Thursday, February 21, 2008

Getting Real Down -- but also Dirty -- with GW Housing Programs

I'm laughing right now, literally.

And no, it's not out of a twisted sense of schadenfreude. It's just because what the Hatchet said something today that genuinely amuses me. I mean, they usually raise most people's ire on this blog, but this time my mouth only spurted cackling waves of glee.

It was when I read the news that GW will be discounting beds in certain dorms for incoming freshmen. Now ordinarily, this wouldn't seem funny, because it is related to cost issues for the University, and I do recognize that it is part of President Knapp's initiative to ease the burden of a $52,000 tuition bill on students.

However, can we PLEASE read between the lines here? It is true that this would be a good financial incentive, but regard this with a very careful eye and notice that the beds that will get these lower price tags are to be found in two places. What two places? Let's ask the Hatchet!
Currently, the least-expensive rooms at GW are in Thurston Hall where rooms with four, five or six occupants cost about $8,000 per resident. Starting next semester, the least-expensive tier of housing will cost $6,520. This price will apply to doubles and singles in Cole, Clark, Merriweather and Hensley Halls on Mount Vernon; suites in 2034 G Street; and quads, five-person and six-person rooms in Thurston.
That is really unsurprising. The first in this list is a residence hall that can literally be described as no more than a building falling apart from inside. You might think, then, how is it such a popular (dare I say coveted?) housing option? Well that is due to people who, in wishing oh so desperately to participate in the culture of vice, willingly deprive themselves of reasonable living standards. The person who lives at the end of my floor and wears obnoxiously large Gucci sunglasses inside, Ugg boots, and an elaborately constructed Dolce jacket while obsessing over his/her BlackBerry, well, you get the point. It's for that social butterfly who is learning early on how to survive in DC. But his/her carefully cultivated, perfect image does not mean that Thurston is not disgusting in the physical sense.

Proof? Here is a picture of the ceiling above my shower!

The second place in this list is never really a choice made by students for precisely the opposite reason - it is not readily desirable due to its isolated location away from goods and services. I remember a girl last semester very fondly from my UW class who wrote of having to move her computer and her clothes between her room and her friend's room in Mitchell on Foggy Bottom constantly to accommodate the fact that her personal domain was in Hensley on the Vern while her classes were found a mile down the road. She spoke of it as an example of "living on the edge" to fit the theme of our class (bohemian city life / counterculture studies).

The point is that even if this is a great incentive for prospective freshmen to attend the University as part of their continuing education, the reduction of the costs for housing occurred in the worst housing options. And I am not claiming that this is outwardly bad in any sense - in fact, I think that it is pretty transparent and it reveals that if you desire either comfort or convenience (or both), then you should probably not choose to live in either Thurston or on the Vern (although in the case of the Vern, many people tend to just get stuck there, like the person I referenced). It just makes a lot of sense to me that the University would reduce the cost of the worst housing options (the first in terms of comfort, the second in terms of convenience). And if prospective students don't notice this connection that is so apparently obvious to me when they complete their housing applications, then they may make a decision they could regret soon after that application is submitted.

I think I regret my choice...look at my ceiling. And by the way, what you see is the good version - last semester it was completely rotting and we had to call maintenance no less than 10 times. My roommate starting getting sick because of the mold, and I don't think that GW Housing Programs was very happy when Max McGowen was calling them continuously.

In reflecting on my choice, I have truly realized that living in Thurston or the Vern really does constitute "living on the edge", as my former classmate framed it. For a University that charges its students $52,000 per year for tuition (and I'm not going to go on a rant on that like so many people, I already know it is a bad situation), my housing...does not measure up. So I think that its great that GW is going to reduce the cost of Thurston and the Vern.

It makes perfect sense: they are unsatisfactory options and therefore should be underpriced rather than overpriced.

But I'm not totally shocked to hear the father of a prospective freshmen failing to read between the lines and take into consideration what I am saying. The Hatchet quotes Jim Lynn on how he views the housing options for his son, Joe:
Joe's father Jim said that while he would prefer his son not live in a room with five other people, the significantly reduced cost of some beds may be enough to persuade his son to live in a more crowded room.

"The cheaper the better … If it's a big enough price difference, then yeah …" he said.
Really, Jim? I hate being cliché as much as the next person, but really, be careful what you wish for.

Parents: your hypothetical eased financial burden may translate into that dreadful and loathsome mold for your son or daughter. Or a painfully unmanageable parallel existence -- one on Foxhall Road, another in Foggy Bottom. Either way, not too great of a deal.

The point is that everyone should be conscious of the prices of housing - but also why those prices are what they are. There are consequences to these choices, and those are really the things prospective freshmen and their parents must be aware of.


Emily said...

While I get that these aren't choice dorms, as effectively illustrated by the leaky ceiling picture, it's still worth noting that the price reduction is still a huge improvement.
This is Knapp's first year and already he's reduced the occupancy of residence halls throughout campus and now he's lowered the cost of some freshman housing options by thousands of dollars per person.
No, he didn't start with the best freshman housing options, and he shouldn't have.
DC housing is expensive. GW is expensive. At least Knapp's starting somewhere. We should at least commend him for that.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I read your post with great interest. I'm the parent of a freshman who landed in Thurston, and it was miserable. She's made the best of a bad situation but she's literally been counting the days until the end of the year. Unfortunately, she just got her housing assignment today and it was awful -- instead of the quad she requested in a good dorm, she got a double in Potomac. Is there anything you can do about lousy housing assignments, other than scream?

Anonymous said...

so i am a student who just got in and is getting ready to submit his housing application...i would really appreciate some feedback on all the freshman residence halls if possible...or which is the best one or most relaxed etc

Susan said...

Hello there Emily!

I was very fortunate to have come across your article while looking at REAL student opinions of dorms. I, like the student above me, have been admitted for the Fall term. I was going to stick with Thurston, but it seems that that might not be such a good idea... What dorms would you recommend, if you don't mind answering?