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Saxa Politica: The case for a satellite campus

September 19, 2013


GUSA leaders talk at length about the need to “start a campus discussion” surrounding whether to create a satellite campus. In the same breath, they condemn it as an abomination that would destroy student life at Georgetown.

Reading reports in campus media, it would seem as if no students would consider supporting the establishment of a satellite campus, let alone live there if it were created. While student leaders are nearly unanimous in their dissent to any form of distant residence whatsoever, under the right conditions, many students would be amenable to living there.

That is to say, there are strong arguments in favor of establishing a satellite residence for undergraduates. Let me preface this column by saying I don’t necessarily support creating a satellite residence. In the interest of fostering the elusive “campus dialogue” that GUSA seems to care so much about, I write to give voice to the opposite side of this issue. This is the Voice, after all.

The One Georgetown, One Campus folks rely heavily on the argument that separating campus into two parts would kill student life. Having to commute to campus would prevent the kind of extemporaneous interaction that makes the University great, they say. No late-night pizza runs, no pickup ultimate Frisbee, no impromptu gatherings, no bumping into your friends walking around campus.

This argument invokes what I think of as the “cult of the Hilltop”—the overriding imperative to improve student life on campus, most often through student programming. Student leaders consider this drive to protect and foster student life to be a matter of school pride.

To be honest, though, some people just don’t care. After two years of living on campus and participating in student activities, living the student life becomes tiresome. Clubs are fun, but after a while, it’s all the same. In my experience, students become involved early in their freshman year but pare down their commitments by their junior and senior year. It’s not a bad thing. While some students keep with their student groups all four years, many students start to focus outward by their senior year, when the threat of entering the “real world” looms. No number of late-night movies, foam parties, midnight carnivals, or on-campus concerts can change that.

As such, many students would appreciate living far off campus under the right conditions. One of the proposed sites is D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. If there’s one thing Georgetown students love, it’s Hillternships. Living and working in the heart of the city while still attending school would be a dream to a sizable chunk of students, especially if the building offered apartment-style housing. It could be reserved for juniors and seniors to ensure that freshmen and sophomores get to spend their formative college years on the Hilltop.

A Rosslyn location could similarly offer juniors and seniors a chance to live a more urban lifestyle. Georgetown’s suburban feel becomes grating after the hundredth bus ride to get to a metro station. As long as satellite housing isn’t less expensive than on-campus housing, which would create more problems of voluntary segregation, a remote housing option poses distinct advantages to trying to cram more students on campus.

GUSA President Nate Tisa said he was concerned that a satellite option may be the most fiscally and logistically expedient choice for the University. In part, that’s why he wanted to mount a campaign to stop it. I’m not privy to the conversations in which numbers are discussed, but, if a satellite option fulfills the requirements of the campus plan at the cheaper cost, then that simple fact is the most powerful argument for it.

The University has significant financial constraints. After building the Northeast Triangle structure, the school only has about $15 million allocated to provide for the housing of 160 additional students. Other options could include “modular housing” (read: trailers) or making some double rooms triples, each of which One Georgetown, One Campus would prefer to letting the more detached members of our humble school live farther away than everybody else.

It’s not as if undergraduates don’t get a fair portion of the huge University budget. The school already spends millions of dollars on us. The University has competing interests, all of which are important. Extra dollars spent on building the perfect dorm on campus is less money the school can use for scholarships, graduate programs, investment, research, and other resources for students. Undergraduates should be mindful of this reality when making demands to the University.

While the Hilltop is the heart of undergraduate life, letting no more than five percent of students live elsewhere won’t be the deathblow to liberal education at Georgetown. Instead of holding this one campus as sacrosanct, GUSA leaders should establish themselves as trustworthy partners for the University while keeping in mind that “student life” means different things to different people.

Or, at least, that’s the argument.

 

Wanna live with Connor in Rosslyn? Email him at cjones@georgetownvoice.com


Connor Jones
Connor Jones is the former editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Voice. Before that, he edited its blog, Vox Populi and the features section. He was a double major in mathematics and economics and is from Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached at cjones@georgetownvoice.com.


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