Survey reveals attitudes toward lifestyle guides

It’s clear we live on a divided campus.

A Lakeholm Viewer survey of our student body found a wide range of attitudes toward MVNU’s Community Policy, formerly known as the Lifestyle Guidelines.

The policy prohibits conduct which school officials find contrary to the school mission, including alcohol consumption and patronizing clubs, use of tobacco and illegal drugs, sexual promiscuity, pornography, promiscuous entertainment, sexual harassment and gambling.

While strong majorities (89 percent) support having guidelines in general, many (51 percent) say the rules should not apply off campus.

In particular, a sizeable minority said alcohol consumption should be permitted off-campus for those over 21. Many also indicated that alcohol on campus should be allowed for students of legal drinking age.

“As a Methodist, my doctrine doesn’t prohibit alcohol consumption,” senior Alex Schenkel said. “I understand where they’re coming from as a Nazarene school with their doctrine. It makes sense that we aren’t allowed to drink [on campus], but I feel like if I’m at home in a house where my parents don’t care, I should be allowed to.”

A number of students wrote comments on their surveys critical of guest pass hours and “strict” separation of gender. “Just hanging out in my room [with a person of the opposite sex] where there happens to be a bed doesn’t mean I’m going to have sex so I don’t see why that should be looked down upon.” Schenkel said. He then recounted an incident where his guest pass was taken away because a girl was in his room for “five minutes”—even though there were several other students also in the room.

A majority of students also admitted to breaking at least one of the major rules listed. As expected, the most commonly broken rule is that prohibiting alcohol consumption, with nearly half of the survey’s 228 respondents saying they have broken that rule during their time as students here.

Dean of Students Rick Engstrom said he is “not particularly surprised” about the number of students breaking the rules, and seemed unsurprised about the results of the survey in general.

More than 20 percent also confessed to sexual promiscuity or promiscuous entertainment. The rules regarding tobacco use, clubs and pornography each were broken by more than 10 percent of respondents.

A common clarification point among students was an exact definition of “sexual promiscuity” and “promiscuous entertainment.”

“There are certain policies that are open to interpretation. I don’t know that a 9,000 page handbook is desirable or helpful,” Engstrom said. “I am open to continued conversation around these topics and offering clarity, in rewriting policy or in communication of the policy, if that is what the community so desires.”

Despite students’ criticisms of the guidelines, most said they feel safe talking to their Resident Assistants and Student Mentors about the guidelines.

However, reporting friends for breaking the rules was unlikely. Only 7 percent of students said they would report a friend for breaking the rules. Almost 50 percent said they would not report a friend, while 44 percent said they might, depending on the situation.

Engstrom said he understands that students are likely to protect their friends for rules violations.

However, he does encourage students to address any “self-destructive behavior or actions that are detrimental to community.”

“In many cases,” he said, “it may be appropriate for students to address negative behaviors without the involvement of Residence Life. However, sometimes Res Life staff may need to get involved.” When that happens, Engstrom assured students that the end goal is peace, not punishment.

“When it does come to me or my staff, we will deal with that situation responsibly and consistently. We desire reconciliation, justice, peace, restoration and growth. That is what we are after,” he said.

Some students questioned whether there should be actual rules or the policy should be suggestions or guidelines. “I think it’d be interesting if they had a set of rules that were their beliefs and whether we follow that or not is our fault.” Schenkel said. “They wouldn’t punish us as a university, but if we broke a law the law would punish us. They wouldn’t be at fault or look bad if they presented their own beliefs, but allowed people to disobey them.” Schenkel also suggested having certain rules not apply after Freshman year (much like the current curfew policy) or having separate guidelines for those from other denominations.

Engstrom has a different view. “In terms of making policies mere suggestions, that is admirably postmodern, but far from practical. Adherence to behavioral expectations can and should be a part of healthy social relationships. We follow these policies not because they are simply rules, but because they shape our collective experience and life together. For the sake of community and individual well-being, relegating policies to suggestions would not be advisable.”

Overall, Engstrom remained fairly open to potential policy changes. On the question of whether alcohol consumption should be allowed off-campus for students over 21 he responded, “that is certainly something for us to consider moving forward. At the heart of our policy is a desire for our students to be making healthy choices focused upon their academic success and personal growth.”

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