Publication / The Daily Beast
August 21, 2013
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George Washington University’s Housing Horrors

Two interns renting on the D.C. campus were shocked to find mold and water damage in their pricey summer housing. After the university failed to respond, their social-media campaign revealed a web of student nightmares. Miranda Green reports on her Alma Mater.

The George Washington University is constantly listed among the top in the Princeton Review’s list of “dorms like palaces,” a considerable status symbol to many students and a selling point to those who choose to attend. But for two interns leasing space in the school’s dorms this summer, their experience was far from palatial.

Mushrooms in the bathroom, black mold in the showers, and water damage leaking from walls were just a few of the many issues the two non-GW students complained of while staying in graduate-school housing in a building called Aston Hall. The university’s less than hospitable response to requests for room changes, repairs, and cleanings left many residents, who had paid more than $4,000 upfront to live in housing in desirable Foggy Bottom, more than frustrated.

“I am a 23-year-old graduate student who holds a B.A. from a top university. I am smart, and I am capable, yet GW housing reduced me to tears,” Ayla Nejad told The Daily Beast. “I never thought that housing conditions at a reputable university could move me to cry, yet there I was at 3 a.m., hours before my first day interning, laying in my bed exhausted and totally depressed.”

Disgusted by her living situation and fed up with a lack of response from GW, Nejad and her friend Jennifer took to social media in hopes of publically shaming officials into action.

“Ayla and I took to Facebook when I came back from another unproductive meeting [with GW housing authorities] in which I had tried to get a refund,” Jennifer, a 23-year-old Ph.D. candidate who asked that her last name not be used, told The Daily Beast. “I wanted a refund so I could move out of the place early and to make up for all the time, energy, money I had wasted on dealing with housing issues, cleaning things.”

For weeks my roommates and I lived with torn-out walls, plastic-covered flooring, and industrial-size fans blowing at the areas that were moist and couldn’t be fixed till they were dry.

They create a Facebook page called GW Housing Horrors “with the intent of exposing the true state of GW campus housing. Our goal is to bring attention to GW’s blatant negligence and irresponsible housing practices.”

Since it’s creation July 30, it has received 523 likes and multiple photo entries of housing-horror evidence. Comments on the pictures posted range from disgust to sarcasm to thankfulness.

“The quality might not be there, but at least the cost is low!” read one jesting comment.

“You guys are heroes!!! Hope you can get somewhere with this!” read another comment.

Photos posted on the page under the title “The Nicest Hall on Campus?” document the damage the two girls and other fellow residents found during their summer stay.

Many pictures include holes in walls, drywall crumbling, and miscellaneous hairs found in the bathroom when the rooms were supposedly clean.

So far the Facebook page has been effective. After WJLA, D.C.’s ABC news affiliate, aired an exposé on the intern’s revelations, other local papers and online publications like Mashable followed suit. The public-shaming aspect also worked. GW’s dean of student affairs, Peter Konwerski, responded to the WJLA story, saying, “We feel like it’s unacceptable. We want the students to have the best quality experience. We’ve already started to talk to our staff to think about some different ways to do training.”

Nejad was partially refunded for her living experience. She received $350 upfront with a promise of another week’s rent of her total payments due to lag time on fixing her issues. She says her goal in creating the page wasn’t just to get money refunded, but to make others aware of GW’s living situation so that changes would be made.

“I want to stress that the hall I lived in was in disrepair,” she said. “It would have been OK had I lived in a clean, decent room and, let’s say, a lightbulb blew and it took a long time for them to fix. But this was problem after problem.”

But to the GW students who live on campus year-round freshman through, recently extended, junior year, issues with GW housing and repair requests are nothing new. I should know—I went to school there.

For the first semester of my junior year at George Washington University I was all set up to room with three of my closest friends in a suite in one of the newer dorms on campus. On move-in day I opened the front door to a pungent, musky odor of pure mold. A water line had broken, and unbeknownst to the housing facilities crew that had supposedly prepped the space, the carpets and walls were seeping with water. For weeks my roommates and I lived with torn-out walls, plastic-covered flooring, and industrial-size fans blowing at the areas that were moist and couldn’t be fixed till they were dry. We spent most nights at other friends’ dorms, doing anything to escape that moldy smell.

GW’s school newspaper, The GW Hatchet (disclosure, I once worked there), writes numerous stories each year about housing issues full-time students face. Editor in chief Cory Weinberg says it’s hard for the paper to cover the extent of the issues with housing repair requests because of the university’s tight-lipped policy.

“In recent years, students have been pretty frustrated over some aging residence halls and the slow response times for GW employees to respond to maintenance requests,” he said. “We also don’t really know the scope of how GW is responding to maintenance issues, because it refuses to disclose how successful it is in responding to emergency or nonemergency requests. If it was more transparent with its progress, maybe GW students could get a more complete picture on housing and maintenance progress.”

For interns Nejad and Jennifer, they are glad that their time spent living at GW ended in early August, but they may pass the torch of GW Housing Horrors on to full-time GW students through a new Twitter account—all in hopes of continuing to hold GW housing accountable.

“We figured there wouldn’t be enough to constantly post and maintain the Twitter account once we no longer lived there,” they wrote on their Facebook page. “I’m thinking current GW students should set that up! Show how ‘effective’ all of GW’s ‘new’ maintenance practices really are.”