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Dorm rejects porn policy

By Linda D'Angelo

Residents of Random Hall have voted 30 to 13 that the dormitory should continue to have no pornography policy, ending debate on three possible policies drafted by the Random Hall Pornography Committee. The vote, taken at last Wednesday's house meeting, marked the end of a process that began last December when a pornographic film was shown in a common area at Random.

The initial incident occurred when a resident of Random Hall came upon a bachelor party when walking through the third floor lounge to get to the stairwell. Pornographic material was being shown at the party and this "deeply offended" the resident, according to Random Hall Housemaster Irwin Pless, who was immediately notified of the problem by a formal, written complaint. Pless said he "suggested that the group move from the open area" and "everyone cooperated."

"Given the sensitivity of this particular issue, I wanted to give all residents a chance to get involved," Pless said. So he spoke with Random Hall President Virak Tan '90 and together they drafted a letter which was sent to all house residents. The letter suggested that the dormitory hold one or more house meetings to discuss the question of pornography in Random Hall. A committee should then be formed, the letter continued, to draft a policy proposal, which would then be voted on by house residents.

The letter also stated that the house meetings should "be restricted to residents of Random Hall." This is not a common practice, but realizing that "Random doesn't live in a vacuum," Pless felt it was important to minimize outside involvement until the residents were able to resolve the issue themselves. Tan also explained that the measure was to ensure that "there would be no outside influences."

When it became clear at this first closed house meeting that resident opinion was too varied to reach a consensus through discussion, the Random Hall Pornography Policy Committee was formed. The goal of the committee was to continue discussion until a proposed policy could be drafted and presented to the house. A "clear effort" was made to represent "every conceivable opinion on the committee," Pless said.

The committee first "came up with a working definition of pornography," according Eleanor Hoff '91, a member of the committee.

The members then attempted to reach an agreement about what the proposed policy should entail but "the points of view were so radical" that "the committee itself couldn't agree on a policy," committee member Sam Chen '92 explained. Instead three members of the committee volunteered to draft individual policies which could then be presented to the house and voted on by secret ballot.

The idea of a no policy choice was also introduced during committee discussion but at the time members felt it was not a useful option, according to Pless. "Our role was to come up with policies, if someone at the house wanted to bring up that option" they could do so at the house meeting, Hoff explained.

One of the policies that was drafted by the committee required that "pornography be restricted to and limited to the private rooms of Random Hall residents." At no time would pornography be allowed in a public-access area, it concluded.

Another policy stated that "pornographic movies may be viewed in common areas -- floor kitchens and lounges -- with the consent of all floor residents present." It stipulated that "signs should be posted" so that no one "accidentally stumbles across the movie" and that the "consent of floor residents... be obtained by secret ballot."

The third policy represented a middle ground between the first two. It stated that pornography could be viewed in private rooms at all times. But it went further to allow pornography in the basement kitchen contingent on consent of first floor residents by secret ballot, posting of signs, and a two-to-one ratio of Random Hall residents to non-residents for the duration of the viewing.

The committee then submitted copies of the three policies to all house members asking them to anonymously mark their preference and make suggestions for amendments, Hoff said. Several of the responses advocated no policy. In light of this Hoff "figured it would be advisable, before further discussion at the house meeting, to determine if Random wanted a policy."

Random drops issue

So before the three policies were presented at the house meeting last week a vote was taken "to decide whether to continue discussion on developing a policy or to drop the matter completely," according to Random Hall Secretary Paula Ferguson '90. With a quorum of 43 residents, representing 46 percent of the dorm, it was decided 30-13 that Random Hall continue with no pornography policy.

Part of the reason that residents voted to end discussion on a possible pornography policy "is that Random is a very small dorm," Hoff said. Residents "know each other" and so an emotional issue like pornography "can become a divisive thing." Discussions became so emotional that it "felt like you were hurting people you knew when you were debating a policy," she added.

Chen also felt "friction in the dorm was a big factor."

Others, like Ferguson, felt that the dorm "copped-out." Although pornography is an issue "that makes enemies," it is "important and worth dealing with," she said.

Hoff, too, was "upset because I feel strongly about this and it upset me that people didn't want to deal with it."

The feeling that one isolated incident is not worth "ripping the dorm apart" was also a factor in the vote to end pornography policy discussions at Random, according to Judicial Committee Chairman Akbar A. Merchant '89. "It's not worth having such a bitter dispute over something that doesn't happen often. Why have all these bad feelings?" he asked. "Incidents that happen once every three years are what JudComm is for. That's not what you write policy about," Merchant added.

The fact that residents "didn't want their behavior regulated" may have also contributed, Hoff said. People "want freedom to do certain things and, if they don't feel it's an issue, they want to be able to do what they want," she said.

Tan also cited this as a factor in the decision. "There is no sense having a policy to bind us when it's just consideration of other people," he explained.