Coping with in loco parentis on College Campuses

For most students, going to college is an experience unlike any other they have had in their lives so far. Students are faced with a myriad of new choices and decisions that they can make, usually on their own, for the first time. For many this freedom is exhilarating, and there is no shortage of clichés citing college as the “best four years of your life,” or as the place where students can grow up and transition from adolescence to emerging adulthood. As these students are learning and developing, it can occur that these higher education institutions act as students’ parents in order to facilitate their moral growth in ways that the institutions approve. This doctrine is called in loco parentis. While its prevalence in colleges has significantly decreased in recent decades, some of its principles still appear in contemporary pieces of legislation and literature within higher education. For example, analyzing SUNY Geneseo’s Student Code of Conduct (S.C.C.) shows that the college is not completely divested of this ideology. At the same time, recent actions of other institutions wherein they use students’ cell phones to track them (Harwell) demonstrates more willingness to continue the legacy of in loco parentis. These events can be points of contention between college students and their institutions’ administration. In turn, this strife can cause tension in the academic partnership that both students and admin are engaged in. In seeking a solution, or at the very least guidance, students can turn to the protagonist of Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild,” Gan. While the title’s circumstances are very varied from those that college students encounter, many face similar struggles with regard to their relationship with authority. For Gan, it is his—and his race’s—relationship with the Tlic alien race. For college students, their institution’s administration is the authority. In attempts to reconcile with the troubling authority perceived by college students through the SCC, cell phone tracking, and in loco parentis in general, Gan’s experiences throughout “Bloodchild” can be a useful guide due to the similarities he experiences and the conclusions he realizes.  

            The first piece of legislation that poses perhaps the most concern is the SCC, particularly because we are all students at Geneseo. It has clear displays of in loco parentis, with the earliest examples in Article I. There, it explains that the SCC is based on “behavioral standards and expectations,” (para. 3) in line with the college’s mission and values. Later on, in Article IV Section B, it enumerates behaviors deemed “antithetical” to Geneseo (para. 1). While many of these prohibited behaviors are also local, state, or federal crimes, the language here—as well as in earlier cited sections—implies that the college wishes to mold its students into adults with certain ethical values of which the college approves. This can trouble many students and is not dissimilar to the manner that the Tlic treat the Terrans on the Preserve. On page 8, Gan explains his relationship with T’Gatoi and how it could extend to all Tlic-Terran relations. Gan was promised to Gatoi before birth, admitting that she wanted to be involved in all his “phases of development” (p 8). In other words, she wished to have an active role molding Gan. Later in that paragraph, Gan extols the benefits of Tlic adopting young Terrans. Thus, in the beginning of the story, Gan seems appreciative of being ushered into adulthood with an overarching guiding hand, in the same way that higher education institutions enforce in loco parentis.

            However, Gan’s views and opinions change in the wake of Lomas’ near death. This shift, especially when applied to other acts of in loco parentis perpetuated by colleges and universities, can be particularly useful to college students. One example was the subject of Drew Harwell’s article in The Washington Post; therein he detailed the increasingly widespread use of apps like SpotterEDU and Degree Analytics on college campuses to track students’ locations (Harwell, 2019). This information is used for attendance, and sometimes to calculate if a student’s mental health is declining (Harwell, 2019). Students in the article explain that this tracking is obliged, lest they want to face repercussions (Harwell, 2019). This harks back to “Bloodchild” quite literally because Gan and Lomas are both forced to carry armbands with their names and those of the Tlic they belong to (p 11). What’s more, it is brought up throughout the narrative that Terrans are restricted to the Preserve unless they are brought outside by a Tlic. Both limitations on free movement are similar to the what students at colleges that employ tools like SpotterEDU and Degree Analytics must face. In all cases, there is a higher authority dictating where people can and cannot go in a manner that goes beyond solely law.

            Both the SCC and Harwell’s article describe how higher education institutions are attempting to enact the principles of in loco parentis, and the similarities between Gan’s experiences and those of college students have been enumerated. This begs the question of how Gan’s narrative can help college students. The answer to this question lies within Gan’s existential crisis in the story’s last few pages. He questions whether he wants to bear Gatoi’s children after all, and even contemplates suicide with a banned firearm. First, it is important to recognize that, on some level the institutions, and their regulations, were ones that college students chose. Gatoi explains that the Terrans fled from a situation where they would have been killed or enslaved by others (p 25), that they chose to settle with the Tlic. Butler herself propagates this in her afterword when she calls this “a story about paying the rent” (p 31). These excerpts mean that when entering a partnership, there are some rights that you must give up. Just as public school students have fewer privacy rights in school, colleges expect students to give somethings up. This is the risk of an academic partnership. That being said, some schools, like the ones Harwell writes about, ask students to give up more than SUNY Geneseo. At those institutions, there are some students who are willing and undisturbed by the actions of SpotterEDU, while others are deeply uncomfortable (Harwell, 2019). What’s more, some institutions allow students to opt-out of the programs (Harwell, 2019). These choices and behaviors are reflected throughout “Bloodchild,” mostly between Qui and Gan’s opinions and life choices. In the end, Gan consents to Gatoi and the role that was set out for him before he was born.

            However, Gan’s ultimate acceptance of his fate does not mean that for college students they should simply take all of their institutions’ policy and act on it happily. When Gan is still holding the illegal gun, he tells Gatoi that it should remain in the household to “save my life someday” (p 26). At the same time, when Gatoi advocates that Terrans should be prevented from seeing births, Gan dissents, arguing that everyone should be exposed to it. These examples demonstrate perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from Gan: the importance of fighting for your rights and beliefs. When students are faced with legislation and rules that are too restrictive, that seem too much like colleges’ taking a direct hand in their moral growth, they should contest and make strides towards a better situation. This is seen in both examples: Gatoi lets Gan keep the gun, and he plants the idea in her mind of more public examples of Tlic births. These are the rewards that Gan incurs for the risk he’s taken.            

Gan’s experiences throughout “Bloodchild” can be analyzed by college students to help them understand more about the risk and rewards of an academic partnership, particularly in dealing with in loco parentis. In the face of authority on college campuses, it is important to first acknowledge that there are certain rights that students have given up by choosing to attend particular institutions. These are often enumerated in codes of conduct and are frequently more restrictive than what one would find outside of a campus. The severity also varies based on college, as Drew Harwell’s article explains in his investigation of tracking applications. Second, Gan’s story demonstrates that even if you do consent to the situation, it remains important to advocate for what you believe in.

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