The Return of In Loco Parentis: Cornell Students Accost President Garrett for Not Comforting Them

Parents protect young children by making most of their decisions for them

Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett

During a meeting between students and Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett and Vice President Ryan Lombardi at the Ujamaa residence hall on Tuesday, students accosted Garrett and the administration for not publicly supporting the student protests at other campuses across the country, the Cornell Sun reported.

“This week you spoke in solidarity with the people of France, a country all the way across the Atlantic ocean, yet here in the United States you couldn’t stand in solidarity,” a student said according to the Cornell Sun.

Garrett responded saying she prefers not to make many presidential statements and would rather work directly with students. There was no mention of whether Garrett told the students a former Cornell student died in the Paris attacks (but perhaps that omission was a smart move.)

Additionally, students who were part of Cornell’s delegation to the 10th Annual Latinx Ivy League Conference at Brown University last weekend, during which there was a physical altercation between a Dartmouth delegate and a campus safety officer, criticized Garrett for not releasing a statement about the incident.

“As a Latina student, as someone who is undocumented, as someone who has been deathly afraid of police, when a student of my ethnicity is attacked by police on a different campus, and our administration doesn’t make any form of public statement, that cuts me deep,” a student said, according to the Cornell Sun. “I was in tears, not able to explain that I’m undocumented and that that’s why I’m shedding these tears — and my administration isn’t supporting me publicly?”

According to the Sun report, Ben Hernandez ’16 told Garrett he and other Cornell students were “traumatized” by the incident and said, “The fact that you didn’t reach out to us to make sure we were okay was disheartening.”

Garrett conceded to the students: “What you have is my commitment that you will always be heard by my and my administration, you always will have a supporter and to the extent that has not been communicated I regret that.”

As if Cornell does not have enough problems of its own, the implication drawn from these students is that now Garrett and the highly astute university public relations team must monitor and publicly address the issues of all other campuses. The other implication is that campus officials are obligated to assuage students’ hurt feelings.

In other words, students—who are apt to make themselves out as firebrand revolutionaries and counter-cultural insurgents—want administrators to act like their parents.

Who else other than a young minor’s parents would be expected to (1) monitor all the possible sources of emotional discomfort; (2) assuage hurt feelings no matter how far removed their cause; and (3) be expected to confront the sources of discomfort on that person’s behalf? Even then, most parents who want to raise well-adjusted children don’t go to such extremes of oversight and coddling.

This mentality reverses the trend first set in place by the landmark 1961 Supreme Court case Dixon v. Alabama, which struck the first death knell in the doctrine of in loco parentis as it then applied to college campuses. In fact, this case was also a landmark civil rights case, as it dealt with a university expelling students without their due process rights for having participated in civil rights marches.

In the days of in loco parentis, colleges enforced strict curfews and sex-segregated residence halls, and could expel students for morally undesirable behavior. Today, at a school like Cornell, the student body would never accept such policies, for they would certainly decry them as an unfair imposition of a strict moral code upon adults free to choose otherwise.

But, the quotes from the Sun article clearly show student attitudes inviting of the notion that Garret and the Cornell administration should take on a role greater and more personal than that of professional managers of the university. To invite the emotional support role, however, requires the imposition of moral codes, just as in the days of old with in loco parentis. This is because, in many respects, parents reign absolutely over their children: to protect them they make most of their decisions and to mold them for adulthood they impose a moral code to serve as a guideline for future decision-making.

The altercation at the “Latinx” conference, and Cornell attendees’ subsequent demands upon Garrett, provides example of this mentality.

The incident happened on or near Brown’s campus and involved a Dartmouth student. No reasonable person would assert that Cornell’s president is obligated to issue public statements about the issues pertinent only to other campuses, especially when in this case Brown has not shirked its duty to investigate the incident. Moreover, no reasonable person would assert that Cornell’s president is obligated to reach out to and counsel students in their emotional matters.

On the other hand, a hovering parent of a young child would more likely operate along such lines: universal monitoring of the child’s experiences and immediate comforting during times of emotional distress.

Cornell students who do not want to revert to the days of in loco parentis should reject the idea that college administrators are emotional stewards, lest you want to to return to the days when we all had to be in our dorm rooms by 10 pm.

1 Comment on The Return of In Loco Parentis: Cornell Students Accost President Garrett for Not Comforting Them

  1. David Breznick // November 20, 2015 at 6:29 pm //

    Returning to in loco parentis may virtually eliminate campus hunting grounds.

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