Mandatory first-year course won’t solve problems for freshmen

More than 70 percent of students said they would consider taking a class covering topics like Title IX and mental health in their first year. Student Association leaders want the class to teach students about these resources and build community, but extra time in the classroom won’t solve some of the biggest issues freshmen face.

SA President Ashley Le ran on a platform to implement a first-year experience course covering topics like navigating the dining plan and managing time. She issued a survey last semester to gauge interest in the course, finding that 40 percent of first-year students considered transferring at some point during the year because of issues like lack of affordability and community.

Le and officials said the class would teach students how to find community on campus, manage their health and live affordably. But creating a class to address these problems is a feel-good fix with no merit.

Solving community problems cannot be accomplished through a single first-year course. Creating the class will not solve the problem that GW is located in a busy city and will never have the same community feeling as a state school.

If one of the primary intentions of the class is to address a lack of community, it would need to do more than just inform students of opportunities to get involved on campus. The University has already decided to switch from Colonial Inauguration to new student orientation in the fall, which will hold the entire freshman class together at once instead of breaking them up into several sessions. The new orientation model will help build community that a first-year course cannot by giving freshmen a full week to bond before classes begin. Officials should focus on building up its new orientation before they turn their attention to a first-year course.

The University also granted freshmen tap access to all first-year residence halls this semester to foster community in first-year communal spaces. Officials should instead focus on the pilot program and expand it to give all students access to all residence halls. Paying closer attention to programs they already launched would be more productive than mapping out a course that won’t fix the No. 1 reason freshmen want to transfer.

The class also cannot solve affordability issues, which students indicated was the second-biggest reason they considered transferring out of GW. Officials have already launched initiatives that mitigate affordability issues with District Connections, a program that connects freshmen through free events around the District. The program is a tangible initiative the University designed to make attending events around D.C. more affordable for freshmen who are new to a relatively expensive city, and officials could evaluate ways to expand the initiative to all students with more free events.

Former Residence Hall Association President SJ Matthews also began cooking classes in first-year residence halls this fall, giving freshmen pointers on how to cook affordable meals and manage their money on GWorld. Most freshmen do not have kitchens in their residence hall rooms, and the classes show students how to cook in communal kitchens or find nonperishable food items to buy if they do not have a kitchen. Continuing and adding more of these cooking classes would better address affordability concerns and teach students tangible ways to combat food insecurity.

But not every student who considered transferring did so because of community and affordability issues. Concerns like lack of adequate health care could lead students to consider transferring. But the University’s response should not be a first-year course. Officials could instead expand Colonial Health Center services to the Mount Vernon Campus, where about 22 percent of freshmen currently live. Students might also consider transferring for other reasons, like conflicts with roommates or friends, but officials can tackle those problems by better training orientation leaders or resident advisers to help students mitigate potential conflicts.

While officials and students seem to have good intentions for creating a first-year course, officials should focus instead on the initiatives they have already created to address the top reasons students want to leave GW after their first year. Time needed to plan a first-year course would be better spent on evaluating and expanding newly-created resources for freshmen.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, contributing social media director Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Lindsay Paulen.

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