More than half of GW freshmen participate in living and learning programs. Interest in a particular topic, a desire to fit in with a group and the security of housing are among the top justifications for student participation in the different communities. While membership is high – 60 percent of freshmen participate, according to the Community Living and Learning Center – students said programs are less effective and organized than they expected coming to GW.
Freshman Kristen Luke joined the Watergate Program to get involved on campus. The program groups freshmen interested in studying politics on the same floor in the Hall on Virginia Avenue. While it seemed like an interesting opportunity to do something different, Luke said she found the program hardly functioned. It was nothing more than taking a class and going on a tour. She switched rooms and left the program.
“There didn’t seem to be very much to hold me there,” she said. “Some people didn’t even take the class this semester. It seems like some people did it just to live on the seventh floor of HOVA.”
Sophomore Katy Tegeler said she enjoyed participating in the Healthy Lifestyles program at HOVA as a freshman. She said she joined the program because the group shared similar interests and did a lot of activities together.
After last year’s success, Tegeler joined the LEAD program for sophomores in the Dakota. But she said the program offers a different experience than she had freshman year.
“In LEAD, there is less of a sense of unity, because we don’t all live on one floor, and some people, myself included, live with people who aren’t in the program,” Tegeler said.
Freshman Elizabeth Wilson said she read about living and learning communities when she applied for housing. She was interested in several of the communities but she not to apply.
“I would be surrounded by political people all the time,” Wilson said. “If I am interested in this stuff I am obviously going to get involved and meet people who are too, but I didn’t know if I would want to spend a whole year with only people who were just like me.”
Wilson said she also worried that members of the communities would be ostracized from the rest of the University or would not make friends.
Andrew Sonn, director of Housing Services, said living and learning communities have become more popular nationwide because universities realize the communities offer freshmen a good transition to school and allow them to meet people with common interests.
GW hosts 14 living and learning communities for freshmen in Layfette, Thurston and Mitchell halls, the Hall on Virginia Avenue and the Mount Vernon Campus.
Upperclassman programs include Healthy Lifestyles II in The Schenley, LEAD in the Dakota, the Honors Program’s Scholars Village in townhouses along 22nd Street and Women in Power at the Mount Vernon Campus. Placement in a community can be competitive for students who have already participated in one according to Sonn, because there are fewer communities for continuing students. Acceptance into some require a minimum 2.5 grade point average, a clean disciplinary record and involvement in at least one campus organization.
Students can also propose their own living and learning community idea to live in the Scholars’ Village townhouses.
The level of involvement a student must commit to for a program varies. Some programs are paired with academic classes students must take. Others require less of an academic commitment and are facilitated by field trips and guest speakers. The difference in program structures provides students with a range of opportunities as to their level of participation, Sonn said.
Living and learning communities create a range of opportunities for both new and continuing students, but students said programs become what participants make of them.