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Southern Adventist University’s Off-Campus Dancing Policy Confuses and Amuses

Dancing on Southern Adventist University Campus - and Off

For the 2023-2024 school year, Southern Adventist University added a new section to the undergraduate student handbook addressing off-campus behaviors including dancing. On page five, under the heading, “Do the Standards Apply Off Campus?”, the handbook added the following: “Off-campus behaviors such as imbibing in alcoholic beverages, using drugs, selling or manufacturing illicit substances, dancing, or fighting (in organized sporting events or otherwise) may result in sanctions for the involved students.”

Students reacted with concern, frustration, and dismissal. I spoke with junior public relations major Naomi Linder, who said that the topic has elicited a lot of anger. “But at the same time, there’s been a lot of jesting,” she said. “I feel like more than anything, it’s being taken as a joke.”  

Dennis Negrón, Southern’s vice president for student development, clarified that while the paragraph is new, the requirements are not. “It’s really regurgitating the christian standards paragraph,” Negrón said, referencing the handbook’s opening policy paragraphs, which he noted had been in place since at least 1993. 

He explained the reasoning behind the new paragraph’s inclusion: “A question that was frequently asked… [If] I choose to break one of these policies if I’m not on campus, does it make a difference? Students were oftentimes asking questions like that,” Negrón said. “So there was a need to say, ‘Wait, there is an expectation.’”

But discrepancies between policy and practice muddy the university’s guidelines. Southern has allowed dancing during its cultural nights, and at one point even had a dance life group called “Choreo for Christ.”  

Linder has participated in cultural night dancing, and off campus she enjoys traditional Latin or Hispanic dancing at restaurants. She says she came to Negrón with concerns of being sanctioned for her off-campus activities. According to Linder, Negrón replied that the issue would be handled on a case-by-case basis, noting that he had danced at his daughter’s wedding. 

To Linder, that did not clarify the matter. “I don’t know what is considered acceptable dancing and what is considered non-acceptable,” she said. “I think that there needs to be clarification. To just put ‘case-by-case’ means that anyone can just get in trouble at any point. And they have no idea what the criteria [are].”

Negrón says the vagueness is purposeful; he doesn’t answer questions about where the university draws the line or how students would be disciplined because every situation is different. “Using the general term dance is intentional, because it would be impossible to list every single type of dance and every single event that a dance might occur,” he told me. “And so, there’s intentionality in the sense that by writing it the way it’s written allows for interpretation of an incident.”

In a response to a request for comment, the university stated, “In all scenarios, students should employ the guiding principles of displaying Christian behavior and conduct that reflects favorably on them and the university they selected to attend.”

But Linder says that approach may be backfiring. “No one’s taking it seriously because we have not had expectations laid out,” she asserted. “Clearly, we haven’t had consequences laid out. Clearly, we have no idea what any of this will mean.”

Linder wondered whether the rule was intended to prevent students going to clubs, “or if they don’t want people dancing in general.” Is it a moral issue, she asked, or something having to do with Ellen White’s guidance? “No one has explained anything further, as far as I know. If they have, it is not widely known.”

The change to the student handbook followed Southern’s 2023 announcement that the university would be pausing cultural dances during cultural nights for a year. Clarifying that it was not a ban in an interview with the school’s newspaper, Negrón stated that suspending cultural dance was intended to foster more creativity during cultural nights. 

But with the new prohibitions inserted into the handbook, some students worry cultural dancing may not be reinstated.

When asked if he knew if cultural dancing would return to campus, Negrón said, “I think it will.” Indeed, Southern’s annual Christmas tree lighting in November 2023 featured an Irish Christmas in America event with tap dancing. When I asked the university if it expected cultural dancing to make a comeback, they confirmed they are “open to having cultural dancing again in the future” and had spoken with the cultural clubs on campus about it.

In the meantime, students seem likely to continue protesting, chuckling, and yes, even dancing their way through the uncertainty. 

Linder sums it up: “No one’s taking that seriously. You know what I mean? We’re going to dance anyway.”

Josue Vega

About the author

Josué Vega studied mass communication and media production at Southern Adventist University. More from Josué Vega.
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