In a hyper-sexual society, once-traditional morals have eroded even in our Catholic institutions—and especially on many Catholic college campuses. Research shows that the pervasive “hook up” culture on the typical American campus is found even at many Catholic colleges, a fact that will not surprise most Crisis readers.
Given the documented consequences of the Sexual Revolution, it’s long past time that Catholic colleges take the lead on campus reform, creating cultures that reinforce the expectation of chastity. Solutions are by no means simple, as the casual sex scene has become an accepted norm of college life—even seemingly acceptable to many Catholic parents who would never allow such behavior in their homes. But while there’s no quick fix, Catholic colleges can at least start to address the problem by observing the residence life policies of those few faithful Catholic institutions and their other Christian counterparts that promote a culture of chastity.
Good solutions often begin with good data, so The Cardinal Newman Society has published a review of the dorm visitation policies at 191 residential Catholic college campuses in the United States. Our report, Visitation Policies at U.S. Catholic Colleges, is a factual overview of policies that regulate student visits to those campus residences that function, at least in large part, as student bedrooms.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
The report includes information on several different Catholic college policies related to visitation, and it compares a sample of Catholic institutions to their Protestant and non-denominational Christian peers. Some of the findings validate common assumptions about the residential atmosphere on these campuses: overall, the report confirms that the vast majority of Catholic colleges allow bedroom visitation behind closed doors—including students of the opposite sex—until late into the night, and this contrasts with the much healthier policies of other Christian colleges.
On weekends, 95 percent of Catholic colleges permit at least a portion of the students (usually non-freshmen when specified) to visit with members of the opposite sex in dorm rooms for at least some part of the night. It’s the norm in American higher education, but it’s an extraordinary social shift for Catholic colleges that still retain the language of moral formation and Catholic campus living.
Other results of the study may be surprising. More than a quarter of residential Catholic colleges—54 nationwide—permit all-night opposite-sex visits on weekends, and only five of these regulate visiting hours during the week. Whether intended or not, that’s an open invitation to sexual activity. The colleges enabling this include some of the largest and most notable Catholic colleges, such as Boston College, DePaul University, Georgetown University, Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University New Orleans, Santa Clara University, St. Joseph’s University, University of Dayton, University of San Francisco and Villanova University. But it’s surprising to see how many smaller Catholic colleges have also abandoned dorm policies that were universally embraced just a few decades ago.
Even at the more than two-thirds of Catholic colleges that impose deadlines for opposite-sex visits to dorm rooms, their policies generally fail to satisfy Catholic sensibilities. Nearly half (91) of Catholic colleges permit opposite-sex visitation until 2 a.m., well into the night. Another 11 colleges allow visitation until 3 and even 4 a.m., inviting the question, “Why even bother?” These include Creighton University, DeSales University, Fordham University, St. John’s University (N.Y.), St. Louis University and the University of Scranton, as well as smaller institutions.
At the University of San Francisco, there is no pretense of promoting chastity in its dorm policies. In addition to having open visitation hours, USF now also offers some students the option to have an opposite-sex roommate. The program for “gender inclusive housing” welcomes students who identify as “transgender,” do not identify as any sex or simply “respect people with the above identities” and “prefer to live” in a gender-inclusive “community.” Students share bathrooms with members of both sexes. And community standards include respecting “gender as a non-binary construct,” openness to developing one’s own sexual orientation and using “preferred names and gender pronouns.”
Catholic Edgewood College in Wisconsin unabashedly condones promiscuity with 24-hour “Weekend Opposite Sex/Intimate Partner Visitation Hours.” The College declares that dorm visits can be for “opposite sex and same-sex intimate partners.” Curiously, while the College permits fornication on the weekend, it states that “intimate partner guests are prohibited overnight during the weekday.”
Edgewood is, of course, an extreme case—and we approached this study assuming that even when Catholic colleges implicitly condone sexual activity by inviting opposite-sex visitation in bedrooms, those colleges would have rules on the books forbidding premarital relations. Sadly, we were wrong. We examined student handbooks and residence life policies, finding that only about one-third of the colleges explicitly prohibit sexual relations on campus. Most of these cite the institution’s Catholic identity or reference Catholic teaching reserving sex for marriage as the reason for the rule.
Not all the findings in our report are bad. For instance, even among Catholic colleges that offer opposite-sex visiting hours, there are some that set deadlines at more reasonable hours. Donnelly College admirably ends weekend visitation at 10 p.m., and ten other colleges allow it until midnight. The Franciscan University of Steubenville has visiting hours only from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. on weekends, from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Sundays, and doors must stay open.
