MCSG passes resolution recommending changes to indecent exposure policy

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On April 7, members of MCSG discussed, and eventually approved, a new resolution recommending changes to Macalester’s policy regarding nudity on campus. They approved the resolution with a vote of 22 to 2. The resolution will be examined by Student Affairs in the next several weeks.

The resolution proposes replacing the section of the Student Handbook dealing with indecent exposure. The current iteration the section states that: “Members of the Macalester community should be aware that nudity in a public place is in violation of state law. The College has expectations related to appropriate behavior and reserves the right to impose disciplinary sanctions when behavior does not meet these expectations.”

In response to the current policy, Lamont Diggs ’15 and James Lindgren ’15 proposed to replace the section with the following: “Members of the Macalester community should be aware that offensive, non­consensual nudity in a public place is in violation of institutional guidelines of conduct and behavior. Nudity that is consensual; has the intent of positive, free expression; is not accompanied by explicitly, invasive sexual behavior such as inappropriate gestures or language; and is respectful of the health standards of the space (i.e. hygiene and sanitary health codes) will not be in violation of this policy. The college has expectations of appropriate behavior and reserves the right to impose disciplinary sanctions when behaviour does not meet those expectations.” Diggs and Lindgren changed the section title to “obscene exposure.”

Diggs began writing the resolution after he walked into Cafe Mac naked on February 24 in order to protest racial profiling and to represent how his body influences how others react to him. Regardless of his intentions, Diggs was accused of violating the college policy of indecent exposure. After realizing the existence of the policy, Diggs looked over the handbook and felt that “there was little definition of what would be considered indecent exposure.” He acknowledged that his exposure was a violation of the current policy, but felt the policy needed to change to take intent into account. Based on feedback from students, Diggs came up with the idea of “obscene exposure,” and suggested a new resolution for the protocol.

The definition of the term “consent” in the resolution was considered problematic to some students. While the resolution read “members of Macalester community should be aware that offensive, non-consensual nudity in a public space is in violation of institutional guidelines of conduct and behavior,” the board was concerned that the way in which consent is reached by the entirety of student body was ambiguous in the resolution.

Representative Lucy Westerfield ’15 argued that “people need to have the choice to be in that space [of expression] or not,” and urged MCSG to define the term “consensual” in the resolution. Lindgren replied that utilizing “some form of public outlet” would be a possible solution, including The Mac Weekly and Macalester Facebook group pages. He said the term consent in the resolution would follow the way the college defines consent.

Dean of Students Jim Hoppe was pleased that the resolution was working to improve the college’s procedures.

“I am glad that the way the procedures are working is improving the college culture in a positive way,” he said.

However, Hoppe also expressed some concern about the resolution and stressed the importance of establishing clear parameters around when and where people can be naked. “There is a duty we have in order to protect the community at large,” he said. “If we were to make the change in policy, it needs to be much more in-depth. When and where the act would take place need to be more defined. We don’t want to put the future generation in the quandary that we face now.”

Representative and President-elect Ian Calaway ’16 also expressed his concern. “[An] absence of no doesn’t mean yes,” he said, emphasizing affirmative consent’s importance.
MCSG members agreed that the recommended policy changes improved the ambiguity of the current policy, and tried to encompass the positive intent of body exposure and freedom of expression while avoiding any offense to the community.

Diggs was not hesitant to express his excitement about the outcome.

“I feel great about the result,” he said. “I feel this was well needed for the student handbook and student population in general. It had the most positive intent, and I feel that this has fostered discussion on nudity on campus.”

However, the overwhelming support of MCSG does not mean that the resolution is going to be implemented immediately. Once the resolution was approved by MCSG, it moved to Student Affairs for approval. At least a few weeks will be needed before the final result is announced. As of right now, it is unclear whether the resolution will be approved and implemented into the college policy.

“In my experience, the resolution is often not passed,” Calaway said. However, he thinks that passing the resolution is a big step for the school because it shows MCSG’s support of the idea behind the resolution.

“I would be surprised if they made the exact change, but I’d also be surprised if they didn’t make any change,” he said.“This is a call to the administration. While there may be some ambiguity in the content, the administration will consider making change.”