Letter: The Right to Privacy

Students, both current and prospective, hear extensively about how much Pomona College values the learning community it has created on campus. A large part of this sense of community stems from the choice of almost all students to live on campus, something that is unheard of at large universities across the nation. There is no doubt that Pomona’s liberal policies have laid the foundation for an inclusive community. However, there has been a noticeable disconnect recently between the spirit of these policies and their interpretation by some in the administration. 

The kind of community that Pomona hopes to foster is rooted in a sense of mutual respect between everyone involved. Successfully creating this on our campus requires healthy relationships between the administration, residence hall staff and students. Lately, this sense of community has been jeopardized by the differences between what the policies of the school mandate and what the Office of Campus Life (OCL) sees as its enforcement duties. Unfortunately, students employed as RAs often bear the brunt of the blame, caught in the middle of the larger rift between students and the OCL. 

The driving force behind the current disenchantment with the administration is the belief that students lack any right to privacy. This idea has recently been represented by Dean Ric Townes’ statement in the previous edition of TSL that dorms are “still Pomona College property, so [they’re] not private.” While not policies themselves, statements like these from leaders on campus erode the relationships necessary for the “inclusive, supportive nature of the community” that Pomona outwardly values in its publications. The current actions of the school suggest that Pomona is either abandoning its commitment to community or is oblivious to the fact that these values are necessary for students to feel comfortable within the residential environment. 

We are not asking for complete control over our personal spaces, but rather a reasonable sense of privacy within our bedrooms and common rooms. This would prevent entrance by others without some measure of demonstrable cause. As extensions of the OCL, RAs should not be required to enter into any locked room to determine policy compliance unless an infraction has been reported or observed. Otherwise, students lack any sense of agency over their personal spaces. 

The issue at stake is not, as some have characterized it, the right to party. As students on a private campus we have no right to complete autonomy; however, as members of the Pomona College community, dorms become our homes. As such, our actions within the confines of these spaces should not be subject to outside judgment so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of other residents. The college itself has outlined these rights in the Student Handbook, stating that each student may “reasonably expect” the right to “reasonable quiet,” “reasonable privacy” and “individual choice.” While these may exist in writing, the current environment created by the OCL has led many to question the administration’s commitment to these rights. 

Community, at its base, relies on relationships founded upon mutual respect, trust and communication. Currently, there is a sense among students that all three of these values have been violated by the actions of the OCL. RAs are meant to protect this community by ensuring that it exists within a safe and healthy environment. The current mandate of enforcement to which OCL has bound its student employees strays far from the protection of our community and instead has begun to threaten the residential environment itself. It is not inconceivable that students may soon question their desire to make Pomona College their home. This is an outcome that no student wants, and we hope to create a dialogue between the OCL, RAs, students and the administration that can develop a solution regarding privacy in the dorms. 

Robert Chew PO ’14, Karl Kumbier PO ‘13

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