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Malfunctioning elevators hinder safety, accessibility, students say

Jordyn Bailer | Assistant Photo Editor
The elevators on the ground floor of Shenkman Hall.

Sophomore Felix Aguto entered an elevator in late February with a dozen students. Having just finished his 9:35 a.m. accounting class in Duques Hall, he was ready for his next class — until the elevator fell six floors.

Dropping and catching itself every few floors, the elevator finally settled halfway below the first floor, trapping everyone. It appeared there was room enough to safely climb out if they could get the doors open. Aguto and a friend tried using their hands to pry open one of the elevator doors before pressing the alarm and emergency call buttons, but maintenance workers did not arrive to help for another 45 minutes.

“We could see the equipment underneath the shaft,” Aguto said. “We were at the bottom of the shaft.”

Aguto said facilities workers repaired the elevator after he left, so he did not submit a complaint or FixIt ticket but continues to use the elevator.

More than a dozen students said they have gotten stuck in elevators in campus buildings like the University Student Center and Duques, Munson, Mitchell and Shenkman halls within the last year for between two and 45 minutes. In the Faculty Senate Physical Facilities and Campus Safety Committee’s annual report last week, members recommended that officials address aging elevators as one of their six budget priorities.

University spokesperson Julia Metjian said GW consistently ensures campus elevators are in “safe, working condition” by performing monthly preventative elevator maintenance in addition to twice-yearly inspections by the D.C. Department of Buildings.

“Student safety is a top priority for the University,” Metjian said. “We consistently ensure that all of our elevators are in safe, working condition.”

Junior Evangeline Sell said she got stuck in an elevator in Mitchell Hall in October 2022 and again in a Munson Hall elevator in late March. Sell said when she lived in Mitchell, she entered an elevator late at night with friends and got stuck for fewer than five minutes before the button started working again, the elevator opening on a random floor.

“All of a sudden, it stopped in between the floors, and it started flashing random lights, and it wouldn’t move, and it wouldn’t open,” Sell said.

Sell said elevators in Munson and Mitchell halls are only fixed when both elevators in each residence hall are out of order.

“I’ve lived in both halls, and it’s been a consistent problem,” Sell said.

In 2013, at least 71 students were trapped in residence hall elevators at GW over the course of the year.

Sophomore Sophia Lindsay, the president of the Disabled Students Collective, said broken elevators can disrupt disabled students’ days because many rely on elevators to attend class and get to their residence hall rooms. She said GW often offers little to no notice on when elevators will undergo maintenance.

“A lot of the times, if they do maintenance on an elevator, or if an elevator is down, they won’t tell us ahead of time at all,” Lindsay said. “They’ll just randomly say, ‘Oh, by the way, this elevator is gonna be out from like noon to 5 p.m.,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, so I was going to need that ahead of time, so I could email my professors to say I won’t be in class today.’”

Lindsay said maintenance workers will shut down elevators for repairs, but students still regularly get trapped in malfunctioning elevators.

She said maintenance workers are not always responsive to calls for service. Students can call an emergency line 24 hours per day and can submit nonemergency repair requests through FixIt.

“A big issue is that if you call maintenance, they’re not responsive,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay said she hopes the student body starts to notice how accessibility issues affect disabled students every day. She said the University should prioritize accessibility because anyone can become disabled.

“This whole issue as a whole is about GW not putting its students first, which it very rarely does, especially the disabled ones,” Lindsay said.

Sophomore Jacob Khabie said he has gotten stuck in University elevators at least three times in the last year. He said in October, he got stuck in a Munson elevator with his community coordinator, who said she would report the incident.

“One of the times the elevators just wouldn’t go down from the eighth floor, one other time it got stuck on the sixth floor, one of the times the elevators just stopped,” Khabie said.

First-year Radha Vinayak said she got stuck in a Lafayette Hall elevator twice during the fall semester and she reported both incidents to her community coordinator, who said they would investigate. She said she got stuck in student center elevators twice, once during the fall semester and once a few weeks ago.

She said the first time she was stuck in the student center, her friend had to pry open the doors to free her and five other people. She said the second time, she pressed the emergency buttons for help but was trapped for more than half an hour until help arrived.

“I was just standing there, and I called some of my friends,” Vinayak said. “I don’t know if my friends brought someone or called someone to come, but somebody did end up coming.”

Fiona Murphy and Rachel Silverman contributed reporting. 

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