Weeknight visitation hours are also more reasonable at 84 Catholic colleges (44 percent), which end visitation at or before midnight. But still, a quarter of Catholic colleges end visitation after midnight during the week, and 26 percent have no time parameters at all.
Some Catholic colleges that allow opposite-sex visitation have open-door and open-bolt rules that help discourage sexual activity. Franciscan University of Steubenville and Ave Maria University require that, during opposite-sex visitation, bedroom doors must remain open. St. Gregory’s University and the University of Dallas require that the bolts of bedroom doors must be placed in the open position to keep them ajar. St. Martin’s University requires open doors during the final couple hours of visitation.
Most impressive are the nine Catholic colleges that have retained traditional Catholic mores; i.e., there is no opposite-sex visitation in student residences, save occasional open-house events in some cases. Most of these institutions will be familiar to Crisis readers: Aquinas College (Tenn.), Christendom College, Divine Word College, Holy Apostles College and Seminary, John Paul the Great Catholic University, Northeast Catholic College, Thomas Aquinas College, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and Wyoming Catholic College. These colleges demonstrate that a culture that promotes chastity can be achieved with appropriate dorm polices as well as educational efforts.
In order to find out how Catholic colleges stack up to their Protestant and nondenominational Christian counterparts, we compared 40 colleges that belong to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to 40 colleges of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). We chose top colleges ranked highly in various categories by U.S. News and World Report—not because we expected the rankings to have any clear relationship to visitation policies, but the rankings seemed a convenient method for selecting a variety of colleges that are similarly competitive with students of similar backgrounds.
Overall, the Catholic institutions were found to have more relaxed policies. While more than a quarter of the Catholic colleges in the sample permit “open” or 24-hour visitation in campus residences, none of the sampled CCCU colleges allow this. Only two of the Catholic colleges prohibit opposite-sex visitation, but seven of the CCCU colleges do so. Of the 27 Catholic colleges with visitation hour limits, 23 end at 2 a.m. or later on weekends, and the earliest deadline is midnight. But at CCCU colleges, only a dozen go later than midnight—and only two of those allow visitation until 2 a.m.
Further, more than half of the CCCU colleges sampled have open-door or open-bolt policies during opposite-sex visitation hours, and a quarter of them require that at least one light stays on. Only one of the sampled Catholic colleges—St. Gregory’s University—has an open-bolt policy.
Our study also examined the difference between Catholic and CCCU colleges on the question of prohibiting sexual relations in the dorms. Fully three quarters of the sampled CCCU institutions have policies that explicitly prohibit sex, compared to about a quarter of the sampled Catholic colleges. Many other Catholic colleges offer vague proscriptions against “cohabitation,” but in at least some instances cohabitation appears to mean long-term living arrangements, so the term is unclear to students. And others prohibit sleepovers by students of the opposite sex, without regulating sexual activity during available visiting hours.
Chastity Must Be the Norm
There is no single policy that can reform college campus life, but placing greater limits on opposite-sex visitation to student residences—those that serve as bedrooms—is likely to have a significant impact on the “hook-up” culture and sends a strong message in support of chastity.
And that’s one thing that all leaders of Catholic colleges should be able to agree upon: chastity should be the expectation on Catholic campuses, not the exception.
As Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic college presidents during his historic address at The Catholic University of America in 2008, “First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God, Who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth.”
Students attending a Catholic college should have the opportunity to fall in love with the truth. In the classroom, professors can facilitate this by ensuring the balance of faith and reason, but a Catholic college’s duty to students does not end with intellectual formation. Students spend the majority of their time outside the classroom.
For this reason, residence life policies are of paramount importance. A healthy campus culture gives students the atmosphere necessary to excel in their studies and form good friendships. At a Catholic college, the campus residences should be an environment to grow in virtue. But this ideal is far from the norm at the majority of Catholic colleges throughout the U.S.
Catholic teaching reserves sexual intimacy for marriage. It also bids us to avoid the near occasion of sin. How can we hold these beliefs, yet continue to invite young men and women into each other’s bedrooms late into the night, behind closed doors?
It is our hope that more Catholic college leaders will take to heart the Church’s call to help students encounter Christ on campus, by giving them a healthy campus experience that helps them grow in virtue and holiness.
Editor’s note: Pictured above are dorm rooms designated for LGBT students at the University of San Francisco.