Remote to Reason
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 09:09
A residential campus community is a cornerstone of the Georgetown undergraduate experience. It stimulates social engagement and a sense of unity, something in sharp contrast to fragmented college campuses around the District. Although space is scarce on the Hilltop, there is overwhelming interest in keeping centralized housing off the chopping block.
But with the university bound by its promise to move 385 students out of the surrounding neighborhood, Georgetown’s tight-knit living community may be in jeopardy. While the introduction of a remote student residence is undesirable, much of the initial reaction to this proposal has also been misguided. Georgetown faces some tough decisions down the road, and this proposal must be considered in proper context.
From the moment the 2010 Campus Plan agreement was reached in the summer of 2012, it was clear that unwelcome consequences for student life were on the horizon. Yet while the requirement to move students to new housing was set in stone, the creation of a satellite residence was certainly not. Alternative housing options remain on the table, and the day when undergraduates are bused several miles to and from campus is far from imminent.
Moving 160 students — or as many as 385 if approval for the Northeast Triangle Residence Hall is delayed — would be a major blow to student life. The satellite housing option presents a logistical challenge to those who elect to move there and hinders their ability to contribute on campus. Many questions need to be addressed by the university to ensure that this would be administered fairly and without divisive social consequences.
When the university seeks government approval for any sort of development, one of the first questions inevitably asked is what other options were considered and why were they rejected. We hope this satellite residence is being considered simply to justify an alternative solution. Moving a portion of the student body miles away sets a precedent that breaks from the vibrant student life that has been nurtured by our residential community’s core values. No matter the circumstances, that may be too much to tolerate.
A PREMATURE OUTCRY
While Georgetown University Student Association leaders have been successful in rallying students against satellite housing, their response has thus far struck the wrong tone. The university’s willingness to solicit student input on satellite housing early on in the decision-making process was a leap forward in administrative transparency from this summer’s unilateral decisions, namely regarding the removal of former mascot-in-training Jack Jr. and a vehicle ban for undergraduates. After pleading for a great role in deliberation, GUSA’s response does not put students’ best foot forward at the negotiating table.
Though there are fundamental problems with satellite housing, administrators have been careful to emphasize that the project is in preliminary stages, would be temporary and would be a voluntary option likely targeted at upperclassmen. Some student leaders have reacted by painting a premature picture of a campus forced into diaspora by mandatory housing miles away from campus.
Most misguided in the “One Georgetown, One Campus” campaign has been the decision to solicit signatures for a campus-wide referendum targeted for Sept. 26. If students vote against satellite housing when no viable alternative is presented on the ballot, what actually is achieved? Last year’s referendum to raise the evidentiary standard for disciplinary violations from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing” was powerful because it led to a tangible change in policy. This referendum, however, fails to provide a solution to a situation that requires a response in some form or another.
An overwhelming vote against satellite housing would be rendered meaningless if it simply puts us back at square one while the clock ticks on campus plan deadlines, and the viability of GUSA referendums as an advocacy tool would suffer as a result. If even 100 students vote in favor of satellite housing in a referendum — enough to fill the proposed satellite residence — can the effort be considered a victory? Student leaders are right to fight decisions unfavorable to students, but that advocacy is weakened when it is reduced only to a voice of dissent. GUSA has been outspoken in opposing proposals to find housing, but what’s in demand now are viable alternatives. That’s where student advocacy must be directed.
ONE GEORGETOWN, SEVERAL SOLUTIONS
The legally binding constraints of the 2010 Campus Plan agreement to house 385 more students on campus by fall 2015 provide no good options for the university. But some are still better than others.
The best option is to ask for an extension of the 2015 deadline from the D.C. Zoning Commission. This would not represent a failure on the university’s part to meet its legal obligations, but rather a recognition that the initial timeline was unreasonable and unduly constrictive from the start. Ever since the campus plan agreement was signed 14 months ago, the university has moved swiftly to establish a thorough master planning process to meet its obligations and think strategically about the utilization of Georgetown’s limited space. It was always unlikely that the administration would be able to fully engage students in a responsible planning process under this restricted timeline. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E should acknowledge this fact and join the university in requesting an extension from the zoning commission. It would serve in the interest of both parties.