‘I feel so alone’: Students seek spring housing in D.C. despite virtual year

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For many students, poor internet connections and feelings of isolation are pushing them to find housing in D.C.

GW might be online for the academic year, but some students are heading to D.C. for a semblance of campus as they continue remote learning.

More than 10 students said they plan to move to D.C. before the start of the spring semester in hopes of spending time with their friends and living in the city – some for their first time during college. Students said they feel “isolated” studying at home during the pandemic, but moving to the District in the spring could help them overcome difficulties with keeping in touch with friends, focusing and staying motivated.

Sophomore Bethany Sheehan, a public health major living in Lowell, Massachusetts, said officials denied her application for on-campus housing in the fall. Since moving home, Sheehan said she feels she has lost her “independence” and misses the freedom to make her own choices, like buying and preparing her own meals.

“It would be nice to be able to see people instead of being stuck in my house all the time,” she said.

“I feel so alone just being at home and doing all these classes.”

Sheehan, who will reapply for spring on-campus housing, said she plans to search for apartments to rent in the D.C. area in case officials decline her application. She said her friends could motivate each other to remain focused on assignments if they all live together in D.C.

Officials said the 500 students currently living on campus will continue living in their residence halls next semester, and an additional 1,500 students will be granted a housing assignment. Administrators said students will be notified by mid-November if their request for housing is approved, and officials will select the new residents via lottery if the applicant pool exceeds 1,500.

“I wish I had someone who would just motivate me and keep me focused on school when I know I have stuff to do,” Sheehan said. “And I know a lot of my friends have similar problems. They also have trouble with the focus and get distracted when they’re trying to do assignments, and I feel like it’s a big thing that we can help each other out with.”

Sophomore Brianna Hawley, a graphic design major living in New Jersey, said she plans to apply for on-campus housing in the spring in hopes of regaining access to facilities like desktops and printers she can use for schoolwork in the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.

She said she misses the community Corcoran students had at GW before the pandemic when they could collaborate and discuss projects in person after class. Hawley said students now have to work from different time zones and spend up to four-and-a-half hours working on projects via Zoom, but she hopes her move to D.C. will help her access the resources she needs to complete projects.

Students working on capstone projects may receive limited access to the school’s labs and studios if they are approved for on-campus housing.

“As many of us have moved up in our major, we have to take an elective that requires specific equipment, for example, like printmaking or ceramics,” she said. “You can’t really do that at home. So I’m not sure how GW’s going to accommodate in the future.”

Alex Rainey, a freshman from Norfolk, Virginia, and a member of the women’s rowing team, said she applied for housing for the fall but declined offers to live on campus to save money. She said she’s since struggled to cope with poor internet connection and social separation from her new teammates while working from home.

About half of the women’s rowing team is living in Foggy Bottom this fall as the team awaits the start of its season next semester.

Rainey, who hopes to live on campus in the spring, said she’s applying for priority and athletic housing and searching for potential Airbnbs in Arlington, Virginia, if her housing applications are declined.

“I need to be on campus and be with my friends and actually get to know people just because it’s so hard,” she said. “I feel so alone just being at home and doing all these classes.”

Chloe Stemler, a sophomore from Arcata, California, majoring in political science, said she will live in an apartment in Dupont Circle next semester after dealing with internet shutdowns earlier this year amid nearby wildfires that have spread across the West Coast.

Stemler said her family had to disconnect her home Wi-Fi for fire safety precautions, but most of her professors did not respond to her emails explaining why she was unable to submit class assignments online. She said the University should implement a policy that requires professors to accommodate students struggling with internet connectivity.

“For a lot of people that are still living at home, things like that have been happening, and I feel like professors don’t even care,” Stemler said.

She said she has been living in an Airbnb with her freshman year roommate in Evanston, Illinois, for the past few months, but she hopes to return to D.C. to feel more “connected” to the GW community. Stemler said she hopes to get an internship on Capitol Hill in the spring and wants to be in D.C. to have “as normal of an internship as possible.”

“It’s why I chose GW,” she said. “The idea of being anywhere but there for college is just really crappy.”

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