Students vying for the Student Association’s top two posts this year all have the same goal: foster community.
Community-building initiatives – like adding nonacademic spaces or boosting social programming – have emerged on the platforms of every candidate for SA president and executive vice president and a majority of those running for SA Senate seats. Candidates said community has always been lacking on an urban campus, but the issue has rocketed to the top of campaigns this year as more students voice concerns about few social spaces and a controversial University nickname.
“It’s no secret that there really isn’t a sense of school spirit or shared identity among GW students, and I think it’s something that a lot of students wish they had at GW,” Nicole Cennamo, the SA’s vice president for academic affairs and a candidate for SA president, said.
Cennamo said she plans to address the issue by implementing more programming for first-year students, like workshops on budgeting or diversity. Students could collect rewards for participating, which could then be used to attend other free University-sponsored events, like movie showings or a Nationals baseball game.
She also hopes to revamp the fourth floor of the Marvin Center into a student “living room” featuring a TV and board games, giving students a nonacademic setting to interact. The room would mirror student spaces offered at several of GW’s peer schools, including Georgetown and Northeastern universities, she said.
Residence Hall Association President SJ Matthews, a candidate for SA president, said she plans to push officials to give students tap access to all residence halls. The extra access would allow students to use lounge spaces in every residence hall without needing a friend to tap them into the building, she said.
Officials piloted a program this semester granting freshmen tap access to all first-year residence halls.
“By giving students a place to go, whether it’s to hang out with old friends or meet new ones, I think that helps build community,” Matthews said.
SA Sen. ShanTorrian Underwood, CCAS-U and a candidate for SA president, said she wants to develop a pre-college leadership retreat for students of color. Participants would arrive on campus a few days before new student orientation to ask questions about the student experience and meet their peers from similar backgrounds.
“The whole premise of it is that students of color can come together before the school year begins and get to know each other, so when they arrive on campus for the academic year, they have a built-in network of students that they know, trust and can rely on for different resources,” she said.
SA Sen. Amy Martin, ESIA-U and a candidate for SA executive vice president, said she plans to foster community by advocating for more inclusive building names and a new University moniker. Martin said she would push to change the name of the Marvin Center, named for former University President Cloyd Heck Marvin, who was known for segregationist policies.
“It’s great to have these overarching ideas of, ‘We need to be a more inclusive university, blah blah blah,’ but we need to also have the concrete initiatives that will take steps to get us there,” Martin said. “Instituting peer educators, changing the names of buildings – it may seem like insignificant to some, but I think that it builds up to create a bigger change.”
Martin said the Colonials nickname may also hinder community-building efforts because the moniker excludes some groups on campus, like international students and students of native heritage. She said she would push to change the name because “words carry weight.”
Changing the nickname has been an ongoing debate over the past year. More than 500 students signed a petition last spring urging officials to select a new nickname, and students will voice support for or against the effort in a referendum this week.
Quentin McHoes, a candidate for SA executive vice president, said changing the Colonials nickname would also ensure students of several backgrounds and communities “feel welcome” on campus. He said his campaign supports a shift away from the nickname but he would not advocate for the change if a majority of students do not support the effort this week.
“As an African and Native American, I’m intimately familiar with how difficult it can be to feel a genuine sense of inclusion and support from a university that embraces colonialism,” he said.
Some candidates running for SA Senate positions have also included community-building tactics in their platforms. Of the 26 students vying for senate seats, 17 said they have included community initiatives in their platforms, five said they did not and four did not return requests for comment.
Keith Nagy, a freshman running for an undergraduate seat representing the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said he would advocate for the Vern Express to run more frequently so students living on the Mount Vernon Campus feel less isolated from Foggy Bottom. Between Monday and Thursday, the Vex departs from the Foggy Bottom Campus every 15 minutes between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., but he wants the service to leave campus every five minutes during that window.
“You shouldn’t have to choose between a life on the Vern and being an engaged and active student,” he said.
Patrick Burland, a freshman running for a CCAS senate seat, said that if elected, he would advocate for a dining hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus. The University closed Foggy Bottom’s only dining hall in 2016 and switched to an “open” dining plan following years of student complaints about the price and quality of meals offered.
Burland said a dining hall would build community by providing a space separate from study areas for students to socialize while they eat. The University replaced J Street, the old dining hall, with a Panera Bread and installed dozens of new seating options in the Marvin Center last year.
“Food is scientifically and sociologically the No. 1 way that people bond and make friends, so to have a community, we really need places where people can meet up and share a meal together,” he said.