Fifteen jaws dropped at the news. Sitting together in the Ames cafeteria Friday night, Mount Vernon students who said they had chosen the women’s campus for its tight-knit community expressed an array of emotions when they were told their campus’s Pelham Hall would house men this fall.
The women expressed disappointment that the traditions of the campus were ending. They also said they feared what the future would bring and expressed anger at University administrators who they said had lied to them from day one.
“I don’t care that there will be males on this campus,” said a sophomore, close to tears. “But don’t lie to me. They should have the honor and the conviction of their words.”
The Mount Vernon students were at different points in their education, brought together in different situations. Some were finishing Mount Vernon College degrees, others had been transferred to GW since the acquisition and some enrolled knowing about the GW affiliation. But their reasons for being on the campus were the same – and they saw the values of Mount Vernon ending with the changes at Pelham Hall.
“I think I’ve been conned,” said freshman Romie Stott, who said she chose Mount Vernon so she could have the best of both worlds – a University to learn in and a quiet environment in which to live.
Robert Chernak, vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said the shortage of space in Foggy Bottom residence halls spurred the decision to house men at Mount Vernon. He also said a co-educational atmosphere already exists between the schools, with Mount Vernon students taking 80 percent of their classes on the Foggy Bottom campus.
“In reality, I don’t think its going to be a major problem,” Chernak said. “The only change now is that there will be 88 men who reside out there.”
Few Mount Vernon women seemed surprised at the news, saying they expected this change to happen sooner or later.
“This was inevitable,” said one junior. “The minute the school was purchased, I knew they wouldn’t uphold the traditions.”
She said she had expected men to mix with the women on the Foxhall campus a year ago.
But as the students began to leave the dining hall, many were uncertain and incredulous about their new living situation.
“This isn’t a practical joke?” asked Rachel Joelson, who said she was upset that an administrator did not personally tell the students. “It seems like it has to be a practical joke.”
Joelson said she wanted to know why administrators had taken the time to tell The GW Hatchet but not the Mount Vernon community.
Two tables away, word was spreading of what the future would bring, especially for incoming freshmen.
“I can’t wait until they get women out here expecting a women’s college and they find men moving in, and then they go knocking on (GW President Stephen Joel) Trachtenberg’s door, claiming false advertising,” said freshman Sara Feldman.
Marisa Wu, a freshman admissions representative at Mount Vernon, said she also is concerned the University is misleading parents and prospective students.
“We, at the admissions department, have spent all year marketing this as a female residential campus, and I know some of the people who chose to apply did so because there were no guys here. This is just unfair to them,” Wu said.
The women, eating dinner amid a stream of men arriving on the shuttle bus from Foggy Bottom, discussed the type of reputation the men who moved to Mount Vernon would receive.
They took a straw poll of the men, who had come to the campus for the popular all-you-can-eat dinner. None of the men said they would choose the new residential option.
“I will feel sorry for them,” Stott said of the 88 men who will live at Mount Vernon next fall. “They’ll be accused of being either gay or `out for booty.’ Everyone is going to take out (their frustrations) on them.”
The Mount Vernon women contrasted the situation to the reputation they had earned, half jokingly and half seriously debating whether they were considered “sluts” or “lesbians” by the GW community.
“Dumb lesbian feminists,” one concluded. They told horror stories about being looked at strangely by students when they said they lived at Mount Vernon and being told by professors they wouldn’t be able to keep up in class.
Feldman said she thinks Trachtenberg and other administrators would look back on this decision with regret one day.
“In examining this takeover, I doubt the University looked at what will be lost,” Feldman said. “What will be lost is a place where women can feel safe and connect (with other women). They are losing a really unique educational environment that’s just women. I just don’t think they understand what they’re losing. I give them 10 years until they realize it.”
“I hope it’s less than that,” another freshman said.
While half of the students in the Ames cafeteria expressed anger about the news, freshmen at another table giggled quietly and said, “There are going to be guys here? This is so cool.”
Stacy Ochsman, a freshman at Mount Vernon, echoed the thoughts of many other women in her situation – freshmen who had applied to GW’s Foggy Bottom campus but ended up living at Mount Vernon.
“I’m in favor of it,” Ochsman said. “I came to GW, not Mount Vernon. (Having men here) makes it more like GW and I’ve never been in favor of single-sex campuses. I like the social environment more when it’s mixed, but it’s unfair to have it be coed if they plan on marketing it as a women’s college because many women do come here seeking that.”
“I personally don’t care,” freshman Sacha Bice said. “I don’t mind if they want to put guys here with us.”
At the foot of the walkway that leads to what will be the all-male housing, a Mount Vernon student looked at the residence hall with disbelief.
“I feel it’s just buildings to them,” she said. “Don’t they realize that women come here to grow? I’ve grown so much since I came here. GW treats (Mount Vernon) just as numbers, as meaningless walls and playing fields. They don’t realize the potential. They promised us they would keep with the women’s mission of this school and that’s why we supported the takeover. They lied.
“It just honestly breaks my heart,” she said. “I understand things change, but I just feel like we’re sheep led to the slaughter.”