Under pressure from neighborhood residents, the D.C. government is considering whether to veto GW’s future building plans unless the University agrees to cap the number of GW students living in Foggy Bottom at current levels.
That recommendation, by the D.C. Office of Planning, is now being considered by the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment. The American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area and the GW Student Section of the ACLU believe that such a requirement would be discriminatory and unlawful.
Local residents apparently view student residents as having an adverse impact on a neighborhood. This is based on the belief that students are noisy, messy, inconsiderate and don’t take care of the homes in which the live. And no doubt some students act in those ways, but most do not.
The D.C. government would never dream of trying to limit the number of people of a given race, religion, national origin, marital status or sexual orientation who live in a given neighborhood, even if existing residents believed that members of that group were undesirable. Everyone would recognize that such a policy would be illegal and wrong.
Singling out students is no different, as is recognized by the D.C. Human Rights law, which prohibits discrimination in employment, real estate transactions or access to public accommodations based upon a person’s status as a student.
Discrimination against categories of people is not what the zoning laws are supposed to be about. The proper way for the government to address residential misbehavior by students is the same way it addresses residential misbehavior by non-students: by enforcing the relevant D.C. laws against disturbing the peace, littering, drinking in public, excessive noise, etc.
Universities, and their students, bring many advantages to District: employment, intellectual life, culture, tax revenue and more. University students are adults and they should not be treated as second-class citizens.
president of the GW Student Section of the American Civil Liberties Union
-Mary Jane DeFrank
executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area.