When I opened my housing assignment before freshman year, dread and confusion came over me when I saw that I would be living on the Mount Vernon Campus. Just attending Colonial Inauguration and preparing for college can be overwhelming, but an unwanted housing assignment on the Vern can intensify stress.
The distance between the Vern and Foggy Bottom was one of the reasons I was hesitant about living on the satellite campus – I thought I would feel isolated. And I wasn’t wrong. But in my experience, the biggest disadvantage isn’t just seclusion from students on the main campus, it’s isolation within the Vern community.
Changing how housing is assigned for students in special programs and improving engagement with freshmen – through programming efforts by student organizations, officials and resident advisors – are steps that should be taken to improve college life for incoming freshmen Vernies.
One of the benefits of living on the Vern can be a close-knit community, which can be harder to find on Foggy Bottom because it’s a larger, more open campus. But academic residential communities housed on the Vern, like the University Honors Program and Women’s Leadership Program, can indirectly isolate students who aren’t part of those academic programs. When living on the Vern my freshman year, I found it hard to form a social circle since I wasn’t part of any of these academic programs. Most people on my floor already knew each other through these programs and I ended up feeling left out. But my experience doesn’t have to be the experience of the freshmen who will live on the Vern this fall.
Residence halls like Somers and West halls on the Vern are a mix of students who are part of academic communities and some who aren’t. Students in these programs go to events and activities exclusive to their groups, helping them build relationships with other freshmen in their program. This can make it difficult to make friends and get to know people if the students in your dorm are regularly interacting without you.
But incoming freshmen shouldn’t be discouraged by housing assignments on the Vern, even if they, like me, aren’t members of particular academic programs. CI can be a great way for freshmen to not only meet other people, but learn more about student organizations that they could potentially get involved in. These organizations can help freshmen find their own community.
The Mount Vernon Programming Council, a student-run organization that tries to foster community on the Vern by planning social and academic programs, should also find ways to create a better, more inclusive community for freshmen. They already hold events like movie and dinner nights, dances and events with games and free food, but these events are targeted toward the general Vern community and aren’t enough to engage students who aren’t part of academic programs. The programming council should go a step further and plan events to specifically engage students who aren’t part of those communities.
But the programming council doesn’t need to do that alone. There should be a continued focus on building relationships among residence hall members throughout the year, and RAs are in the best position to facilitate that with the help of the council. RAs are more aware of the composition of the freshmen in their residence hall, and they can help alleviate the division that is created by having students who are and aren’t involved in academic programs participate in activities together.
The programming council can partner with RAs to create events that bring together freshmen who are part of academic programs as well as those who aren’t. For example, RAs can hold events for students on every floor to get to know one another. Although RAs already do activities like this, such interaction usually happens right at the start of the semester and become increasingly rare as the semester progresses. RAs can plan hiking trips and museum visits for small groups which can encourage people living in the same residence hall, and not in the academic residential communities, to get to know each other better.
It’s also up to officials to improve freshmen’s experiences on the Vern. Although freshmen like and dislike the Vern for a number of reasons, it’s often difficult to isolate the reason students feel dissatisfied with their Vern experience. But in light of my experience, it is logical to assume there are many students who felt the way I did as freshman. Administrators should recognize that housing academic programs on the Vern create divided communities. Another way to address this would be to house all academic programs in one residence hall. Currently, UHP students reside in West Hall, and WLP students reside in Somers Hall. Having all students who are part of the living and learning communities in a single residence hall would reduce the alienation that other students feel.
GW shouldn’t make freshman year more stressful than it needs to be. Most students who live on the Vern aren’t part of these special programs, and the GW community should recognize that and take initiative to make life better for them. Knowing what to expect can hopefully help incoming freshmen who aren’t part of academic programs prepare for life on the Vern.
Shwetha Srinivasan, a senior double majoring in international affairs and economics, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.
Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.