Students who live on GW’s Foggy Bottom campus may have a hard time imagining a congenial relationship with local residents after years of strained town-gown relations.
Battles between students and Foggy Bottom residents’ associations over the New Hall, the health and wellness center and even the Advisory Neighborhood Commission elections have contributed to the tense relations in the neighborhood.
But at GW’s Mount Vernon campus, it’s a different story.
Last summer, residents of the Foxhall and Palisades neighborhoods participated in a Fourth of July celebration in the middle of Mount Vernon’s soccer field. They gathered their picnic lunches and blankets, and sat down to watch fireworks. They talked and watched their children play games with Mount Vernon students. The event was just one example of the close relationship between area residents and students at GW’s newest campus.
Mount Vernon Executive Dean Grae Baxter, who also serves as a liaison to Mount Vernon community, says a host of reasons contribute to the friendly relationship the campus has with its neighbors.
She said the most obvious distinction between the campus on Foxhall Road and the one in Foggy Bottoms is size. Less than two hundred students live at Mount Vernon.
“We have a naturally easier situation here,” Baxter said.
For example, parking always has been a point of contention between Foggy Bottom residents and GW students.
But at Mount Vernon, most students park on campus so neighbors of the school rarely have problems with students’ cars blocking driveways or houses.
“Mount Vernon, in contrast (with Foggy Bottom), operates entirely within its own campus and sticks to its historical mission of fitting into the neighborhood,” said Bob Andrew, president of the Foxhall residents’ association.
Fitting in, Andrew said, has a lot to do with the fact that the area residents and students “know each other socially.”
A large part of this social connection is Mount Vernon’s swimming and tennis club, which is open to the public in the summer. Baxter said she believes inviting area residents to use the school’s facilities links the campus to its community.
“People even come and walk their dogs here,” she said.
Much of the credit for the relationship between Mount Vernon and its neighbors belongs to Baxter, members of the community said.
Maureen van Emmerik, the Foxhall residents’ association treasurer, said Baxter has worked with the community, even gathering names of students who are available to baby-sit.
“There is a foundation of good relations that has been laid over the years, and (Baxter) is really taking advantage of it,” she said.
Palisades Citizen’s Association President Penny Pagano said the traditional aspect of the school’s community relations also is important.
“There was a tradition years ago when Mount Vernon had fireworks on the Fourth of July. The University had fireworks and a picnic this year on the third, and all the neighbors came with their kids. It was very nice to see that they have looked back at how it was living around Mount Vernon a few years ago,” she said.
Van Emmerik said GW’s expansion is another reason relations are more confrontational in the University’s downtown location.
“Students are moving off of the campus and pretty much taking over the neighborhood,” van Emmerik said.
In Foggy Bottom, a large number of students live in rental properties in the neighborhood. When students’ neighbors have complaints about their behavior, they often are routed directly to the University.
Andrew said his policy on living near off-campus students is somewhat different from that of Foggy Bottom residents.
“I view the students as young adults,” he said. “When you treat young people as adults, you deal with them . as peers.”
Andrew said he would not hesitate to call the police in cases of noise problems or contact landlords to report other problems.
“You don’t have to call the University and raise hell. There are better ways of handling situations like that,” Andrew said. “Almost all the Mount Vernon students living in the neighborhood are graduate students, and there is a very different relationship between them and their neighbors than you probably have in Foggy Bottom.”
Van Emmerik cited the architectural differences between Foggy Bottom and GW as another situation that would produce tension. GW’s construction of high-rise buildings has generated debate in the Foggy Bottom community, but van Emmerik does not expect similar problems at Mount Vernon, even with GW’s acquisition of the school.
“GW at Mount Vernon plans to stay self-contained, and that’s a very important part of preserving our relationship with the college,” van Emmerik said.