New visitor policy aims for equity at last for Tutwiler residents, guests

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New visitor policy aims for equity at last for Tutwiler residents, guests

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

Tara Davenport, Contributing Writer

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Tutwiler Hall, a residential community for freshmen women at The University of Alabama, has long been the subject of jokes regarding its strict rules about male visitors. But this fall, the rules have changed.

A change to the University of Alabama’s housing policies, which was introduced at the start of the 2019-2020 school year, is working toward eradicating the longtime stigma surrounding male visitors in Tutwiler Hall.

Over the summer, the Housing and Residential Communities department updated its community living standards visitor policy for residential halls. The amendment eliminated a section that had instituted gender-specific visiting hours within the buildings.  

The community living standards are the rules and regulations governing all residents of campus housing, and define a visitor as “any student, resident, non-resident or relative not assigned to reside in a host’s room.”

“Guest policies are designed to balance residents’ ability to have guests in their rooms with the right of all residents to feel safe and secure in their living environments,” Dr. Laura Sanders, director of residential communities, said. 

Previously, residents in Tutwiler Hall, which is a female residential community, were only permitted to have male visitors between the hours of 10 a.m. and midnight on weeknights, and between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m. on weekends. Female visitors, however, were allowed at all times. 

Alicia Browne, director of housing administration, said this policy was technically in place in all residential communities. There were established men’s or women’s visiting hours in all women’s and men’s halls, as well as in co-ed buildings’ women’s and men’s floors, wings and individual suites or rooms.  

“Officially that was the policy governing everyone,” Browne said. “What of course happened is that it was not implemented consistently across halls. And it could be more visible in certain halls.”

Emma Grace Jones, an elementary education student who lived in Tutwiler two years ago, felt that Tutwiler was actually the only residential hall on campus where visiting hours were enforced. 

“Tutwiler had completely different rules, which I always thought was just weird and a major double standard,” Jones said. “I don’t know why they held Tutwiler to a higher standard.”

Browne acknowledged that the difference in enforcement may have resulted in part because visitors are easy to spot in single-gender halls with 24-hour lobby desks, and it is more difficult to regulate visitation within co-ed buildings.     

“I think it was probably part of the culture of Tutwiler and had been part of how things were done,” Browne said. “And it was easy to tell if someone was a guest.” 

Not only were male visitors prohibited inside Tutwiler outside of visiting hours, but Jones said if a resident brought a male guest into Tutwiler near the end of visiting hours, a desk assistant would sometimes take the name of the resident and later knock on their door to make sure the visitor had left when visiting hours ended. 

Of course, Jones said, residents did successfully sneak male guests upstairs outside of visiting hours, usually by enlisting friends to distract the desk assistants and using the stairs instead of the elevators. 

While Jones was living in Tutwiler, her younger brother visited Tuscaloosa without their parents, and when his plans to spend the night at a friend’s fell through, he needed somewhere to sleep.  

“I had to sneak him into Tutwiler, which was really frustrating because he’s my brother and he wasn’t allowed to sleep in my room,” Jones said. “My roommate wasn’t there so it’s not like it would’ve been a problem with her.”

Jones believes the strict policy about male visitors actually led residents to view potential encounters with them as unusual or negative and feels that if the stigma surrounding male guests was eliminated, Tutwiler residents would adjust. As of this year, the community living standards visitor policy no longer includes any gender-specific regulations.   

“We fully recognize that residents are adults and want to be respectful of their ability to make adult decisions,” Browne said. 

In fact, the amendment to the visitor policy dismisses any kind of daily visiting hours altogether. 

“We decided that it was probably appropriate now and could best serve residents’ needs by removing specific hours but continuing to emphasize that it’s about being thoughtful and considerate,” Browne said.

According to the current community living standards, residents who intend to have an overnight visitor are still expected to notify their roommates 24 hours in advance. Additionally, visitors are not allowed to stay more than 72 hours and must be escorted by a resident at all times. These conditions of the visitor policy have not changed.   

“What we didn’t want is for residents to be treated differently and be subject to different visitation policies just because of where they lived … So now we have a consistent policy that’s enforced in a consistent way,” Browne said. 

Although Browne didn’t know how long the previous visitor policy had been in place, she noted that, most likely, few Tutwiler residents view this year’s policy as anything new or exciting. As the majority are freshmen, they don’t have anything to compare it to. 

Sara Beth Cotton, a freshman nursing major who currently lives in Tutwiler, said she knew the visitor policy was different this year, but only because she had heard the changes discussed by other freshmen at Bama Bound. Cotton said she doesn’t have any complaints about the updated policy, but that it still can be awkward to unexpectedly see a male visitor in the hallway after a shower.

So far, Browne hasn’t been aware of any overwhelmingly positive or negative feedback since changing the community living standards.

“Part of living in a communal situation, and part of what’s so valuable as a growing experience, is that you do learn to balance your own needs and wants against the people with whom you’re living,” Browne said. “I hope all of our residents across campus feel like we’re getting the balance right, because that’s certainly the goal.”