Saxa Politica: Planning Georgetown’s Blueprint

August 28, 2014

It’s hard to not talk about the banging of construction, dust of drywall, and random road closures that will last for the next year. All this is driven by the requirements of the 2010 Campus Plan, which stipulates that the University add 385 beds to campus by 2015.

One can simply think back to the “satellite campus” fiasco from last fall, where the administration considered housing students in an off-campus dorm in Rosslyn or Capitol Hill. The Georgetown University Student Association, in response, helped launch the “One Georgetown, One Campus” campaign and led a referendum where over 90 percent of students decisively voted against a “satellite campus.”

Although somewhat dramatic, this incident demonstrated the stress that the University administration is under to meet a tight timeline. All the construction redirects and road closures are an inevitable inconvenience. But, there are ways to at least try to make everyone less unhappy.

Anyone who recalls the satellite campus event will remember that the primary driver of student discontent was the lack of transparency in administrative action. Following the blowback from the satellite campus referendum, the University did not seem to have learned from its mistakes when it made a housing selection change that disadvantaged students studying abroad and announced the possibility of a third-year housing requirement. Both had less than satisfactory student engagement in the form of small focus groups. Again, students were furious, and GUSA members, again, criticized the University’s recurrent lack of student engagement. I worry about the University’s penchant towards only informing students of important policy decisions after-the-fact, which is a challenge to combat due to students’ lack of authority over administrative decisions.

Secondly, as students are moved back on campus, the University must reform its disciplinary policies and code of conduct restrictions, especially beginning with the junior year housing requirement effective starting with the class of 2017. Partying should be made as safe as possible on campus to avoid continuing to push it off-campus where students are more likely to be victims of harm and crime. The University clearly recognizes this and has made clear steps in relaxing conduct violations, such as the test trials of 21+ open container areas in Henle and Village A and clarifying the alcohol amnesty provision in situations of sexual assault in the code of conduct. GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Vice President Omika Jikaria’s (SFS ’15) team has also prioritized expunging first-time alcohol violations from student disciplinary records and lifting the ban on alcohol paraphernalia, which are positive steps I look forward to seeing implemented.

Finally, the importance of affordable housing absolutely demands prioritization. A double in a dorm or on-campus apartment costs between $4,700 and $5,200, which translates to at least $1,175 per month. For comparison, a single in Burleith can run around $1,000 per month and around $1,300 per month in generally pricier West Georgetown. To be fair, the cost of University housing includes utilities, cleaning services and security. There is, however, no guarantee from the University that it will price housing costs to ensure affordability, nor are there incentives for the University to do so, especially in light of the multiple expensive construction and renovation projects on which the University will need to recoup costs.

I’m encouraged by the recent University agreement with GUSA to ensure four years of on-campus housing for students with high financial need, which will allow for those students’ housing costs to be fully covered by scholarships and financial aid. In the long term, however, 90 percent of students must be housed on campus by 2025 under the Campus Plan anyway. I hope affordability is always in the back of the minds of GUSA members and administrators alike.

I’ve talked about what I hope to see from administration, but students need to deliver too, and I’ve seen apathy from most students. It’s discouraging when students don’t care and subsequently get angry at the University for making decisions they don’t like. For instance, following the “satellite campus” outrage, the University hosted dorm open houses and campus planning town halls and actively advertised through multiple campus-wide email blasts. Attendance was disappointingly low at some of these open houses. The University cannot be blamed for the lack of students that show up to focus sessions and open houses, nor does the University have a responsibility to aggressively entice students—beyond offering pizza, of course.


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