While the majority of the student body drained off-campus soon after final exams were finished last May, a certain duo were just getting into the swing of things. GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS’13) and vice president Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS’13) spent the summer hard at work on developing the Campus Plan and other aspects of their campaign to make the campus a more welcoming space for students.
Despite the numerous challenges over the past year to create a Campus Plan that appealed to students, administration, and neighbors, Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount insisted that the revamped agreement over the summer “allowed more leverage in certain areas to create change in terms of student conduct, which will hopefully be one of the big focuses this year.”
Working on plans for the New South Student Center was one of their major priorities, as they met with architects to create a floor plan with the promise of an ideal gathering space. Emphasizing the need to “stay vigilant and involved with the design process,” the GUSA executive brought up ideas that would have staying power with students of all ages.
The concept of a terrace that extended from the pub out onto the Potomac for students of drinking age was one of those ideas, though “there was some resistance to that from the administration.” Persisting for the implementation of the terrace, however, the two stressed the “need to have something unique” for older students so they don’t just stick with the Tombs staple. For the younger demographic, the GUSA executive suggested having 18-plus nights so everyone can benefit from the communal space. Overall, the vision for a student center that “reflected the character of Georgetown” was the primary issue in meetings with architects that enabled student feedback.
In addition to working on a plan for the New South student center, Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount recently finished writing the SAFE transitions report and began collaborating with the administration to realize their own suggestions for the program. One idea entitled, “Safe Spaces,” would be closely linked to residence life in that it would provide for a peer on each floor to be “trained in the different sorts of resources that are available to students who encounter bias-related problems or simply an uncomfortable situation they want to talk about.” This would provide an alternative to confronting a Resident Assistant who, as an authority figure, might be more intimidating to talk to than a peer. Having this supplementary resource as an option would, Clara and Vail believe, “be a way to educate more people about these issues and add to the safety net that already exists at Georgetown.”
Some of the changes that the GUSA executive originally promoted are already in place at the university. The incorporation of food trucks and Zipcars onto campus is a visible part of the campus plan’s positive modifications to student life. Though Clara and Vail weren’t involved in writing the contracts for these services, they “strongly advocated for those two things to be part of the Campus Plan, since it’s in the neighbors’ and students’ common interests to make the campus a more vibrant area for social life” – neighbors want students off their streets and students want more attractions on campus. Food trucks on Thursday through Saturday nights provides a medium to support the ANC’s efforts to bring students back on campus. Similarly, Zipcars make transition on and off campus more convenient for students and simultaneously complies with the neighbors’ demands to discourage cars on campus.
Still, Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount emphasized that there is always room for improvement, expressing the hope that “students can vote for what food trucks they’d like to bring to campus in the future.” Depending on whether the food trucks prove to be popular enough in the next few months, the administration may recognize this as a “lucrative possibility” and allow a greater variety of food trucks next semester.
In the coming semester, the two plan to keep working on projects started over the summer as well as a number of points on their original agenda. Sustainability is one of the main priorities, starting with oversight and implementation of the SIPS fund effort and solar panels on townhouses. Additionally, having an outside review of the Student Code of Conduct system with the consideration of personal student accounts in the coming month is another prime concern for creating a more collaborative relationship between students and administration.
Reflecting on all they’ve accomplished in the short time they’ve had in their term, Clara and Vail were optimistic about their ability to change the negative perception of GUSA by bringing a “spirit of openness to student government.” Confident in their ability to make GUSA an advocate of change, they insisted on having “the power to navigate the jungles of red tape to identify what needs to change.”