of PDA, ranging from hugs, to sitting with my boyfriend’s arm around me, to a quick kiss goodbye.

These reprimands may have been in the spirit of helping me maintain my own boundaries, but some of them have been patronizing and rude.

If couples are required to respect everyone else on campus, they deserve respect in return. A public, prolonged hug does not make me a sinner, and I do not appreciate being treated like one.

Of course, it is important to have rules on campus regarding affection (both public and private), but it is neither respectful nor fair to couples on campus that so much ambiguity surrounds this issue.

Many couples have probably experienced the vast difference in responses to PDA such as the strict rule enforcement in female residence areas vs. the “anything goes” mentality that prevails in male areas such as Oakwood and Redwood.

Experience and observation have taught me that in Pioneer, leaning against one’s significant other is a sin, but in Redwood, a girl lying with her head in her boyfriend’s lap is perfectly acceptable.

The result of this ambiguity in the handbook is that student authority figures on campus (such as Residence Assistants) enforce the rules differently according to what was socially acceptable in the environment they grew up in.

One RA may speak sternly to a couple lying next to each other in the courtyard, while another won’t say anything unless the couple is kissing. . . and yet another may ignore the couple altogether.

Each of these RAs would be doing his or her best to enforce the rules and help keep the couple accountable. The consequence, though, is that the couple is confused about what types of affection are healthy and acceptable, and what are inappropriate and even sinful.

And, regardless of where you draw this line, some forms of affection are healthy and appropriate. Touch is a legitimate love language, and it is not always sexual just because two people are of opposite gender and are attracted to one other.

Two of the more emotionally painful experiences I have had on campus came about when someone reprimanded me for hugging my boyfriend in public for a prolonged period of time.

Neither knew that I was crying about a serious personal problem, and he was comforting me. To be treated like a “sinner” in that moment was very difficult.

Experiences like these point to a deeper issue in campus culture – an often-held belief that any touch between a single male and single female is somehow sinful.

However, it is neither healthy nor realistic to assume that every physical contact between a male and a female is sexual—or even romantic—in nature.

Obviously, PDA is not a black and white issue. Everyone has different standards of what is acceptable and what is not. Maybe it is impossible to respect both couples on campus and those who don’t want to witness PDA (appropriate or otherwise). However, clearing up the ambiguity in the handbook would be a good way to start eliminating double standards so that no one feels singled out.

Illustration by Lilly Phillips.

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