Tuesday, at One Judiciary Square, room 220, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the D.C. government’s final authority on construction issues, will hear comments from anyone touched by the University’s campus plan. Both the University and the BZA encourage students to come and be heard. Students must exercise their rights and make their feelings known lest they be ignored.
Two options for determining GW’s future await the BZA. The campus plan, in which the University proposes new residence halls and academic buildings for the next ten years, may be approved as it now reads, or it may be revised with suggested changes from the mayor’s Office of Planning. Among those changes, though, is a provision to limit students’ ability to live off-campus wherever they choose.
In order to restrict students’ right to live beyond the campus boundaries, the mayor’s office proposes to change provisions of the D.C. Human Rights law to allow for discrimination in housing based on a person’s status as a student. This scheme – included in OP’s recommendations to the BZA – raises serious moral, legal and constitutional issues. Students are residents and citizens of the District and as such, possess the same rights as anyone else living here. Beyond that, Foggy Bottom and D.C. are fortunate to have captive consumers with disposable incomes, money that makes its way into the hands of government and business. To discriminate against a population that provides a steady sales-tax stream and economic base in a neighborhood that is slowly being overtaken by the business of downtown D.C. is not only shortsighted but just plain wrong.
GW should incorporate as University policy some of the government’s initiatives. Conducting a census of where students live would allow the University to improve student services. Publishing and adhering to an undergraduate enrollment cap would alleviate the overcrowding concerns of students and neighbors. But once government steps in with rigid rules and stern mandates, flexibility and revision become impossible.
Unfortunately, total agreement in a community as large and diverse as Foggy Bottom is an unrealistic goal. Some residents, students and others, do not like some features of the campus plan depending upon their unique situations and individual agendas. But the most important lesson to come of the bitter struggle over the future of GW is that students must take their opinions to the decision-makers with the power to fundamentally affect the quality of life in Foggy Bottom. Students must speak out.