Robin Jones Kerr: The contradiction of a ‘fully-integrated’ campus

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

GW administrators are searching for ways to promote the Mount Vernon Campus to prospective students, including virtual tours and highlighting specialized programs.

Updated: Sept. 26, 2014 at 2:35 p.m.

Whether you’re a freshman who’s been on campus just a month, or a grizzled senior who’s been kicking around for more than three years, you’ve surely heard your fair share of criticism of the Mount Vernon Campus.

It’s so far away. There’s nothing going on up there, no party scene. The only food options are paltry Sodexo-run disappointments.

No one wants to go to the Vern.

It’s a reputation that, as anyone who recognizes the value and beauty of the Vern knows, GW desperately needs to combat. That’s why it was strange to see that the University is installing a gate at one of the entrances to the campus, which formerly allowed students to walk freely into and out of the surrounding neighborhood.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Robin Jones Kerr

Anyone will be able to exit through the gate from the inside, but just two groups will have GWorld swipe access to enter the Vern from W Street: Vern residents and residents of the Foxhall neighborhood.

It seems like a small thing. Officials want the Whitehall Parkway entrance, which GW spent months refurbishing, to act as the “front door” to the campus, as University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt told The Hatchet this week.

I asked Hiatt why a campus with a front door can’t also have a back entrance. During the development of the Mount Vernon Campus Plan in 2010, he told me, “community members expressed a strong interest in campus improvements that would further reduce the University’s use of the W Street entrance. The University accommodated this request through agreeing to close the existing W Street entrance to vehicles.”

It’s upsetting that GW was so willing to bow to the concerns of neighbors that it would give up the benefits of the entrance for Foggy Bottom students.

I lived in Somers Hall on the Vern my freshman year, and as a student staff member at Eckles Library for the past three years, I consider myself pretty well-versed in what it’s like to live on the Vern. While obviously my opinion doesn’t represent the library system, I can tell you that the back entrance, which opened onto W Street, improved the quality of life for visitors and residents of the Vern alike.

For students living in the hillside dorms (Cole, Clark, Hensley and Merriweather halls), in particular, it provided the quickest access to the many shops and restaurants of MacArthur Boulevard. The most prominent: Safeway, a bragging point for Vernies to flaunt around their Foggy Bottom friends who have to shop at “Whole Paycheck” or trek to Trader Joe’s.

In the grander scheme, this shows a disregard for the wishes of students who live on that campus.

When the gate is complete in 2015, only students who live on the Vern will have GWorld swipe access through the pedestrian gate both ways, in and out. The ability to leave means nothing if you can’t come back in the same way.

You know who that immediately alienates? That same group it’s nearly impossible to get to come to the Vern already: Foggy Bottom students.

It’s flawed logic on the part of the University. Tour guides are taught to boast about “the fully-integrated Mount Vernon Campus,” and students are encouraged to come study on the Vern, enjoy its beautiful scenery and its many resources that Foggy lacks, like state-of-the-art recording studios and a cozy library.

It’s hard enough to get Foggy Bottom students to come to the Vern, let alone get them to stop trash-talking it. Add a limitation to their ability to leave and enter the place freely, to get food while they study there or go shopping on the weekends, and there’s just one more strain on an already-tense relationship between Foggy and the suburban campus. Let’s remember that for Foggy residents, this is now the permanent set-up.

GW can’t talk that tired talk of a “fully-integrated” campus and then bit by bit make it a more difficult place to visit.

It may seem small, but sometimes it’s the little things that sting the most.

Robin Jones Kerr, a senior majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

This post was updated to reflect the following clarification and corrections:
The post was updated to clarify that while Foggy Bottom students will not be able to enter the Vern through the W Street entrance, they will be able to exit from it. The Hatchet also added that Foxhall neighbors will be able to use the entrance. The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the W Street entrance would be unusable until a gate opens in 2015. It will be usable, though may occasionally close temporarily for construction work. A previous version stated that Foggy Bottom students would need to walk with students who lived on the Vern to exit from and return through the W Street entrance for Pancakes with the Provost. The Hatchet received new information after publication that the permanent gate will remain open for events at the Provost’s. We regret these errors.

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