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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sharon Rose Powell, June 20, 1989. Interview L-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Growing to question <cite>in loco parentis</cite> rules for women

Powell chronicles her growing discontent with the rules women students at the University of North Carolina were subject to during the mid-1960s. First, she describes on event in 1965, during which then-student body president Paul Dickson's girlfriend was suspended for violating <cite>in loco parentis</cite> rules, whereas Dickson was not punished. Powell argues that this event prompted her to increasingly question the fairness of such rules. When she became the chairman of the Women's Residence Council during her senior year, she urged incoming freshmen women to question (not break) the rules and began to form committees to reevaluate the handbook of rules for women.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sharon Rose Powell, June 20, 1989. Interview L-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

My boyfriend at the time, and now husband, Bob, ran for President of the student body when I was a sophomore, and he was a junior going into senior year. I remember campaigning for him and having him come speak in our dorm, and we got all the women behind him because one of the things he addressed were the women's issues. He was very concerned about the whole issue of in loco parentis, and he really stirred many of us to think about those issues. Dean Carmichael later said that she blames Bob for my radicalism, and I have to laugh thinking of me as a radical, but she did blame Bob for my change because she knew as a freshman and even as a sophomore how….
PAMELA DEAN:
You've been such a good little girl.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
I had been such a good little girl, and I had really supported all the rules that the University had sponsored on our behalf, and then to change so dramatically from that to what happened as a senior really shook her up I think. We can talk about that in a minute. I want to share an incident that's probably been written up somewhere. Certainly, if you go back and look at the newspapers, it filled the newspapers for an entire semester, and that was something that occurred the fall of my sophomore, so that would be 1965. Is that right?
PAMELA DEAN:
Yes.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
The fall of '65. As I said, we had all these rules for women. The summer before the fall of my sophomore year, the President of the student body and a student who was, I believe, at Women's College, UNC-Greensboro, had stayed out all night. She was in summer school at Chapel Hill, and they were at his fraternity and just fell asleep, and she never got back to the dorm. She had to go before judiciary, before the Honor Council, and she was suspended from school. Of course, as I said before, nothing ever happened to guys because there were no rules for them. I heard about it when I got back to the campus in the fall, and I was in the Student Legislature at the time, and again, there was something that was stirring inside of me about what would make this happen. Here was the President of our student body breaking a rule for women but not breaking a rule for men, and I guess at that point, I really started to think about his being our role model and for me, the issue at the time was not so much that women were being discriminated against. I was concerned about that but knew I couldn't, at that particular time, change it, but what I knew we could take a look at was whether we still wanted this young man to represent us as President of the student body, given the rules. What I believed in then, and probably still do, is that if there is a rule you keep it or change it, but you don't break it. I believe very strongly in changing rules that are inappropriate, but if you are representing the students and the University, and there are rules that are there and you break them, then I think you need to take a second look at whether those are the people we want representing us as leaders. That's certainly still a relevant issue for today on a higher level. I certainly knew and respected Paul Dickson. He was a very bright and competent young man, and he was also one of my boyfriend's best friends; they were in the same fraternity. But I felt that because of what happened, we ought to have a recall and simply have another election and let the students decide, and I didn't have an issue about whether or not the students would elect Paul. I didn't want to see him denied the opportunity to be President of the student body, I just wanted to reaffirm their support of him. To make a long story short, in order to do that, I had to initiate a recall petition. Now, while that was going on with the highest motives, we had people, and I was a member of Paul's party, a member of the Student Party. There were members of the University Party who had different motives. Their motives were to have him kicked out of office so that they could get their person in, and they got to me and supported me in sponsoring this recall petition which had really come initially from the women in Spencer Dorm. I was their representative, and the women felt that this was in order, so it grew from what I felt was a fair question about leadership to a political question about trying to
PAMELA DEAN:
Party politics.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Exactly. At that point, once the University Party got involved in it, Paul, in retaliation, he was in charge of selecting the person who would look at the recall petition list, and we had more than enough signatures, people who had signed for this recall, but because the person that he had appointed was worried that Paul would not be re-elected, what they did was disqualify enough names, either by saying they couldn't read the names or I don't know what else they used, but they said there were not enough names on the petition and so the petition was denied. At that point, rather than press further, I felt that it had really turned much more into a political issue, which I was not at all interested in, so I just pulled out of it. But it took a while for members of his fraternity to forgive me for initiating that. I want to tell you, I was what, eighteen or nineteen years old? The media, not just on the campus, but I was getting phone calls from television stations, radio stations coming to the campus to interview me. It scared me to death. I thought, "What in the world is going on?" It was just quite a media event.
