Marco Chomut usually wakes up at 9 a.m. to the dull roar of janitors’ vacuums. While some students claim to live at Gelman Library because of an overbearing workload, he is probably the only one who is not exaggerating.
In early February, Chomut, a sophomore computer science major who made the dean’s list last spring, was evicted from his University housing in the West End residence hall. After a week of sleeping on friends’ couches, he said he went to the library and began to sleep there instead.
“I’d say that living in the library is the closest thing you can get to living in the wild, but in a city,” Chomut said. “I still get confused every time I wake up.”
On Thursday, after issues with the University were resolved, Chomut said he will move back into his residence hall.
But for a while, he lived a transient lifestyle, showering at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center each morning, storing his clothes, toiletries and a few textbooks in a locker. After classes and meeting up with friends, he returned to a library alcove on the sixth floor, where he slept on the couches. He said only about half of his friends know about his daily routine.
“If somebody asks where I live, I tell them,” Chomut said. “It’s a little embarrassing, of course.”
Tara Periera, director of Student Judicial Services, said his sleeping quarters violate University policies, but was unable to point to any specific regulation against sleeping in Gelman.
“You cannot live in Gelman,” Periera said. “That can’t be the place where you sleep.”
She added, “To be honest, we would be much more concerned about the student having a safe place to stay, rather than pursuing judicial action.”
Chomut’s troubles began during his first semester as a freshman, when a registration hold was placed on his student account because his records did not verify a mandatory vaccination, he said. After the paperwork cleared, he registered for classes in February 2007 for the spring 2007 semester, Chomut said.
He said he relies on a University scholarship and federal loans to pay tuition, but was unable to claim the money because he was not registered for classes by the start of the spring 2007 semester.
Due to privacy regulations, GW officials are unable to comment on a specific student’s financial situation. But Dan Small, director of student financial assistance, said if the student is not registered by the second or third week of a given semester, the office assumes they are not enrolled and notifies them that the scholarship will be cancelled.
“I have piles of students applying for aid because mom and dad have lost their jobs,” Small said. “(If) I have a bit of money that I haven’t distributed, I want to try to help them out.”Chomut said he did not discover he had lost the scholarship until April 2007. He spoke to officials at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who told him the problem would be resolved. But when the semester ended in May, Chomut found out he would have to file an appeal to have his scholarship reinstated, he said.
Over the summer Chomut said he frequently checked on his appeal, both in person and via e-mail. He said he never received a response to his e-mails and that at each of his visits he was told the appeal was still pending.
In October, five months after his appeal began, he finally got word that his University scholarship had been reinstated, but was told that he had just missed the deadline to apply for federal loans, Chomut said. As a result, he had to apply for a private loan to cover the remainder of his expenses.
“If it was caught sooner, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” Small said. He added that most appeals take two to three weeks.
In December, Chomut’s private loan was approved, but was $5,000 short of the amount he needed. The University notified him that it referred the matter to a collection agency, and helped him craft a debt repayment plan that lasted through mid-February of this year, he said.
Wednesday evening, Chomut said he was able to register for classes and will move back into West End. But for a month, he was a nomad who stored clothes in lockers and other personal belongings with friends around campus.
“It’s unfortunate he found himself in the situation he’s in,” said Seth Weinshel, director of housing assignments. “But there are rights and responsibilities that a student has. If you don’t meet those responsibilities, you don’t have some of those rights. Students must be in good financial standing and registered for classes.”
University officials interviewed repeatedly referenced notifications and letters they said Chomut should have received. Chomut said for the most part he did not receive these, but readily admits he could have done more to understand the ramifications of his situation. He described the situation as a “comedy of errors.”
“If I had been really on the ball, going in every day to talk to them, it probably would’t have been this huge snow balling problem that it became,” Chomut said. “But it’s certainly been an eye-opener, to fend for yourself and think carefully about how you’re going to live day by day.”