More than 93 percent of students voted against the proposed satellite residence in a referendum on the GUSA ballot Thursday, which student leaders hailed as a resounding statement of opposition to off-campus housing.
The referendum, which asked students, “Do you support a satellite residential campus for Georgetown undergraduates?” received a total of 2,966 votes, with 2,746 students voting against the university’s proposal. The vote does not carry any legislative authority.
Georgetown University Student Association President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) said the referendum results leave no question where students stand on a satellite residence.
“Tonight’s referendum is an overwhelming mandate from the student body. It’s time to take the satellite campus off the table so we can focus on the on-campus options that make the master planning process work for students,” Tisa said.
Although the university administration has said it would take the referendum results into account, Associate Vice President for Community Engagement Lauralyn Lee declined to comment Wednesday on what degree of dissent might sway university planning.
“I don’t think we look at this as a win-lose situation,” Lee said. “The way we really look at it is that there are lots of ways to get student input. This is one of them, and we’ll pay attention to what the results are, but I don’t think we have a threshold for anything other than we’re just going to evaluate it as one of many voices that we’re hearing.”
Student body referendums are required to reach a 2,000-vote minimum to be considered valid, a threshold this referendum crossed by 10 a.m. Thursday. Polls opened at 10:35 p.m. Wednesday and closed at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
“One Georgetown, One Campus” campaign Co-Director and GUSA Chief of Staff Zach Singer (SFS ’15) said the turnout to weigh in on the satellite residence was encouraging. Thursday’s ballot also featured GUSA senate elections, results for which are expected later today.
“We’re more than excited that the turnout exceeded the last referendum. The more student voices that stand behind the results the better, because we’re really trying to engage dialogue and student input to the issue,” Singer said.
The university plans to conduct a housing survey in October. Although details of the survey are not clear, Lee said survey questions will seek students’ location and design preferences for on-campus and off-campus housing.
“The purpose is for us to get broad input from students maybe who haven’t had an opportunity to participate with us in some way and those who have to be able to tell us what they’re interested in in housing. It’s another way in which we are attempting to engage and get input from students,” Lee said.
In fall 2012, 2,629 students voted in support of changing the Code of Student Conduct’s evidentiary standard for disciplinary violations from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing. A semester earlier, 2,463 students voted on the Student Activities and Fee Endowment reform proposals.
Instead of calling for a referendum within the GUSA senate, the “One Georgetown, One Campus” campaign gathered petition signatures from the student body beginning Sept. 9. Within three hours, campaign organizers gathered more than 400 signatures, enough to qualify for a referendum.
The Hoya first reported that the university was considering establishing a satellite residence Sept. 8. Administrators responded the following day, stressing that a satellite residence was one of multiple options being considered.
Soon after launching, the “One Georgetown, One Campus” campaign released a list of five proposed on-campus alternatives to a satellite residential campus, including Leavey Hotel and Conference Center and Kober-Cogan, which have been considered by the university in the past, and St. Mary’s Hall and new modular apartments, which had never been publicly discussed. Last week, administrators began holding open forums to solicit student feedback on housing options.
The satellite residence is among options being considered by the university to meet the requirement of housing 385 additional undergraduates by fall 2015, as outlined in the 2010 Campus Plan agreement.
Areas under consideration include Clarendon, Va., a town three miles away, as well as a site near Capitol Hill and a location north of campus on Wisconsin Avenue.
Tisa said the referendum outcome should redirect administrative planning.
“In order for the campus plan to work, the university needs to incentivize off-campus students to move on campus. You do that by targeting the over 2,700 students who voted against the satellite campus tonight. You do that by building on-campus housing,” he said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson told The Hoya at the beginning of September that only a few hundred students need to be interested in the option for it to be worthwhile.
“Even if most students don’t like the option, to be blunt and crass about it, most students don’t need to live there,” Olson said at the time.
GUSA Vice President Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) rejected the suggestion that the 198 students who voted in favor of the satellite residence offer sufficient support for the proposal.
“I don’t think you can conclusively say 198 students voting ‘yes’ makes satellite housing a good idea and that those 198 students would be the ones moving there tomorrow. I think that’s the basis the administration has been going on with so far,” Ramadan said. “My question for the administration is if they truly want to incentive students activities back on campus, why wouldn’t they start targeting the other 2,700 students and ask them what changes they want to see?”
“One Georgetown, One Campus” campaign Co-Director Rose Lauricella (MSB ’14) agreed with Ramadan.
“I’m happy that students who voted in favor of the off-campus options voiced their opinion, but the fact the university doesn’t prohibit living off campus and that students can find much cheaper off-campus housing in those areas on their own show that a university satellite housing isn’t necessary,” Lauricella said.
Though the referendum results will not lead to any concrete policy changes, Ramadan hopes they will offer student leaders leverage in discussions with administrators.
“The students have spoken loud and clear. We will be able to present the hard stats to the university that this is not something we should be focusing our attention on,” he said.