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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Perspective: Why I’m fed up with Thurston Hall

As an eager incoming first-year pining for the classic “college experience,” Thurston Hall’s reputation as the “social dorm” was an irresistible draw — continual outings, parties and socials. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

After seven months of living in Thurston, my formerly “quaint” residence hall now resembles more of a jail cell, and I have acquired a deeper understanding of the term “paper-thin walls.”

The newly renovated Thurston is the prized jewel of GW’s Undergraduate Admissions Office. It’s a glimpse at freedom with 16 communal areas, a dining hall in the basement and a penthouse with stunning views. But nowhere do they mention the actual residential spaces, and for good reason.

If you’ve ever seen Harry Potter’s room under the stairs, Thurston dorms make it look spacious. And Harry never even had a roommate. It’s virtually impossible for both you and your roommate to stand vertically without bumping into each other, and mornings in which both of you have class end up looking more like Shibuya Crossing at rush hour.

Granted, tight quarters seemed like the least of my worries when attempting to form new friendships in college. The combination of no parental supervision and a dormitory that houses 820 students was the perfect recipe for a guaranteed good time. Yet, this good time never seemed to end.

When GW renovated Thurston Hall, architecture firm VMDO’s plans specifically noted that the construction would have the “intent to draw students out of their rooms” and into the common areas. The modern designs may appeal to those viewing Thurston from the exterior, like potential students. But the interior has a problem: Thurston’s design places more emphasis on community spaces to the detriment of students’ personal rooms.

With less space in the individual dorms, students are pushed, rather than “drawn,” out of their rooms.

It’s true that there is a communal freshman dorm experience that comes with first-year residence halls, but many of us are at the “been there, done that” stage with our shoebox-sized rooms. Thurston is so communal it would push Karl Marx over the edge.

The renovation resulted in the removal of the south-central portion of five stories of the residence hall in exchange for a greater view of the courtyard. While these tasteful communal spaces are appreciated, both GW and VMDO Architects simply assumed that students would rather spend more time in these areas. Sometimes, it’s necessary to unwind in one’s personal dorm.

Transferring space from individual dorms to common areas reduced personal dorms to single-purpose spaces for sleeping. Any livable environment should provide room to both rest and relax, and maybe even move around two feet in either direction.

More than that, students may need privacy for more urgent matters, like conversations with family members or counselors. With roommates already fighting for time alone within the dorms, and most of the space devoted to the community, finding a space for private matters becomes increasingly difficult.

Sometimes, the best remedy to a busy day of classes is some quality time alone. Yet, spending the majority of the time in group spaces and communal study rooms that always seem to be occupied by masses of other students, Thurston never allows students to forget they are indeed living among 820 other students.

With these cramped spaces, the residence hall soon started to feel more like billionaire Charlie Munger’s plan for a “dormzilla” to house 4,536 students at the University of California, Santa Barbara. For good reason, plans for “dormzilla” were shut down due to countless student petitions over the dorm’s inhumanness. If GW should learn anything from “dormzilla,” it is to consider the effects on individual students over the University.

In comparison to living in Thurston, I felt like I was entering a normal living space when I first visited Potomac House. I was shocked by how narrow the hallways were in comparison to their larger rooms. Wherein Thurston people were constantly drawn to gather outside, Potomac had no available space to gather in the hallway.

There is no mingling in the halls, or constant blaring music in the other dormitories for a reason — unlike Thurston’s larger group spaces, they weren’t built for it.

While the social aspect was an important factor in my decision of dorm selection, I feel more worn out than ever after living in Thurston. Socializing is a positive part of any college experience, but having balance with downtime is equally important. Living in a dorm that forces constant mingling can be exhausting.

It is not that these “social environments” are unwelcome. Students should seek them out. Rather, Thurston’s design doesn’t allow students to choose when they would like a social environment versus time alone.

So here is my experiential-based advice to university designers wherever they may dwell: a vital part of any living environment is to be able to relax and recuperate from busy days. Residential spaces should allow students to recharge their “social battery,” but the compulsive communal experience of Thurston only drains that battery faster.

Madie Turley, a first-year, is an opinions writer.

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