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Serving the GW Community since 1904

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Freshmen dorms: The ‘Zoo,’ the Vern and everything in between

Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor
Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

No two residence halls at GW are the same. Whether you’re moving into a room at the heart of the legendary freshman “Zoo” or you’re on a hillside far removed from Foggy Bottom, here’s what you’ll love — and what will take some getting used to — at your first-year home.

Potomac House 2021 F St. NW
Though the two-person spaces in Potomac can be tight, sophomore Mackenzie Fusco, who lived in Potomac her freshman year, said that the modern residence hall is cleaner and less worn than other freshman residence halls.

“It’s probably the nicest freshman dorm, the one in the best condition,” she said.

Fusco added that her room in Potomac was a quiet space where she could sleep undisturbed after a night out. It’s within walking distance of the Thurston party scene and located right next to Carvings, a late-night deli where students can pick up some greasy snacks before stumbling back to their rooms.

But Fusco said that building a community within the 379-student building can be a hit-or-miss situation, depending on residents’ neighbors and resident advisors.

“It really varies from floor to floor,” she said. “On the floor above me, everyone knew each other and went out together all the time whereas on my floor, I saw people on move-out day that I had never seen before.”

But sophomore Supriya Mazumdar said that she met most of her freshman year friends on her floor in Potomac because residents would leave their doors open and spend time in common areas outside the elevators.

“We could go in and out of rooms and we had a Secret Santa on the top floor,” she said. “By the end of the year I knew everyone.”

Madison Hall 736 22nd St. NW
One of the smaller dorms, Madison’s low-key vibe is what made it stand out for incoming freshman Theresa Ranni.

“I’m kind of a quieter person and I wasn’t looking for that stereotypical college experience,” Ranni said. “I wasn’t looking for that party scene. I was looking for a place where I could actually study and sleep and think.”

And though it’s farther removed from the action at the other freshman dorms, Ranni, who has already spoken to some of her future neighbors, said she is anticipating that Madison will still be a social dorm.

“I’m expecting sort of like a family feel from the hallway,” she said. “I’m on the Facebook page and everyone’s posting on it like, ‘Let’s get to know each other.’ I love the sense of camaraderie I’m getting.”

Madison was built in 1945 and some of its features are worn — like an elevator that’s prone to breakdowns — but its older feel is what appealed to incoming freshman Maura Fallon.

“It was just kind of like a welcoming, homey atmosphere,” she said. “I know a lot of people really like modern and clean, but [Madison is] lived-in. It’s real. It’s been there for a while.”

Madison makes up for its dated decor and appliances with spacious rooms, which Fallon said was important for her. Each two or four-person room has its own bathroom and even in a quad, you won’t feel suffocated by your roommates.

Thurston Hall 1900 F St. NW
When upperclassmen look back on their year-long stint in Thurston, it’s probably with an air of nostalgia and nausea.

Thurston, which houses more than 1,000 freshmen on the corner of 19th and F streets, is notorious because there’s a rumor Playboy called it the country’s most sexually active dorm (the publication never actually ran the piece).

But after new residents settle in, it may grow on you. Keep an open-door policy and you’re guaranteed a visitor, whether it’s your neighbor asking to borrow your GWorld or a new friend wondering if you’d like anything from 7/11 — which is around the corner and open 24 hours a day.

Even if you’re hesitant about living somewhere nicknamed “The Zoo,” you’ll soon find friends within Thurston’s (very thin) walls, between cramming for midterms in the basement or waiting for your Domino’s order in the lobby.

Embrace the chaos with a sense of humor and a good pair of headphones, and by May, you’ll be sad to see how quickly the year goes by.

Mitchell Hall 514 19th St. NW
The move to exclusively house freshmen in Mitchell Hall means that even if you aren’t thrilled about living in a single, there are 350 fresh faces just an open door away.

While the chance to live with one to five strangers may seem like a loss for someone itching to make friends fast, the perks to living alone are aplenty: Mitchell residents don’t have to deal with “lights out” rules or conversations about hook-ups in close quarters, and they can decorate their space (and keep it as clean) as they want.

Mitchell is around the corner from The Elliott School, and there’s a convenient hallway to the ground floor’s 24-hour 7-Eleven.

The Mount Vernon Campus
For Sarah Chase, a junior who lived in West Hall her freshman year, the common areas on the Mount Vernon Campus — from the dorm kitchens and Pelham Commons dining hall to the outdoor pool and soccer fields — are where she met her closest friends.

“I actually think because you are isolated on this island, you can have a really, really strong community,” she said. “You’ll probably spend a lot more time on the Vern so having a community who is on the Vern, who you can have movie nights with, is important.”

But she said that the added privacy of dorms like West Hall, which allows students to live in singles joined by a common area, can also make socializing more difficult for some students.

“It can be challenging. It’s hard if you’re an introvert,” she said, but added that “if you put yourself out there, you’re going to be absolutely fine.”

Junior Kelsey Magill, who was originally placed in Merriweather Hall her freshman year, said that the 43-person hillside dorm felt small, but also allowed its residents to form close bonds.

“You get to know the people you’re living with very well,” she said. “A lot of people coming into Merriweather, it wasn’t their first choice by any means. Give it a chance and get to know the people in your hall because they’re all kind of in the same situation.

Magill later switched into Somers Hall, where she preferred the bigger renovated rooms and proximity to the Vern Express stop — although she said the inconvenient Vex commute meant that the Vern could be pretty quiet on a Saturday night.

“There aren’t a lot of cons, except for your typical Vern cons of being on the satellite campus and not being where your classes are,” Magill said.

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