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What You (Might) Not Know

What You (Might) Not Know

A Look at Dorm Rules 

By Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

Walla Walla University’s dorm policies affect most students on campus, yet among the rules laid out for students, there are several that are subjective, vague, or largely unenforced. 

While many rules are inherently subjective (guidelines on cleanliness, for example), there are some that take on subjective wording where it is not necessary. This can lead to issues with their enforcement. 

Chief among these is the rule on computer usage in dorms, which states that “all online activities and games should contribute to the development and enhancement of the University’s Christian values,” and that “excessive or inappropriate use may constitute denial of access and/or confiscation of computer equipment.” [1] The point here is that there is no definition of how much is too much, so there are no clear guidelines on when a student is considered to be using their computer excessively. 

This would not pose much of a problem, except that it raises questions about how rules are enforced. When a rule is written with objective guidelines, it is easy to enforce that rule equally across the board—but with subjective rules, enforcement might not be so even-handed. 

Furthermore, subjective rules may be enforced less often than objective rules, which means that certain rules might become pointless simply because no one knows where to draw the line. 

To keep rules clear and relevant, it may prove necessary for WWU to edit its residential life handbook to make some minor clarifications.  

Sittner Hall’s lobby, one of the first sights for many residents. Sittner Lobby, by Emmett Pennington-Guthrie.  

A more pressing issue regards rules that may be widely unknown, unenforced, or effectively nonexistent. These types of rules include the rule that you cannot cut hair in dorm rooms (although you can cut hair in laundry rooms), that toy guns are not allowed on campus (you may receive a $250 fine for having them), that paint is not allowed in residence halls, and the wide array of fines that can be incurred (not evacuating when you hear a fire alarm means a $1,000 fine, for example). [2] 

There is a reason for each rule. Haircuts or paint in dorm rooms may be messy, toy guns can be mistaken for real ones, and the University likely wants you to be motivated to evacuate the building when there is a fire. What this means is that when these rules go unenforced or unnoticed, problems may occur. 

Students should care about the rules, both for the sake of the dorms and so they avoid punishments and fees. Likewise, it may be in WWU’s best interest to put more effort into ensuring that students know what is or is not allowed. For example, they could put posters in conspicuous spots in the dorms with rules listed to raise student awareness. 

See Also

Among the rules of the dorms, there is one which could be considered more problematic than the rest. This is the “Right of Entry” rule, which is the University’s policy of the “right for a residence hall dean, their representative, or a university security officer to enter and inspect a student’s room and personal property, with or without notice to the resident and with or without the resident being present.” [3] 

The Right of Entry policy raises ethical issues because University officials can come into student rooms unannounced and without the respective students present. There is a purpose in officials showing up without warning (to reduce drug and alcohol use, for instance), but it is not entirely ethical to allow them in student rooms alone and unobserved. 

The Right of Entry’s stated purpose is “management, health, safety, maintenance, and to assess a resident’s compliance with university rules and regulations,” all of which could still be achieved with students in the room being assessed. [4] 

Altering the Right of Entry policy so University officials are allowed in only while students are present would make it far less problematic. Students should be given a degree of trust that the policy does not currently offer, and students should know what officials are doing in their rooms. 


  1. Residential Life Handbook. (n.d.).  
  1. Ibid
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
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