Staff Editorial:In dog days of summer, students get burned by housing policies

Like the buff-colored border on GW's new campus flags, the University's promises to improve housing and student services are already fading.

This fall, students will return to a University that botched new policy proposals for students living off-campus by creating new regulations that treat 21-year-olds like children and unfairly target Greek life organizations.

Administrators have also made unclear pledges about responding to residence hall maintenance issues, and sent the message to students that they will only reward those who yell the loudest.

With plenty of good happening on campus, too – sparkling renovations to Gelman Library, the Science and Engineering Hall's progress, and a new, high ranking on Sierra Club's list of most sustainable schools – administrators have work to do to make sure this summer's missteps in housing and student life don't leave a negative impression on students.

Putting locals over students
The University has proposed that it will collect the addresses of students not living in residence halls – starting with Greek life members – and initiate faster disciplinary actions against students who elicit complaints from neighbors. But administrators should realize that quicker penalties and harsher monitoring of students living off campus are steps too far.

The University should act as a mediator rather than an enforcer, seeking to facilitate positive relationships between neighbors and locals without resorting to harsh crackdowns on students as the primary solution.

Administrators said the moves aim to ease tension with Foggy Bottom locals who have complained about loud students and an expanding campus footprint. But composing a registry of students who aren't even living in GW's housing shows an intense lack of trust of students.

The University has not yet found the appropriate balance between pursuing a positive relationship with neighbors and fulfilling its obligations to students.

Going after Greek members' residences first also shows blatant discrimination toward one group of students. It's off-putting to say the least – even for those who are not tied in any way to a fraternity or sorority.

A damning news report
Earlier this month, a scathing report from a local ABC affiliate put a public spotlight on an issue that GW students have long known to be true: Several residence halls are in poor condition, made worse by lagging FIXit response times to maintenance requests.

The news report was not only viewed by those who watch local television, but it gained traction on popular blogs, news outlets and was complemented by a "GW Housing Horrors" Facebook page. The negative publicity prompted a GW spokeswoman to pledge an immediate review of maintenance response times, adding that the complaints "reached the highest levels at the University, including the president."

So why did it take a local news report based on testimony from summer students and D.C. interns to get administrators' attention? Students from Mitchell Hall to the Hall on Virginia Avenue have expressed legitimate housing grievances semester after semester with inadequate response.

That's why the announcement of a housing investigation – only after a scathing news report made headlines – caused some students to assume that the investigation was only meant to save face, not to seriously address real concerns that students have had for years.

Forced to stay on campus
The University's decision to require students – starting with the Class of 2018 – to live on campus for three full years, instead of two, unfairly restricts students' authority over their own decisions.

And while many upperclassmen have chosen to stay on campus for three or four years, others have relished the opportunity to share a townhouse with friends or find more affordable options as soon as they were allowed. That move can save students thousands of dollars a year, while still keeping them close to campus.

Presumably, the decision was made for two main reasons: to assuage neighbors' frustrations about disturbances off campus, and to generate more revenue – $2.3 million, according to 2011 estimates – to put toward construction projects and academic programming.

And University President Steven Knapp only made the situation worse when he told The Hatchet that when it comes to the financial aspect of the decision, he hasn't "been focused on that aspect of it."

Knapp's comments are frustrating, because money was undoubtedly a factor in this major change. To be more transparent, he should have leveled with students and admitted that increased revenue was, for better or for worse, part of the decision-making.

It was another example of administrators treating students like children – a trend perpetuated this summer that desperately needs to be abandoned now that students are back on campus.

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