With the trimester debate raging on campus, it seems that students, faculty and the administration, alike, are overlooking one crucial effect of this proposal. While administrators are already busy planning how they will spend additional revenue created by this system, they have failed to consider the dramatic effect these changes will have on student life. A mandatory summer system’s impact will arguably bring more bad then good.
A trimester system by which juniors are required to spend a summer on campus will have drastic effects on student organizations, the Student Association, Greek-letter life, friendships and the very essence of “student life.” This mandatory summer session will also disrupt the sense of community that is so important, and one that GW has worked hard to create. This issue is important because while the University is about academic advancement, it is also about personal growth, life experience and leadership development. These areas make up student life, which is central to the college experience. The opportunities offered by student organizations, in terms of leadership and programming, are too valuable to lose, and the personal relationships developed in college are too important to disrupt with a trimester system. A mandatory summer session will interrupt the traditional flow of life at GW, with which most students are satisfied. I am positive that 20 years from now I will remember little of what I learned in the classroom; I will have benefited more from my experience outside the classroom.
How, exactly, will student life be impacted? Student organizations will be forced to operate all year. Additional funding will be required. Organizations such as Hillel and the Newman Center will be forced to offer a full program to students year round, putting them at a financial hardship. Perhaps even more significantly, the leadership structures and continuity of these organizations will be disrupted by a junior-only summer session, followed by juniors’ conspicuous absences in one of the following two semesters. The ability of these student groups to have meaningful and important programming is also constrained in a summer session, depriving juniors of participation in events in which they might be interested.
Our student government will have to stay active all year, bringing student issues and concerns to the administration in the summer months, at an increased cost. When would SA elections be held? And what happens to the rising junior who is elected senator and then forced to take a semester off when he or she is supposed to be representing students?
How will fraternities and sororities function during the summer with only a small portion of its membership remaining on campus? Will juniors be forced to miss a semester of the short time they have in a Greek-letter organization to make way for a mandatory summer session? An issue affecting even more students is that this system could force a student to go an entire year without seeing a good friend in school as a result of being required to take a semester off after the mandatory summer.
The required summer session will disrupt the normal flow of student life in all of these arenas and, more significantly, will damage the sense of community that this University strives to create. A careful examination of the report by the Study Group on an Alternative Academic Calendar yields very little attention to or concern on the effect that this change will have on specific issues regarding student life.
Despite the involvement of two students on the committee, student life issues have been virtually ignored. In fact, in the Committee Report on Student and Parent Issues, only two paragraphs are devoted to student life issues – one on Greek-letter life and one on student government. The report points to Dartmouth University as a successful model for GW to follow, specifically citing the importance and success of “a more ‘dynamic’ flow of leadership ideas” as a result of the turnover created by a summer session. The report fails to discuss that what might be effective at one University might not be right or effective at another. GW administrators must remember that GW is not Dartmouth and that our school undoubtedly has a different and unique culture that might not be as conducive to a mandatory summer session.
A trimester system is a mistake for GW, especially one that involves a mandatory summer session for juniors. It will tear away at the fabric of the GW community. Student groups will be weakened and their members will miss out on opportunities within these organizations. Students will lose the typical college life experience as a result of an absence from GW after their mandatory summer session, weakening their sense of belonging and involvement upon their return. If the administration wants to take student life seriously, it will clearly see that a mandatory summer session is not a path worth taking.
-The writer, a senior majoring in political science, is a former Student Association presidential candidate.