Helicopter Parents and Gender-Neutral Housing

Here’s an unfortunate situation: Karin Morin, a Stanford student’s mother, goes to the helicopter parent extreme, writing a National Review article, complaining about her daughter’s gender neutral housing assignment. Sadly, as her daughter Daisy Morin comments herself in this New York Times blog comment and covered in this Daily article, a family argument has turned into national news. Interestingly, although gender-neutral housing is a new housing option introduced to several campus residences, gender neutral room assignments have been a part of co-op life for decades through the consensus decision-making process practiced in these houses– one of which is Columbae, where Daisy lived in a quad with another female and two males (FYI, the quad is a very large, but single room). Daisy was completely aware going into the house (or even submitting the house as a choice during the housing draw process) that a co-ed rooming situation was a possibility and knowing this, was comfortable not only living in the house, but being assigned such a room even though she was not even present at the meeting where the decision was made.

Here’s one of the most troubling paragraphs from the National Review article:

By its own terms, Stanford is failing to live up to its housing contract. As parents, Stanford holds us responsible for payment of our daughter’s bill. We, in turn, expected Stanford to enforce the terms of its own housing contract. It should not be acceptable for any group of students to alter the conditions of that contract. Furthermore, it should not be up to individual students to determine whether to protest a housing arrangement which so obviously violates this contract. There would clearly be social difficulties for any student who protested. Thus, it is Stanford that should rectify the situation.

In reality, Stanford holds the student responsible for payment of her bill, not her parents. And why shouldn’t it be up the individual student to make a complaint? If a student is unhappy with her housing assignment or feels that the housing contract has been violated, it’s up to that student to speak up. Social difficulties are a part of life and especially part of speaking your voice– if you’re not willing to endure the possible social difficulties, then you’re saying the issue is not important enough to you.

In any case, the article is riddled with unfortunate comments– when you read Daisy’s various responses to the article and if you know anything about co-op housing, which I’m sure Daisy did before choosing to live in Columbae– you’ll see that this is a parent blaming Stanford for the differences between her daughter and herself. Karin didn’t even find out about the rooming situation until the end (during winter break) and makes it sound like her daughter was unhappy with the room assignment, saying “she didn’t ask for this room arrangement” and that “she doesn’t want to upset everyone’s consensus arrangements.” She didn’t even get the reason why her daughter wasn’t at the meeting right (she appointed a proxy because she was on a plane, not because she had a friend visiting). In general, Karin expresses a sense of entitlement, that she had the right to know everything about her daughter’s life at Stanford. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works– while FERPA provides students with access and control over their education records, it also specifically limits to what parents have access. Specifically, when the child turns eighteen, the child takes responsibility of her education records and schools are not required to notify parents of general information that does not directly apply to the student or even answer questions about the student. At the end of the day, it is a rights and privacy act, with the student at the center.

Karin, in response to her daughter’s decision to live in the co-ed room during fall and winter quarter, pulled financial support for her daughter’s final quarter at Stanford, making Daisy take $3,000 in loans (in addition to the loans her original financial aid package included). Given that her daughter is, being well over eighteen, an adult, that’s certainly Karin’s prerogative, but at the same time– again, as an adult– Daisy should be free to make her own decisions. In the course of a lifetime, those few thousand dollars is a small price for Daisy to pay for her freedom and an ultimately trivial amount over which her mother is making a gesture simply to prove a point. (Ironically, her parents pulled financial support for the current spring quarter during which Daisy is actually living in a single-gender room. Co-ops often switch around room assignments each quarter as part of the consensus decision-making process.) I completely empathize and sympathize with Daisy as a member of a sometimes overbearing family and while I hope she works out this disagreement with her parents, I also hope she stays confident that she had and has the right to make her own choices.