Saxa Politica: No place like home

November 11, 2010

The Saturday morning of Parent’s Weekend, parents and their groggy sophomores filed into Gaston Hall to hear a panel. The discussion on study abroad, which veered off on strange tangents about various disaster scenarios, did little to alleviate parental anxieties. But one response was particularly telling.

“How does housing work with study abroad?” one parent asked.

“Honestly,” a student panelist said, with a defeated chuckle, “it’s no more traumatic than the normal housing selection process.”

That’s one adjective to describe housing selection: traumatic. The heart of the issue is that there’s simply not enough room for everybody, so students are only guaranteed three years of on-campus housing. Every year, students are forced into the surrounding neighborhood. There, they find themselves stuck in the middle of a longstanding conflict between Georgetown residents and the University. Furthermore, students must decide which year to live off-campus around October of their sophomore year—before they’ve finalized study abroad plans or applied to be resident assistants. ( Clearly, the housing selection process does little to take student needs into account.

Some students enjoy the independence and freedom from Georgetown bureaucracy, but off-campus living comes with its own pitfalls such as longer walks to campus and fun encounters with the Metropolitan Police Department or Student Neighborhood Assistance Program when a party gets too loud.

Interestingly, the most vocal opponents of this arrangement aren’t the students—they’re the residents. They object to our party habits, our trash, our noise, and our choice in pizza. If you’ve ever taken a walk through Burleith, you know from their subtle “Our Homes, Not GU’s Dorm” lawn signs and their resentful stares: they want us out.

But there’s simply nowhere else to go. Georgetown residents frequently feign concern for students by bemoaning the “slum landlords”—read: their neighbors—who charge exorbitant prices for sub-standard housing. As someone who spent the summer battling bedbugs in Burleith, I’m not going to contest that characterization. But with University housing in short supply, off-campus housing is a seller’s market.

Town-gown relations have been further aggravated by the debate over the University’s 2010 Campus Plan, a summary of Georgetown’s construction goals for the next decade that will be presented to the D.C. Zoning Commission in December. The plan does not include any proposals for new undergraduate housing. The neighbors, who have been agitating for more on-campus housing since ten-year plan talks began in Jan. 2009, are waiting to pounce. They’ve been raising money since March to hire experts to testify to the D.C. Zoning Commission and keep the plan from being implemented.

But the plan does include a blueprint for new housing. For graduate students. In conjunction with the initiative to increase graduate and professional school enrollment by 39 percent, the University hopes to offer 120 beds to graduate students or faculty in an apartment-style living facility on the 1789 block, 36th Street between O and Prospect Streets.

We could use that space to provide more undergraduate University-owned housing, alleviate at least some of neighborhood tensions, and improve student life for the undergraduates already living here. Instead, Georgetown is looking out for its prospective graduate students.

Next month, the 2010 Campus Plan will go to the Zoning Commission. The University will have its lawyers. The neighbors will have theirs. And as usual, there will be no one advocating for the students. There’s nothing like housing selection season to remind us how much that sucks.

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