Howard allows overnight guests in upperclassman dorm

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010; 12:38 AM

Howard University is experimenting this fall with something that many universities did at least a generation ago, allowing undergraduates to stay overnight in each other's dorm rooms.

To study, of course.

On most of campus, friends and lovers alike still must depart each other's rooms at midnight on school nights, or 2 a.m. on weekends. But in a bow to the requests of student government leaders, Howard officials have agreed to relax such restrictions in one upperclassman dormitory.

In the week since Howard began allowing overnight guests in Howard Plaza Towers, West - a modern brick high-rise on the edge of the Northwest Washington campus - university officials have reported no increase in problems. Yet students have reacted to the pilot program not so much with cheers but with exasperation.

"It should have happened a long time ago. I'm surprised it didn't happen a long time ago," said Safiya DeFour, 20, a junior majoring in sports medicine who lives in the dorm.

Although the sexual revolution swept away or watered down sleepover rules at many schools, some institutions held firm. Chief among them were historically black colleges and religious institutions. Historically black schools have traditionally operated as something like extended families, with officials adopting more of a parental role on campus than common at most state universities or liberal arts colleges.

Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, said historically black colleges are "very much influenced by the values, traditions and social codes of the black community - which tend to be more conservative." Parents especially want that sort of structure, but often students do, too.

"Not every student wants to live in a coed dormitory. Not every student wants 24-hour visitation," said Lomax, a past president of Dillard University in New Orleans.

But Howard's resistance to overnight guests spawned occasional efforts to outsmart it - and a persistent suspicion that late-night fire drills were thinly veiled attempts to ferret out those defying the rules. The policy irked some students, who said that if they were old enough to vote, marry and fight wars they were old enough to choose who slept in their dorm rooms.

With the change have come new rules: Roommates must sign an agreement consenting to host overnight guests. Guests must be current Howard students. Only one guest may stay over at a time. On school nights, guests must check into the dorm before midnight - and they must leave by noon the next day.

Undergraduates living in other dorms must continue to escort their guests out at the appointed hour or risk losing their visitation rights entirely.

"We're not elementary kids," said Ade Owolabi, 21, a junior who lives in the dorm but hasn't filled out the paperwork needed to have a late-night guest. "We should be able to have people come stay."

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