Fifty-two freshmen so far have taken advantage of a special exemption form GW created this year to allow sophomores to move off campus. Citing financial difficulty, religious reasons, medical conditions and other circumstances, freshmen said they were surprised to find how easy it was to dodge a new GW requirement that all sophomores live on campus.
“Right there on the spot (a housing services staff member) checked it off, copied it and gave me a copy, and I was done. Five minutes. No problem,” said freshman Alex Lesevare, who turned his exemption form into the Housing Services office in New Hall last week.
Lesevare said he plans to commute from his parent’s home in Virginia next year.
Students can download the one-page exemption form on the Community Living and Learning Center Web site. They can mail the form in or deliver it in person to the New Hall housing office. The offer expires as soon as a student signs a housing contract.
Although some students said they would lie to get off campus, others presented exemption reasons permitted by the city order that spurred the new housing requirement. The order, issued last March by the Board of Zoning Adjustment, requires all freshmen and sophomores to live on campus except those who commute, are married, have children, have disabilities or hold religious beliefs “inconsistent with residence hall life.”
Freshman Mustafa Dimvilogu, a Muslim, reported that his reason for seeking exemption is two-fold.
“Living with many other people in one area is not really correct in our religion,” said Dimvilogu, who also said financial reasons prevent him from living on campus.
Other students provided excuses that fall outside the D.C. order’s criteria. GW announced earlier this month that students could add financial difficulties to acceptable excuses, along with a host of others.
The University has until fall 2003 to comply with the BZA order, which also requires GW to house 70 percent of undergraduates in residence halls that fall within official campus boundaries by 2006.
Housing Services Director Andrew Sonn said GW has not yet denied any exemption forms.
And it seems that students are taking advantage of the no-check policy.
“I was going to use the excuse that I couldn’t afford it, because they are not really asking for back-up,” freshman Matt Rey said.
Rey said he is looking to escape the authority of community facilitators in residence halls but will find out which rooms are available to rising sophomores before filing his form.
“I would say that I was living with a relative or that it was cheaper in an apartment, even if I didn’t know where I was living,” said freshman Kat Higginbotham, who said she will see what her housing selection number is before deciding to move off campus.
Several freshmen, such as Paige Craft, said they intend to wait to see how they fare in the housing lottery before looking off-campus through the exemption process.
“I am going to enter the lottery and see if I get a good enough number to get a room by myself,” she said, adding she will drop out of the lottery with a medical excuse if a single room is not available.
Sonn discourages students from entering the lottery and dropping out because it is “not fair to other students who are participating.” He said once students select a room in this year’s online housing selection, they enter a binding housing contract.
Although the Office of Housing Services will accept forms on a rolling basis, they request that freshmen turn in their forms before Feb. 1. Students who turn in forms later than Feb. 11 “will be handled on a case-by-case basis,” Sonn said.
RHA President Noel Frame said from Feb. 1-15 students can electronically fill out an Intent to Return form online to receive a housing selection number.
Students will need to provide clear, verifiable exemptions after this year, GW officials warned earlier this month. GW made public its new policy to require sophomores to live on campus in December.
RHA officials were outraged when GW mentioned the sophomore requirement in a December meeting without discussing a possible loose exemption policy. Frame called the exemptions “a victory for students.”
Freshman Rockford Stites said rising sophomores have a right to cheat the system.
“I came here thinking next year I could live where I wanted,” Stites said. “If someone was going to try to take advantage of (the system) I wouldn’t blame them.”