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Pepperdine Loosens Up--a Little

April 17, 1986|JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writer

Call Chet Beiler a dreamer, if you must. But Beiler, who is a junior and president of the undergraduates at Pepperdine University, is convinced that the time will come when every student there will have the right to dance on campus.

He dares to predict that, some day, female students will receive male visitors, and vice versa, in their dorm rooms--without being required to fill out a form and collect the proper signatures in advance.

At first glance, Beiler's hopes appear to qualify as fantasy. The administration at conservative, Christian Pepperdine is intent on keeping control over students' on-campus behavior, even when the activity is decidedly extracurricular.

Alcohol is prohibited, even for those who have reached the legal drinking age of 21. No dances are allowed on school grounds. Males and females can enter each others' dorm rooms only during specified visiting hours, only with written permission from roommates and the resident assistant and only with bedroom doors wide open.

Students Required to Sign Form

In January, administrators distributed a letter to dorm residents as a reminder that "sexual intimacy among unmarried persons" on school property would violate university policy. Students were required to sign and return a form indicating they had read and understood the memo. And the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper said she was criticized in March by an administrator for running an article that mentioned the availability of birth control at the college health center.

Still, very slightly and very, very slowly, Pepperdine is loosening some of the restrictions on socializing that have shaped its image as a "suitcase college."

Until this year, students say, they regularly fled after class, despite a lush hillside campus overlooking the Pacific in Malibu.

But last fall when they arrived at Pepperdine, they found that a fence they had called the "Berlin Wall" no longer separated the men's dormitories from the women's. It had been dismantled.

For the first time, males' houses were alternated with females' houses, so the genders could be neighbors. Weekend dorm visiting hours had been extended by four hours and may be extended even more next year.

"Frankly," Beiler said, "we in student government are encouraged."

A decade after co-ed dorms became commonplace at American colleges, at a time when student unions across the land house school pubs, the Pepperdine revisions are hardly revolutionary.

The school is among "the holdouts that didn't liberalize in the '60s and '70s and are now joining the looser set," said Russell King, editor of National On-Campus Report, a twice-monthly newsletter based in Madison, Wis.

"There's a real push to make life on campus more enjoyable, a little friendlier, more humane," King said, especially among schools that, like Pepperdine, are religiously oriented but officially identified as nonprofit, independent institutions.

Though most top-ranking administrators, faculty and directors of Pepperdine are members of the Churches of Christ, the denomination does not directly finance or supervise the university. And while 80% of 230 students identified themselves as Christian in an unscientific survey published by the student magazine in the spring of 1985, more than half said they thought Pepperdine is "basically secular."

Nearly all Pepperdine students have lived under the rules at one time or another. Freshmen, unless they are 21, are required to live in campus housing; Malibu rents are high enough to persuade many upperclassmen to opt for dorm space too. About 1,600 of this year's 2,400 undergraduates live at Pepperdine.

'A Little Ridiculous'

Many chafe at the restrictions. The regulations are "a little bit ridiculous," said sophomore Cabot Ashwill. "We're at the age now where we are making adult decisions," said another sophomore, George Safaris, who moved to Santa Monica after a freshman year in the dorms.

But students also say their social lives have noticeably improved this year. "It's a lot better," said junior Kindy Phremmer. She feels no nostalgia for the "Berlin Wall," which even separated the roads that men and women used to get from housing to the academic buildings.

Last year, "I could walk to class and not see a guy until I got to my class," Phremmer said.

This year's slight relaxation of the rules came in response to pleas from the student government, which said that classmates of both sexes could use more time to study and talk together in their rooms.

Administrators agreed last spring to a one-year experiment.

Carl Mitchell, Pepperdine's dean of student affairs, said the arrangement will continue. "It's worked out very nicely," he said.

In fact, he is considering a new request to let opposite-sex visitors stay in dorm rooms until 1 a.m. on weekends, two hours later than the current curfew. The students also would like to have 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. visiting hours during the week. Weekday hours now start at 3 p.m.

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