Andrew Costello: A stronger community doesn’t start with Marvin Center renovations

Read an opposing viewpoint to this piece by opinions writer Zachary Slotkin here.

Throughout my four years at GW, I’ve never thought of the Marvin Center as a place to relax. But soon, it could be.

The University has approved renovations to the first floor of the Marvin Center. The target area – the space from the main lobby to Columbian Square, the dining area adjacent to J Street – will be transformed into an area for lounging and meeting, furnished with chairs and couches. When Student Association President Andie Dowd announced the plans, she said she hoped it will make the space a “living room” for students to use for more than transitory meals or study groups.

This move demonstrates that the SA and University officials are aware that they can do more to help cultivate a great community at GW. However, they’re going about it wastefully, and maybe for the wrong reasons, rather than asking students what they really want.

I am currently in my last semester at GW, and I can hardly imagine how a renovated Marvin Center would create a better community for me and my peers. Practically speaking, these renovations benefit less than half of the undergraduate population – freshmen and some sophomores.

While of course these renovations could be beneficial for some current students, that isn’t the way this issue has been framed. Dowd has said that “renovations could amplify the University’s appeal to prospective students.” Although the goal of creating a student space seems to be sincere on the SA’s part, the University may be on board for a different reason: to attract more students to GW.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new idea. Mike Petron, former chair of the Marvin Center Governing Board, felt the same way.

“When it is all finished, the Marvin Center will be a lot nicer and the school will attract a lot of new people,” Petron said during the Marvin Center’s most recent remodeling in the 1990s.

The University should strive to make spaces functional and enjoyable – and not simply for the potential value that it could yield in enticing high school students to enroll. Our reasons for spending money shouldn’t be that superficial.

Encouraging a comfortable and stimulating environment for students is the right move. But doing it to improve the University’s standing among prospective students is the wrong reason to augment a space. Instead, GW should be doing it because it’s what students have asked for, and it’s where they would like to see their tuition dollars being spent.

Technically, Dowd is the voice of the student body, but this initiative feels disconnected from students. I don’t recall students rallying for renovations to the Marvin Center in the same way that they have for things like making dining affordable or adding sexual assault prevention training.

The University should learn from its past mistakes: The renovations in the Marvin Center of the 1990s created the current layout, but obviously did not have the intended effect of fostering community and improving student life. Exceptional students and incredible faculty make a university great. Fantastic educational facilities, natural and beautiful communal spaces and a thoughtful campus layout foster those types of students and faculty.

As a senior, I’ve never valued my time in the Marvin Center because there is no compelling reason for me to spend much time there. When I go out to grab lunch, the last thought on my mind is to head to J Street – especially without any cash on my GWorld. Without much flow or comfortable seating, the whole first floor exudes a very transitory feeling which leaves me little reason to linger long. Perhaps I would go more frequently and stay longer if I had greater incentives to do so: cheaper food at J Street, better seating or preferably a combination of the two.

While the proposed changes are interesting and could be useful for current students, I think they’re short-sighted in their approach. Simply put, there are better, more concrete issues with the Marvin Center that the SA and the University could be addressing across campus.

When it comes down to it, students are picky about what GW spends its money on. And turning the Marvin Center into a living room, rather than focusing on issues like creating the best possible dining experience, is likely less of a priority for students. Instead, the University should look to students to find out the best way to build community on campus.

Andrew Costello, a senior double-majoring in political science and economics, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.