Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sharon Rose Powell, June 20, 1989. Interview L-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Recommended changes to rules for women students

Powell discusses the recommendations that she and other women students submitted for consideration following their examination of <cite>in loco parentis</cite> rules for women at UNC. The recommendations included doing away with closed study sessions, changes to the dress code, and the establishment of open dorms. Dean Katherine "Kitty" Carmichael vetoed the recommendations; however, Chancellor J. Carlyle Sitterson accepted them and they were implemented soon thereafter.

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

Well, after a year of study and really careful deliberation, we made recommendations to do away with closed study all together. We still wanted to find ways to encourage girls to study and to find quiet places to study, but without an enforced rule. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
PAMELA DEAN:
This is tape two of the interview with Sharon Rose Powell, June 20, 1989. Continue then.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
We also made recommendations that the dress code be changed to simply have no dress code, just as the guys on the campus had no dress code. Any rule that could not be enforced we removed. In our recommendations, we asked that they no longer be there. We used to even have silly rules like you couldn't kiss for more than five seconds when you said good night to your date at the door of the dorm. Can you believe it? That was a rule, and if you broke it, then you might get punished. There were some funny ones like that. They were not in the handbook. Those were more the dorm codes that were discussed at the house meetings that we used to have.
PAMELA DEAN:
So at the house meetings, the individual dormitories could add on and elaborate these things.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Oh yes, and they did, absolutely.
PAMELA DEAN:
Why?
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Why would they? Well, you see, you start with the premise that it's an in loco parentis situation, so then you even have the girls getting into this whole way of thinking about themselves and creating a system that's probably even harsher than the one that the University might put on them. Again, it was "What is proper?" There was a lot of discussion about having the respect of the men on the campus and what is proper, and so you wanted to create a climate that encouraged that. So sometimes you'd add rules on top of rules, and it kept our Honor Council very busy. I can't tell you how many girls were suspended from school for acting inappropriately, breaking one of these rules that only applied to women. Of course, on another level, it probably kept the men in line. At the time, I don't think we were at all aware of the sort of hidden agenda that the University might have had in having rules for women. They never would have gotten away with having rules for men, but by having them for the women, it, in fact, created them for the guys. What were the guys going to do after midnight? There were no girls around. They'd go to bed, so it's kind of funny to think about.
PAMELA DEAN:
That was definitely one of the early concerns, when women were first being admitted, when Spencer Hall was being built. Would the admission of women mean that men would come under all sorts of restrictions? It's one of the reasons men were not enthusiastic about coeducation for fear that they would be restricted in some ways.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Yes, that they would also be.
PAMELA DEAN:
Of course, it did not happen.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
It did not happen. Basically, we turned what was a rather thick handbook into, I think, when we finished, there might have four or five pages left to it, and those were guidelines that just clarified for women what living situations they might choose and that kind of thing. We also looked into the idea of open dorms. There was a system with a key where everyone in the dorm would get a key, and you could come and go as you pleased.
PAMELA DEAN:
This was something you discovered other campuses had, Michigan?
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
We discovered, yes, Michigan and some of the northern campuses were already, for years they had been using this system, and we discovered that it had worked quite well. We were recommending this kind of system. It did not take place my year, upon graduating, but I know that within a year or two after I left that they did move to a system, and not only that, but they did move to a coeducational system where then the boundaries really broke down. There were guys and girls living, I believe, on the same hall and certainly in the same dorm. It may have been alternate halls, but today, I'm pretty sure, I think I've walked through the residence halls and seen guys and girls on the same floor.
PAMELA DEAN:
It usually, perhaps, separate wings or more, perhaps, alternate floors.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Yes, separate wings, because of the bathroom situation.
PAMELA DEAN:
But no restrictions as to passing back and forth between the sexes.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Oh no, and you could go in each other's rooms and all those things that, of course, were unheard of when we were there. What happened, and we were feeling so good about ourselves making the recommendations very thoughtfully, using the democratic procedure, and then handed all of these recommendations to Dean Carmichael, and she vetoed the lot of them. [Snap] Just like that. She said it was unacceptable.
PAMELA DEAN:
Did she sit down and talk to you about this or was it just
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Yes, absolutely. She was an eloquent, she had quite a presence about her, and she wouldn't talk with you. She would lecture. She had this voice that carried, and I used to love to listen to her talk, but it was very clear. I remember sitting in that room, and I believe Daryl Walker was there and a couple of the other Assistant Dean of Women and some of the women that worked with me, and she sat and explained to us why this just wouldn't work. She appreciated all the hard work we had put into this, but it just was not the right time for all of these changes to occur. I remember leaving that meeting, and I felt that she was really undermining the whole process that we had gone through, knowing full well while we went through it that we were going to be recommending some pretty significant changes and that it had been a farce. I'm talking about a campus where I had experienced students being given a tremendous amount of responsibility, and even when adults didn't agree with us, we had the authority to make those changes and live with them. So I felt terribly undermined, and I asked Dean Carmichael what recourse I had, and she said, "Well, the only one who can change my veto is Chancellor Sitterson." So I told her that I was going to be meeting with Chancellor Sitterson. She said, "Well, you just go right ahead." I made an appointment, and I had the ten women who were the heads of the committees join me, and we sat in his office, and Chancellor Sitterson was then and still is one of these very fatherly, very kind, open, warm, easy-to-talk to people, and he just made us feel at home, and he was a very good listener. I remember, I know we were in his office at least an hour, and he let us talk. He let us talk about what our needs were, what the process had been. Each one of us spoke, and he listened, and he didn't say anything. At one point, I remember alluding to the fact that—and I meant this not as a threat but I knew that it was, in fact, going to happen—that if all of our recommendations were vetoed that I suspected that he would have hundreds of women sleeping out on his doorstep protesting the fact that we were not being given an opportunity to be heard. At the conclusion of our discussion, he chuckled, and he said, "You have convinced me that what you have done has been thoughtful and responsible and that I will accept your recommendations." We were all, of course, very, very pleased, and I worried about how Dean Carmichael was going to take that, but she was a lady, and she took it as I knew she would. She did not like it, but she accepted it.