Talia Balakirsky:Student groups need more Sunday meeting space

Updated: Sept. 21, 2015 at 11:30 a.m.

Without a time or place to meet, a student organization doesn’t mean much. Members can’t get to know each other, no one can debate ideas and it’s extremely difficult to plan events. If a student group can’t meet in person, it simply becomes an email chain.

Finding that essential space to meet just got a little bit tougher for student organizations. University officials recently announced that, with the exception of Gelman Library, the Marvin Center and the Science and Engineering Hall, all campus buildings will be closed on Sundays.

GW also updated the hours of the Academic Center – which includes Phillips and Rome Halls – so that students can access the buildings on Sundays. That’s a good start, but even with those buildings open, there still isn’t enough space for students studying and meeting on Sundays. University officials should realize how much this can impact student organizations, and restore the Sunday hours of additional buildings on campus.

Given that students are always busy – whether with school, work or internships – weekends are a valuable time. Sunday is one of the only days student organization leaders can say with confidence that most of the organization’s members will be free. It’s also the day most students spend studying, likely in buildings across campus.

University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said in an email that exceptions to building closures would be made for “students who would require specialty spaces such as labs and studios.” He did not provide further detail on whether exceptions would be made for student organizations.

The change likely has the biggest impact on Greek organizations, who regularly hold meetings on Sundays for chapter or executive boards. And, especially with recruitment approaching in the next few weeks, ample space is even more important.

Already, my sorority has had to move its Sunday workshops to the Marvin Center, likely due to the Sunday building closures. Last year, because of the large amount of space available to students, we were able to meet at different locations across campus. And my sorority is probably one of the lucky ones, since there’s no way every organization or group could meet in Marvin on Sundays.

Ultimately, the buildings that will remain open to students on Sundays simply don’t have enough space for all of the organizations that might want to meet. While Gelman, Marvin, the Science and Engineering Hall and the Academic Center do have spaces for students to gather, it’s tough to imagine they will be able to hold all of the Greek chapters and other student organizations that meet every weekend. Plus, Gelman Library is likely staying open for students to study, not just for meeting space.

Even before the change, securing a meeting space was no easy task. The system operates on a first-come-first-served basis, meaning groups have to compete for the best spaces. But now, the leaders of student organizations that have always met on Sundays will have to compete with more students for less space.

If GW’s decision to cut building hours is connected to the 5 percent budget cuts most departments saw last year, that’s understandable. The money has to come from somewhere, leaving the University with very difficult decisions to make. But students’ involvement in activities outside of the classroom should be one of GW’s biggest concerns — especially given University President Steven Knapp’s recent commitment to improving student life in order to boost GW’s retention rate.

GW has a ton of student organizations, which range from political groups to a snowboard and ski club. Student involvement in extracurriculars is something that the University prides itself on, and it’s not uncommon to hear tour guides announce that there are over 400 student organizations on campus. That’s why it seems strange that there hasn’t been much consideration of how these new changes will affect student groups.

As a freshman, I got involved in a bunch of different student organizations. Soon, my Sundays were jam-packed with club meetings – a routine I’ve learned to embrace. Now, I’m worried that will change.

Meeting on the weekends gives members of student organizations the chance to bond outside of the classroom. But if groups can’t meet on Sundays, it could have real effects on the way they operate, and could even discourage them from trying to meet more often.

In order to maintain the vibrant student life on our campus, we need ample space to organize – and what we’ve been given just won’t cut it.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Gelman Library, the Marvin Center and the Science and Engineering Hall are the only campus buildings open on Sundays. Due to an updated schedule of building hours, Academic Center is also now open. We regret this error.

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