Roundtable: Suggestions for SA candidates’ platforms

Hatchet File Photo
Hatchet File Photo

It’s that time of year again: Candidates for the Student Association’s top posts are putting together their platforms and attempting to pick central issues that are not only achievable in their short terms, but that will also earn student votes.

As the campaigns get underway, three opinions writers offer their thoughts on what the candidates should include or leave out.

Take another swing at getting Trader Joe’s on GWorld

Andrew Costello is a junior double-majoring in political science and economics.

Hatchet File Photo
Hatchet File Photo

You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: It’s time student leaders make another attempt to add Trader Joe’s as a GWorld merchant.

In addition to relocating the student health center, one of the key components of former Student Association president Julia Susuni’s platform when she ran two years ago was to get the nearby Trader Joe’s on GWorld. It was ambitious – getting the grocery store on GWorld was also attempted in 2007 without success.

Unfortunately, her plan was never realized, and efforts to continue the initiative have vanished. Although the SA is more used to negotiating with GW administrators specifically, the Trader Joe’s issue is one that students clearly care about and it should be taken up by this season’s candidates.

It’s not an unprecedented feat: Eight years ago, the Safeway stores on MacArthur Boulevard and Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown began accepting GWorld after pushes by the SA.

And it’s hugely important to students. Realistically, when one accounts for distance, only the Whole Foods Market remains a viable grocery store option for the majority of on-campus students, particularly after the closure of the Safeway in the Watergate complex.

Whole Foods can unfortunately be twice as expensive as its organic-foods competitor, Trader Joe’s, on an item-to-item basis. For many students, it just isn’t economical.

Susuni herself didn’t return my request for comment on this issue, but her former chief of staff and the current Residence Hall Association president, Ari Massefski, explained what went wrong under the former president’s tenure.

“The administrators at Trader Joe’s weren’t interested,” Massefski said. “She did everything that she possibly could.”

After conducting market research about Trader Joe’s and the benefits of accepting GWorld, and securing the full support of the GWorld card office, the SA approached the management of Trader Joe’s. Although the management at the 25th Street location was “all for it,” according to Massefski, higher-ups at corporate feared it would over-complicate their existing electronic payment system.

“They told us that they are a very lean organization without lots of infrastructure,” Massefski said, and they cited a “fear of it disrupting their system.”

Essentially, the folks at Trader Joe’s had little understanding of the GWorld system in general, viewing it as an clunky addition to their infrastructure that they could not afford. Consequently, they disregarded it.

That may seem like an insurmountable hurdle. But it’s been almost two years since Susuni’s campaign, and it could be worth a new attempt. Future SA presidents should not be discouraged by the inability of their predecessors to bring Trader Joe’s into the GWorld program, nor should they accept the company’s taciturn response as a defeat.

Rare is the campaign promise that is fulfilled by the first to make it. For example, former SA president Jason Lifton first proposed the idea of renovations to Gelman Library after he was elected in 2010, an initiative that took more than three years to come to fruition. And former SA president Ashwin Narla pushed for student space throughout the 2012 to 2013 school year, an initiative that finally became a priority when the University was drawing up plans for District House.

Although Trader Joe’s is currently reluctant to accept GWorld as a form of payment, history is not on their side. If SA presidents continue to maintain momentum on this issue, they will surely accomplish this long-awaited addition to students’ shopping options.

“After all, Trader Joe’s is a neighborhood grocery store,” Massefski said. “It doesn’t make sense that it wouldn’t accept the neighborhood’s form of payment.”

Commit to making junior housing affordable

Guillermo J. Martínez, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

After GW announced two years ago that juniors would be required to live on campus starting with the Class of 2018, the never-ending debate on campus over housing affordability was given new life.

The mandate pushed then-Student Association president Julia Susuni to try to make the issue of on-campus housing prices a priority during her tenure. After a thorough analysis of popular apartment buildings near campus, Susuni and the Residence Hall Association concluded that students living in junior housing pay about $3,000 more each year, on average, than they would living in off-campus options.

Although the University made a commitment to offering cheaper housing options to juniors, the recently released housing rates show little change – or, in many cases, increases to the price tag on the room of the same size.

