Justin Peligri: Housing integration strengthens Corcoran merger

If you’re a student at GW and you haven’t been asked the question, “What are your plans for housing next year,” then chances are you’re either graduating in May or living under a rock.

As many of us anxiously await the opening of the iHousing portal this semester, some are likely wondering what effect GW’s takeover of the Corcoran College of Art + Design – and the incorporation of its students into our student body – will have on the housing process.

Here’s their answer: Freshmen admitted to GW’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design will apply for housing just like the rest of us, participating in iHousing and complying with the three-year on-campus housing requirement, University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt confirmed in a statement this week.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

Now, this decision only affects incoming students. Current Corcoran transplants – many of whom currently live off campus to save money, according to a few Corcoran students I’ve spoken to – won’t be forced to live on campus.

Still, this is a step forward: The inclusion of Corcoran students in GW’s housing rules and processes is critical to completing the GW-Corcoran merger. Students will be assimilated in the relatively early stages of the transition rather than later down the line. Although it might be uncomfortable for students at first, this is the best move for a school looking to prove it has a diverse student body that functions harmoniously.

It’s great that GW wants to make a name for itself in the arts. But so far, the merger has been far from perfect. Take, for example, the 10 Corcoran student veterans who struggled to make ends meet after their benefits forms were lost in the transition between financial aid offices. Other students have complained about not being able to find answers to pressing questions about financial aid and reserving studio space.

The University won’t be successful in attracting and retaining art students unless proactive steps are taken to ensure that they feel comfortable on this campus. The smartest way to do that is to fully integrate them not only in classes with other GW students, but by making sure students of all majors are interacting and engaging with one another where it counts: at home.

That said, where students spend their residential lives at college is often a sensitive subject. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the outcry from residents of City Hall over incessant construction last semester. So as the University makes this full transition, it’s important that we deal with hiccups delicately, remaining attuned to Corcoran students’ needs.

When Corcoran students are enveloped in the iHousing process, they won’t all be assigned to live in Mitchell Hall, as many were this year. It’s understandable, then, that some might initially object to the idea of being scattered in residence halls across campus.

After all, “most of the people at the Corcoran came for the aspect of a community that’s very tight-knit,” Patrick Quinn, a sophomore art student serving as vice president of Mitchell’s hall council, told me.

That’s a valid point – one GW has tried to keep in mind through the establishment of a “Creative and Performing Arts Community” in Thurston Hall, which first-year Corcoran students can join, Hiatt told me.

But that doesn’t solve the problem to which Quinn is referring. It’s the group of Corcoran transplants – rising seniors, juniors and sophomores who grew used to the intimate community at their former school – that need such an option. An opportunity to live among their peers might help them feel more comfortable while they ease into the greater GW student body.

Brand new incoming freshmen – even if they are in the Corcoran School – don’t need that transition because they know full well that they’re joining a 2,400-person diverse freshman class.

Returning Corcoran students will be able to apply for affinity housing like any other GW student, but if the University wants to signal its respect for how difficult their transition is, it should create a living community especially for these students and publicize it heavily. It won’t do any good if Corcoran students don’t know it exists. So while GW has done well to ensure the full integration of the arts students by keeping everything equal concerning housing policies, the decision to house the community exclusively in Thurston is a misstep.

Affinities or not, the decision to bring art students further into GW’s fold will mean they’ll officially be treated like the rest of us, taking in all the good – and the bad – that comes with a GW education.

Justin Peligri, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

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