PAMELA DEAN:
Why was there such interest? What did they see in this incident that made it newsworthy off campus?
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
I'm not sure I could have told you or understood then what I understand now, but I think the primary interest for them was beginning to address the issue of differences in the way the University treated men and women. I think that was much more of an interest, and I think a more appropriate one than the in-house fighting that went on between the University Party and the Student Party. They could care less. But it was the beginning of questioning, for me, about that whole issue of fairness and realizing that women could be and are as responsible, if not more so, than the guys on the campus and that we ought to be treated in the same way.
PAMELA DEAN:
Were you talking to the administration, to Lyle Sitterson who was Chancellor at the time, about this? Did you have dealings with them or was this strictly a student issue?
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
During the recall petition, I don't remember talking to the administration, but when I became Chairman of the Women's Residence Council as a senior, my platform and the reason I believe I was elected was that I told the women on the campus that I wanted to take a second look at the kinds of rules we were living under and that my promise to them was not to change them. I never said that. I said, "I want to study them. I want to understand why we have them and whether we need them and what else is going on out there." We were pretty isolated. What were other campuses doing, both all-women and coed campuses? That was my promise and when I started as a senior, I remember, again, I will never forget Kitty Carmichael's reaction, the President of the Council traditionally gave a speech to the women freshmen year, for the women who were entering as freshmen, and this was for the freshmen who were entering in 1967, and it was traditionally a speech that told them that they better follow our rules. This came from Kitty down to the Women's Residence Council Head. She'd say, "You've got to tell these girls that they had better not break the rules or they're going to get in trouble." That was her way of keeping us in line, and I very politely told her that I was planning to give a different kind of speech, but I didn't tell her what that speech was going to include. When I got up there and spoke, I talked, I challenged them to question the rules, not to break' the rules. I told them, "Don't break these rules, but question them. Think about why they're there, and join me in getting involved, in forming committees this year to study where we are and where we'd like to be." She really blasted me at the end of that speech. We had this relationship of, I think, respecting each other. I certainly respected her tremendously, and I felt that she respected me too, but she was furious with me for, as she described it, "getting the women excited."
PAMELA DEAN:
[unclear]
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Yes. You know, you don't want to get the women excited. So I did, boy. What I did was I formed ten committees to study each major section of our handbook, the Women's Handbook, that looked at the closed study issues, that looked at the dress issues, that looked at the issues about dating guys and where we could be with guys, looked at closing hours. It just ran the gamut. It looked at every single major section of that handbook, and I had ten very capable girls heading those committees and then not only other girls from the Council, but I invited girls on the campus to get involved in participating on those committees. We had forums, evening forums, and we would have hundreds and hundreds of girls come out to these evening events to share their thinking on all of the different topics. We must have had between five and ten that year, five or ten of these forums. We also had girls going and visiting other campuses and bringing back their rule books and talking about what the options were. Dean Carmichael sat on the Women's Residence Council as our advisor, and she saw this entire process. It was a very thoughtful, respectful process of study and research, never saying a word during the entire year about our plan, which was to study and then to make recommendations to her. She had veto power. At the conclusion of our studies, we were going to make recommendations about what to keep and what to change and what to modify.