It’s obviously not an issue with one clear, easy solution. But Susuni already did the legwork. The candidates for SA president and executive vice president this election season should take it up again and pledge in their platforms to work with GW to find solutions. We can’t let this problem persist any longer.

GW’s failed commitment is an excellent opportunity for the new SA leadership to take action on housing affordability for upperclassmen. They should continue the advocacy started by Susuni to make on-campus housing cheaper – or, at least, closer in pricing to nearby off-campus options. And they should push the University for answers about how the opening of District House will affect housing options, ensuring that prices are well-distributed across the various room sizes.

Hatchet File Photo
Hatchet File Photo

As a sophomore who will live on campus next year, it was dispiriting for me to see prices had increased from this year – even though that was expected, given that it happens each year. But the possibilities were also limited in comparison to this year.

The numbers are clear. For instance, juniors this year are paying $12,760 to either live in a two-person studio in City Hall, a four-person double bedroom in Dakota, or a single with a private bath in Mitchell. That same amount of money could also get juniors a room in Munson, JBKO, Guthridge, FSK and Fulbright – if these options were made available to them.

For rising juniors wishing to live on campus, these numbers are frustrating, but we’re not the class being hit hardest by it – that’s the Class of 2018, who are affected by the junior year housing mandate.

The SA should push GW to address these concerns before that class has to live through the unfortunate new policy. If they do, they’ll address a concern that is actively present in the minds of students across campus.

Instead of advocating for student space, propose changes to J Street

Felipe Chiriboga is a sophomore double-majoring in economics and philosophy.

It seems like candidates for top Student Association posts have perpetually based at least part of their platforms on increasing student space.

Now, it’s certainly important for students to have available spaces to hang out, study and host student organization meetings. But candidates should recognize that this problem isn’t caused by a lack of physical space: The spaces are already there but aren’t made attractive to students, so we simply aren’t using them. The solution lies in improving the existing spaces to suit students’ needs.

Instead of putting student space on their platforms, this year’s SA candidates should focus on encouraging GW to rebrand and renovate the existing student spaces on campus.

They should start with J Street.

Hatchet File Photo
Hatchet File Photo

We already know the campus dining venue is overpriced and low-quality, despite GW’s attempts to solve the problems associated with it. The venue is run by food provider Sodexo, and its 10-year contract with the University expires in 2016 – so now’s the time to start brainstorming ways to make J Street more attractive to students.

As the space is now, there’s no rational reason to go there. Sitting down for a meal in J Street is on the verge of socially unacceptable conduct. It’s associated almost exclusively with freshmen and is only used to grab a quick bite to eat out of desperation. Such stereotypes are harmful to both J Street and students. But there are ways to change the dining hall’s reputation.

There have often been attempts to improve J Street, but those have fallen short, and also haven’t had much recent support or involvement from the SA. But just because initiatives haven’t been successful in the past doesn’t mean candidates shouldn’t try this year.

The first step lies in making sure the existing spaces meet students’ needs. For J Street, this includes improving the service and quality of the food, as well as making the cafeteria financially and aesthetically attractive to students.

Appealing to clubs and organizations would be a great way to attract underclassmen. If J Street hosted all-you-can-eat buffet nights, for example, student organizations could attend as groups, bringing their freshman members with them, and sit down for a family-style dinner. Club sports, for instance, could carbo-load before competitions or students could be ensured a hearty meal during finals.

Then, incoming freshmen wouldn’t be so biased against the cafeteria. At first, they’ll be required to eat at J Street because of their meal plan. But if the dining hall is a place they enjoy, and a place they have memories of enjoying with their student group, they might return more often than sophomores and upperclassmen do now, and maybe traditions could even begin.

The student spaces that have been recently created – or are coming soon, like District House – won’t need any branding. The Science and Engineering Hall is brand new and already attractive to students: The building is visually appealing and hosts the necessary amenities for students to study and gather. By making it attractive, the building is now a space students want to utilize – and clearly they want as much access to it as possible.

Students can’t be forced to use these spaces – but they should be drawn to them. GW shouldn’t be satisfied with a “build it and they will come” attitude.

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