Saxa Politica: Leave(y) your worries behind

January 26, 2012

Last spring, the University administration committed to converting the Leavey Hotel into a dorm to reduce the number of students living off campus. But, as former Voice columnist Kara Brandeisky aptly pointed out in a post on the blog Greater Greater Washington a year ago, “Dorms are vastly inferior to off-campus options, which include kitchens, living rooms, single rooms, washing machines, dishwashers and all the furnishings of independent living … [Students] want our own kitchens. We want area for entertaining. We want independence. We want apartments.”

So students want apartments, and the University is building a dorm on campus—doesn’t seem like the best option. The University could convert the Leavey Hotel into another upperclassmen dorm (excuse me, “residence hall”), but given that the Office of Student Housing states the dorm rooms on campus rarely fill up, I doubt that would be attractive for many students.

If the University wants to make its non-apartment housing on campus attractive to upperclassmen, making another dorm under the purview of the Office of Residential Life won’t cut it. My suggestion: Residential Colleges.

Most Georgetown students would be familiar with residential colleges from the Harry Potter books, in which the Hogwarts house system was modeled on the Cambridge and Oxford system, which is the model for American colleges. The idea is that students live and eat with other students spanning different grades in that house for three years. In addition, a residential college is governed by the students with guidance from faculty and graduate students who live with the undergraduates.

This would vastly differ from Georgetown’s current dorms. At present, Residence Life has adopted a number of practices from the traditional residential college system, including faculty-in-residence to aid the intellectual life, chaplains-in-residence for pastoral care, and programming by the Residential Life team to create a community. This looks fantastic on paper, but by adopting some parts of the residential college system without adopting the whole thing, the idea is doomed to inefficacy. Although the chaplains-in-residence seem to be a popular inclusion (a student at yesterday’s Hoya Roundtable even asked for more), faculty-in-residence could do with engaging more with students who aren’t on their floor. As for the ResLife-sponsored events, as a normal participant in floor activities that involve free food, I can confidently say that I am usually the only non-RA there.

According to The Collegiate Way, a website devoted to spreading the joys of the collegiate system, an effective way to actually make a community vibrant and diverse (and not just unsubstantiated buzzwords on the website) would be for students to apply to live there during the end of their freshman year. This way, students would enter with the understanding that this isn’t supposed to be a backup to getting an apartment, and having multi-year members with their own space would also build an institutional memory and sense of community that would be attractive to students.

According to Stephanie Lynch, Georgetown’s Director of Residence Life on-campus, there are no plans for instituting a residential college system in the Leavey Hotel, or any other dorm for that matter. She said that the idea has come up a few times, but Georgetown’s underlying structure would make their implementation difficult: normally, residential colleges have faculty-in-house who buy up credit hours to integrate the residential and the curricular, but Lynch wasn’t sure how that would work with the four separate schools.

This is unfortunate. The Office of Student Affairs’ top divisional goal is, supposedly, to “create a divisional culture, which takes a proactive and holistic approach to student learning, development and wellness.” I would like to emphasize “holistic” in that statement. Currently, the social lives of Georgetown Students are divided among student activities, their academic lives are divided among the four schools, and their residential lives are divided in either small groups in apartments or in dorms with strangers. A residential college would integrate all three: Bringing students from all four schools, with different interests, all into one dinner table.

Wish Georgetown was more like Hogwarts? Unsheath your magic wands with Ryan at


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The biggest challenge Georgetown has is that it needs to build capacity for at least 250 more people on campus. Because of the space constraints, and the cost, anything other than regular old residence hall rooms are space and cost prohibitive. I don’t think it’s that GU doesn’t want to build a more desirable option (ie, apartments); it’s that GU can’t.