A residence hall on GW’s Mount Vernon campus will house almost 100 men next semester, marking a historic change for the women’s college the University acquired three years ago.
Robert Chernak, vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said Pelham Hall, which houses 88 students, will become an all-male residence hall this fall and will be an option in the housing lottery later this month. Chernak said the hall is open to any continuing, transfer or freshman male student at GW.
A dearth of residential space at the Foggy Bottom campus led to the idea of bringing men to live at Mount Vernon, Chernak said.
“You can already anticipate there will be more demand for housing than we have,” Chernak said. “In all probability, if we met the enrollment projections for Mount Vernon, 80 to 100 beds would remain unoccupied. It doesn’t make sense to leave the beds unoccupied.”
But Chernak said the decision was not based solely on necessity. He said female students at Mount Vernon have expressed interest in having male students on campus, and men are interested in living on the Foxhall Road campus.
“There have been questions related to less expensive housing being available to women but not men,” Chernak said. “This solves that problem.”
Chernak said he believes the change will be a minor adjustment because classes at the Foxhall campus have been coed all year, with many Foggy Bottom students commuting to the new campus. He said Mount Vernon students take 80 percent of their classes at Foggy Bottom.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said the men would be separate from the women’s environment at Mount Vernon. He likened the new all-male hall to an embassy in a foreign country.
“We’re identifying one building at the most extreme end of campus and are . using it for men,” Trachtenberg said. “(The women’s campus) experience is in no way diminished.”
But Renee Harris, former president of the Student Government Association at Mount Vernon, said something will be lost in the transition.
“It is eliminating a part of a woman’s education tradition and there is a large benefit (to that),” Harris said. “A lot of people may not want to say it or talk about it, but I can definitely see a difference of living on an all woman’s campus, and going to an all woman’s college and going to a coed university.”
When GW entered into a financial affiliation with Mount Vernon in October 1996, Trachtenberg said GW would attempt to preserve Mount Vernon as a women’s college.
“We’re going to do our darndest to see if we can make this the best women’s college in America,” Trachtenberg said in 1996.
But a year later, GW announced Mount Vernon was no longer viable as a women’s college and would be incorporated into GW. Now, with the addition of men to the living environment, Trachtenberg admits the campus is changing.
“We gave it a good faith shot (at keeping it all women),” Trachtenberg said. “We are not impeding our commitment to them.”
Grae Baxter, executive dean of Mount Vernon, said the campus will welcome the men.
“First and foremost, we are a part of the University and we have to choose to be part of the University on all levels,” Baxter said. “If there is a problem with housing and we have an excess, then that is what we have to do.”
She said she believes the permanent presence of men will be a benefit.
“It could be that the presence of a men’s dorm will make this campus more attractive to women,” Baxter said. “Flavor is added.”
Baxter said she believes the tradition of Mount Vernon, which will end its run as an independent degree-granting institution at the end of this spring semester, is based more in its educational opportunities than in the living environment.
“The commitment was not to keep it a women’s college but to preserve its dedication to the education of women,” Baxter said. “We have a very strong programmatic core here.”
Mount Vernon students still can participate in the Women in Power program, which will add three additional programs next fall, focusing on studies in science and technology, the arts and global leadership.
“In these programs, we are keeping the legacy of Mount Vernon College alive,” she said.
But Harris said the legacy is dying.
“I think it’s sad because first of all they told the students that it would remain an all women’s campus and secondly, I think it’s going to lose some of what was special about Mount Vernon,” Harris said.
Harris said a lot of students saw this change as inevitable.
“I think it was half expected, even though they told us it wasn’t going to happen in the near future,” she said. “I think a lot of the women here had already prepared themselves and already sort of knew it was going to happen.”
Linda Donnels, GW associate vice president and dean of students, said although it is in the planning stages, GW will hold events to incorporate men to the living environment.
“We have been interested in building community and having an enjoyable living experience at GW,” Donnels said. “There will be special communities within Pelham.”
Harris said the addition to the community will not be bad news for every student at Mount Vernon.
“A large part of Mount Vernon students are not going to be happy about it,” she said. “But since most freshmen wanted to go to GW anyway, they may not mind as much.”
“I don’t think we should get obsessive that we are taking one building out of the Mount Vernon inventory and putting men in there,” he said. “We will have to see how it is in the future.”
-Tammy Imhoff contributed to this report.