“Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby:” Oh Wait, We Can’t… It’s Banned

by Kelly Kennedy & Anna Woods, Staff Writers

In the fall of 1996, Manhattan College students were no longer fooling around when they returned to campus to discover that sexual intercourse had been effectively banned. The ban was in place for 20 years, only recently being repealed in 2016.

The ban, aptly known as Article or Item 15, was put in place after an incident occurred in the dorms in 1995. The incident involved several student-athletes partaking in what the College deemed as consensual sexual contact with a female student. However, two members of the male basketball team were found to have violated dormitory rules and were promptly suspended from the team. The suspension of the two players made it into The New York Times.  The story went to print because they were two valuable players to the team. The New York Times reported that according to school officials they were suspended “for unacceptable behavior in residence halls.”

Additionally, one of the male players and the female student involved, were charged with “behavior that is contrary to the order requisite for the educational, including conduct which threatens or endangers the life, health, safety or well being of others” and “creating or contributing to a situation that could be harmful to self or others.”

Thus, they were both put on disciplinary probation for that academic year and were mandated to attend three counseling sessions.

In 1996, the administration added Item 15 to the College Code of Conduct. Item 15  stated that “Any sexual intercourse while on campus, and outside the bounds of marriage is behavior that is unacceptable in the university community. Students involved in activity of this nature will be subject to disciplinary action/counseling.”

Jordan Pascoe, Ph.D., philosophy professor and co-director of the college’s Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center, first learned about the ban when a group of students approached her and asked about the policy.

“I knew that it had existed because part of how the [Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center] got going was four years ago a group of students came to me and they were becoming RA’s and they were like ‘Is sex banned or not?’ and I was like great question how could we not know this?’ and it turned out that 2016 the college repealed the sex ban but did not put any new policy in place,” Pascoe said

She went on to explain the context in which the sex ban was established and its impact.

“Between 1992 and 1996 there were whole bunch of different moves being made on campuses around the country just reimagining what [consent policies] might look like… so there was a lot of activism around this in the mid 90s and clearly Manhattan College took in all of this activism and then was like ‘we have it, let’s just ban sex’ … and we made big big national news for that. It was one of those things that was covered on the nightly news across the country,” said Pascoe

Gabby Kasper, a senior English and philosophy major, said, “It made national news, and people all across the country were talking about the sex ban on this campus. It was the ‘90s, we were past the sexual revolution and so there was no reason why a campus should be banning sex. It seemed almost archaic.”

Seniors Gabby Kasper and Alyssa Zduniak completed research on consent in accordance with Lasallian values and learned about the sex ban and its effects over the summer.

The ban received heavy backlash from students and professors on campus. The Quad published a series of articles covering it. “No Sex Rule Added to Student Handbook” by CJ Morris, a student at the time, was the first of many articles published on the matter. The article covered the reactions of students and faculty members. Morris reported that the resident director at the time Joseph Pirriello said “it was an unspoken expectation.” That idea was the biggest defense of administrators. That although there was never an explicit rule antagonizing sex, celibacy was expected of the students.

The American Association of University Professors Manhattan College chapter also opposed the Item 15 and disputed the soundness of it. They argued that it violated the freedoms and rights of students.

In an open letter to College community, they claimed that “as champions of academic freedom and as advocates for faculty and student rights … we wish to assure the Manhattan College community that sexual intercourse is not ‘unacceptable’ in the university community. Sexual relations between students has ‘no direct relevance’ to a university student’s education and should neithe be promoted nor prescribed in the university community. Students at Manhattan College are legally adults and are responsible for their own sexual views, orientation and activities. Students at Manhattan College deserve the trust and respect of the entire college community and the presumption that they will act responsibly in sexual matters.”

Alyssa Zduniak, a senior English, political science and philosophy major, said, “Students and faculty were responding very negatively to this. It was something no one really wanted to enforce, it was something that was put on the books so the school could cover itself.”

Essentially, it was put in place as an alternative to a consent policy. This act banned sex in all it’s forms, including consensual sex. And so the question to be asked is: where did that leave students when it came to reporting sexual assault on campus?

“This sex ban was kind of the school’s way of avoiding having to deal with these things. Because if you’re reporting sexual assault, you shouldn’t have even been having sex in the first place,” said Kasper, “And that’s all speculation of course, but that’s kind of what happened when these incidents were reported.”

With a policy of all sex banned, students had no way to report sexual assault without incriminating themselves. They also had no way to learn and grow in the way a typical college student would.

“By banning sex on campus, what you’re really doing is limiting a student’s ability to create permissible sexual actions. Because even if a student isn’t having sexual interactions here on campus, they still need to use this time to understand what it means and what’s required and how to create a better experience. And so the school was really failing the students in that way,” said Zduniak.

Jordan Pascoe also discussed the problems that went along with the ban and how it negatively affected students..

“It produced a whole host of problems that we’re still seeing reverberated. The sex ban produced, for example, a ban on being pregnant in the dorms. You get kicked out of the dorms if you’re pregnant. There was a Catch-22 problem that if you reported a sexual assault and they decided that it wasn’t assault, could they then kick you out of the dorms for having had sex?” said Pascoe.

Several other college campuses have had similar bans but many repealed them in the early 2000s having realized that the ban prevented many people from reporting sexual assault. Amongst this nationwide change Manhattan College still kept the ban in place.

Another layer of issues that arose with the ban was the fact that many faculty members had no idea that the ban existed. Many only found out about the ban when Kasper and Zduniak presented their research several weeks ago.

Pascoe continued by pondering the legacy of the ban. She brought up the notion that although the ban has been repealed the College has just established less explicit policy that tried to achieve the same goal: limiting the chances of having sex and stigmatizing the conversation surrounding sex. She argued that the ban is not only a question of moralizing sex but also pathologizing it as well.

“It’s also worth thinking about how the sex ban and the limits, for example, on students of different sexes signing each other into the dorms is still reproducing the superstructure of access [control]. Part of what access [control] is doing is it’s echoing and exasperating the sex ban. So that even though the sex ban has been repealed it’s still operating,” Pascoe said

She argued that the ban is not only a question of moralizing sex but also pathologizing it as well. Pascoe aslo went on to connect the implacations the ban has in regards to gender and how it plays into rape culture.

“The ban on sex is a gendered ban. It’s justified explicitly in terms of assuming this is the only way to protect women and that the way we protect women is we can’t possibly expect men to have sexual urges that they don’t act on inappropriately,” said Pascoe”

She continued.

“When we first brought this question to the administration four years ago, which was partly about confusion about what the College’s consent policy and what the sex policy was because none of us had idea any idea. We literally have no policy now. what were we told in response was that we did not need a sex policy and we did not need consent policy because the colleges position on all of this was the importance of civility and decorum,” Pascoe said.

She continued.

“When you tell women in rape culture civility and decorum that’s coded as silence. That’s coded as not speaking up and not resisting. That’s coded as being the nice girl who lets things happen to her and then does say anything afterwards,” she said.

While Manhattan College does explain Title IX proceedings in the handbook, there is no mention of the sex policy. Pascoe explained that while Title IX is an incredibly important, we still frame sex as a crisis and as trauma. She continued  by saying that typically sex is dealt with in a responsive way rather than a proactive way. It labels girls as “pre-victims” and boys as “pre-perpetrators.” It leaves people thinking.

“It was very extreme for a campus in New York City,” said Kasper.