Twenty-four hour guest policy improves dorm safety

A change in the guest hours policy at The University of Texas at Austin’s residence halls may have improved safety conditions for students, university officials say.

The new policy allows residents to have guests inside 24 hours per day, regardless of gender.

Although allowing nonresidents inside the building at any time may pose a security risk, Area Manager of Waller Creek Residence Halls Edmund Tillett said the change actually made the dorms safer.

“Prior to the change, we had a lot of students who would try to sneak people in,” Tillett said. “Now that they can have the guests without having to worry about trying to sneak them in, it’s a little bit safer community. ... We know who is in there, we have record of that, and there’s less of that skirting around the system that some students do.”

Since fall 2012, when the policy changed, burglary reports in the dorms have seemingly declined. While official crime statistics for the current academic year are not yet available, the University of Texas at Austin Police Department’s daily crime log, a record of crimes reported in the past 60 days, shows one instance of burglary in a dorm between Dec. 14 and Feb. 10.

Eight burglaries were reported in dorms or apartments during the 2011-2012 academic year, an average of one burglary a month, according to UTPD’s crime statistics logs.

Freshman Kinsolving Hall resident Katie Cook said the staff enforces the guest and safety policies well, and knowing that nonresidents can be inside the dorm 24 hours per day does not make her feel unsafe.

“I always see RAs going around the dorm around midnight looking for people who don’t belong there,” Cook said.      

Previously, opposite-sex guests could visit only until guest hours ended, while same-sex guests could stay overnight if they were registered at the 24-hour desk, according to the 2011-2012 Living on Campus Guide.

The university reviewed the guest policy after students expressed concerns to the University Residence Hall Association, which surveyed the residents about it in spring 2010. The results showed an interest in eliminating the gender restriction on overnight guests, according to Hemlata Jhaveri, the director of residence life.

Administrators then ran a pilot program in Moore-Hill and Duren halls during the 2011-2012 academic year. The program mirrored the guest hours policy that is currently in place.

The positive student response to the program motivated the university to officially change the policy, Tillett said.

Campus-wide implementation of the revised policy happened in fall 2012, with Prather and Littlefield halls as exceptions. Those two remained under the restrictive policy to serve as alternate living spaces.

“We saw a decline in the number of incidents where students were sneaking in guests,” Jhaveri said. “In a security way, it helped us to be better, because the students were registering their guests at the front desk.”

Junior San Jacinto Hall resident Kaitlyn Kennedy said she hasn’t noticed any threats from the change, and that the measures she and her roommate take make her feel safe in the dorm.

“We always lock our door at night,” Kennedy said. “I would never leave our door unlocked if we weren’t in here; even just walking to the trash room, I lock it.”

“As far as personal safety in the dorm goes,” Kennedy said, “I don’t ever really feel threatened.”