As far as GW Housing knows, one freshman will live with her aunt in suburban Maryland next academic year.
The rising sophomore said she tracked down a family member living in Rockville, Md. to submit documentation showing she would commute 45 minutes to campus every day from the relative’s home. But truthfully, she’ll be living just off campus in an apartment with friends.
She is one of more than 10 students who said they have sent in false documentation or fabricated personal excuses to secure an exemption from the on-campus housing requirement next academic year. The students, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution from the University, said the rising cost of dated residence halls degrades the quality of on-campus living and encourages students to seek off-campus housing options.
GW accepts six criteria for students to avoid the on-campus mandate – which lasts through junior year – ranging from living with a relative in off-campus housing to religious excuses. The students said they aren’t afraid to submit false information to the University because it’s relatively easy to deceive housing officials.
“It’s a lot about the price and it’s nicer to be off campus.”
The freshman said she wanted to secure off-campus housing because students living on campus often don’t land their requested residence hall.
“GW is very easy – they just want to be able to check off a box,” she said of the exemption forms. “You could basically send anything in.”
Seth Weinshel, the assistant dean of housing and financial services, said staff reviews the housing exemption requests – which were due March 2 – to determine if the excuses are adequate before approving them. He said if a student submits a request that doesn’t include proper documentation, a staff member will reach out to the student for further information.
“Each year we review requests and consider each carefully, as we understand that a student’s family residence or living circumstances may change,” Weinshel said in an email.
Falsifying documents to obtain a housing exemption is a violation of the Code of Student Conduct, he added. The code prohibits students from “furnishing false information to the University,” an offense that can led to “disciplinary probation,” barring students from participating in “privileged or extracurricular institutional activities.”
Weinshel declined to say how many freshmen and sophomores submitted waivers to live off campus next academic year, how officials verify that students submit accurate information about their housing situation and how many cases there have been in which the housing office has encountered false documents from students attempting to live off campus.
The University mandated in 2013 that all undergraduate students live on campus through their junior year – but current students said housing exemptions are fairly easy to receive, saying it only takes a water or internet bill from a home nearby to be exempted. Rising juniors can also enter a lottery to live off-campus before they fill out the annual housing application.
Students qualify for an on-campus housing exemption if they are a commuter student or resident of Foggy Bottom, according to the GW Housing website. The policy also allows married, veteran and disabled students to live off campus, as well as students with religious beliefs that “cannot be accommodated within the residence hall living environment.”
One freshman said she received a housing exemption for next academic year when she told the University that she is a Buddhist – although she is not – and needs to burn incense in her room, knowing the practice is prohibited under the University housing policy.
Another freshman said she falsely claimed to be living with a nearby relative to avoid the housing mandate because she did not want to purchase the new dining plan. Officials recently announced that they would increase the amount of dining dollars students are allocated each year – especially for those living without a residence hall kitchen – amid worries that students weren’t receiving enough money for dining.
“It’s a lot about the price and it’s nicer to be off campus,” she said. “My parents obviously want what’s cheaper, and I know people who already live off campus and they’ve told me good things about it.”
Several students said given the recent hike in housing and dining costs – which are automatically included in room and board fees – off-campus housing is more financially feasible because students can split dining and rental fees with their roommates.
“The apartments we were looking at were so much nicer than dorms – also, we wouldn’t be under the careful eye.”
Residence hall fees rose for the next academic year, raising the price of all residence halls across campus by about $400.
One student had her off-campus housing application rejected after she and her friends submitted a doctored utility bill from a friend’s nearby relative. They each typed their own names and information on the bill using Photoshop, she said.
“Unfortunately, upon review of your documents as well as those submitted by others, it has been brought to our attention that the documents that were submitted have been falsified,” a housing employee said in an email to the student, which was obtained by The Hatchet.
The employee did not mention any repercussions for fabricating the documents in the email. The student said the University didn’t take any disciplinary measures against her.
The student said she wanted to live off campus because an off-campus apartment would cost about $3,000 less than living in a residence hall – if she lived in the Residences on the Avenue, an off-campus apartment complex on I Street, with three friends.
“If it’s cheaper, why not?” she said. “The apartments we were looking at were so much nicer than dorms – also, we wouldn’t be under the careful eye.”
This article appeared in the April 9, 2018 issue of the Hatchet.