In a viewpoint published two months ago (“GUSA Ignores Student Interests in Darnall,” THE HOYA, Oct. 4, 2005, A3), Students for Student Space challenged GUSA to work with us in surveying student opinion in two areas: the allocation of the Darnall space as well as more general issues of student space on campus. Rather than responding with the constructive and engaging dialogue that we had hoped for, Pravin Rajan, president of the student association, rejected our proposal. In a viewpoint (“Making Darnall Work for Students,” THE HOYA, Oct. 7, 2005, A3), he essentially argued that our ideas were pie-in-the-sky, not tethered to any sort of reality at Georgetown. Well, with the student association unwilling to actually consider student opinion on a range of crucially important issues, we decided to do so ourselves.

The results speak for themselves. Eight hundred seventy-five students representing all four classes, both genders and various academic programs responded to our survey. Of the respondents, 66.6 percent say there is not enough student space on campus. While 53 percent say they support Darnall’s conversion to commercial food space, 95.9 percent say they were never consulted by anyone representing university administration or the student association on the issue. And, close to 93 percent of respondents say they would support the inclusion of non-GUSA students in the planning process for Darnall. Overall, 97.3 percent believe students should play a more active role in determining the development and use of non-academic student space on campus.

Another 251 students went so far as to write their own comments – many of which would be insightful and helpful for the school’s student and professional leadership to read. In particular, students repeatedly emphasized two major concerns: meal plan compatibility with any new facility and the desire for a healthier commercial food option. In a meeting I held with Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson just before the Thanksgiving break, I discussed many issues concerning student space, including the secrecy of the Darnall process and the results of our survey.

Like many students, I was frustrated by the lack of student involvement in the Darnall process, and I went to Olson with questions and a proposal to institutionalize student involvement in space decisions. The results of our conversation were fascinating.

Prior to speaking with Olson, I had been told by both Rajan and Eamon Carr, GUSA’s secretary for housing and facilities, that while they would like to see more students involved in such processes, it was virtually impossible. Carr told me that for every student added there would need to be two administrators and that more students were not being consulted because such a process had stalled any progress on the renovation of the New South Riverside Lounge space. Rajan referred to my ideas as unrealistic and fantastic in quality in his viewpoint, thus rendering them unworkable in an environment where administrators did not trust students. Most outrageously, the GUSA officials went so far as to blame this lack of trust on students!

All of these charges were revealed to be completely bogus during my talk with Olson. Not only is there sufficient precedent for student involvement in space decisions that relevant GUSA leaders ignored (note Midnight Mug and the Riverside Lounge space), but student involvement in the planning for the Riverside Lounge space had nothing to do with the fact that it remains unfinished.

Having been told by Carr that student involvement had actually stalled and virtually sunk the Riverside Lounge project, I asked Olson about that assertion. In reality, the lack of completion is due solely to issues of funding. Clearly, it is possible for students and administrators to work together in a professional, organized and mutually beneficial manner that improves the quality and amount of student space on campus.

The survey results and my conversation with Olson show that much more student involvement in space decisions is possible. GUSA would do well to join us and to encourage students to come together and join Students for Student Space in a dialogue and discussion on the major issues of student space.

There is much to be gained by including students from a wide swath of campus life and activities in this endeavor. The quantity and quality of student space are clearly lacking: consider the possibilities of an on-campus pub, more student lounges, greater group study areas separate from Lauinger Library and the ability to hang out in the basement of Healy rather than some morbid dorm lounge. The outcome of these conversations would form proposals to be presented to administrators, thus making the debate one between students and administrators and not between competing groups of students.

The only way students will prevent a continuing rollback and loss of historically student spaces like Healy Basement and Copley Basement from the heart of campus is if we speak with a united voice. I hope GUSA will come to see the survey results as legitimate and important indicators of student opinion, and that it will use the opportunity provided by this situation to work with us in more broadly and effectively advocating for student space on campus.

Jonathan Aires is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and a co-founder of Students for Student Space.

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