Students excluded from dorm planning process

September 12, 2013

This past Sunday, GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ‘14) came forward with the news that the University is considering establishing an off-campus residence in order to fulfill the Campus Plan requirement of housing 385 additional students by 2015.

In a press conference the following morning, University administrators focused on the distinction between a satellite campus and an off-campus residence instead of leveling with students and offering specifics on alternative sites under consideration.

Later that day, Zach Singer (SFS ‘15) officially launched the “One Georgetown, One Campus” campaign with the goal of compelling the University to take the satellite campus option off the table. Its first priority was gathering enough signatures to secure a Sept. 26 referendum, which it easily achieved.

The campaign is not without its flaws. The Voice encourages campus leaders to ensure that students who care about this issue are well informed. Although many of the relevant conversations took place behind closed doors, every student should have access to the same information that pushed student leaders to launch their campaign. Since this was not done at the outset of the campaign, many students, including this editorial board, were left more confused than motivated by the launch. As more information becomes available, the campaign organizers need to ensure that their purpose is clearly defined and that their message is focused. Put simply, if student leaders can come forward about plans for a satellite campus, they and the administration can be frank about conversations regarding the other options as well. The press release the campaign sent out this morning outlining alternatives to a satellite dorm does much to assuage these concerns, but earlier information could have prevented any confusion.

The Voice is opposed to a satellite dorm or campus, no matter how few students live there. Whatever the details, an off-campus residence would separate students from a close-knit community. The proposal does not consider the patterns of student life and dismisses key elements of student safety.

But again, the bigger issue is the lack of information presented to students to begin with—an issue that One Georgetown, One Campus is right to highlight. As the University’s approach to the Northeast Triangle project shows, there exists a constant and vast information gap between administrators, student leaders, and the greater student population in any conversation about campus planning. In addressing this problem, the campaign has already been successful. Students could have remained ignorant of the possibility of a satellite dorm until it was too late to affect the outcome. Instead, we are actively discussing it in our dorms and dining hall before it becomes a reality.

The possibility of an off-campus dorm is just one incident in the University’s pattern of failure to be honest with students about issues that will affect the future of the school. Administrators continue to hold up closed meetings with select student leaders and intentionally vague public forums as examples of their efforts to engage students. But students were hardly involved in the process of selecting the Northeast Triangle structure at all. By the time students were brought into the picture, it was too late for their contempt to change anything but the edifice of the building. The decision of where the dorm would be constructed was not up for discussion.

As undergraduates, we do lack expertise in this arena, but that is no reason to neglect the meaningful input we can offer. Presenting us with a decision after it’s made—even if there are limited choices involved—is not student engagement. It is this pattern of disregard for student engagement that compelled the One Georgetown, One Campus leaders to come forward in the first place, and students should continue that sort of vigilance as long as the administration continues to eschew engagement.

The One Georgetown, One Campus campaign is asking the University to consider a radical idea: that “student engagement” not be used as a token phrase to pacify students. It asks that the University respect students as a legitimate constituency—one that must always be treated as its primary concern. Georgetown’s first function is as an institution of higher education. The Campus Plan is not just about erecting buildings, but also about upholding the spirit of Georgetown—a physical manifestation of the University’s values and the community they represent.

The Voice challenges the University to make the difficult decision to involve student input at every juncture of planning processes, instead of using hand-picked student representatives as a rubber stamp for conversations that rarely reach outside the rooms in which they are held. Both the University and One Georgetown, One Campus must do right by students by making public all information available regarding the diverse options for residential expansion, on campus and off. If they do not, any decision on the matter will be sub-optimal.

The University should also seriously consider applying for an extension to the Fall 2015 deadline when the 385 new beds must be added. Decisions as monumental as these should not be rushed, and this deadline imposed by the Campus Plan is an impediment to meaningful student engagement and thorough debate on the subject.

If the Georgetown community is to settle on an option for residential expansion that everyone can live with, everyone will need a seat at the table. That has not been the case in the past, and all students must be supplied with the information they need to make informed judgments when the time is right. With those factors, the campus community can settle on an expansion option that pleases everyone. Without them, there simply is no good decision to be made.

Editorial Board
The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!


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