Guest column: Local government shafts students

Students get the shaft from the District of Columbia. There’s no doubt that as a group we’re routinely screwed over by our representatives on every level of government.

In the summer of 1996, Jack Evans, our D.C. councilman, spearheaded the passage of emergency legislation that essentially prevented students from parking our cars on the streets of this ward. We were forever branded as “temporary residents,” unable to receive the rights and privileges of our neighboring “residents” (i.e., parking our cars in the street for more than two hours).

Let’s not forget about the campus plan debacle, when our representatives decided it would be a good idea to stop the University from building academic space for us. Or the District’s restrictions that prevent us from going to the Health and Wellness Center late at night. And then there’s the Metropolitan Police Department, which spends more money cracking down on underage drinking at Marshall’s than it does policing an alarming rise in violent crime.

Even in spending and appropriations, college students are overlooked. For some time now, as the vice chairman of the D.C. Metropolitan-United Student Alliance (D.C. MUSA), I’ve been lobbying for students to receive reduced Metro fares or lower cost “Smart Trip” cards. While the District has extended all sorts of discounts to a potpourri of different “categories” of residents – including public school students, for whom the D.C. Council budgeted for a “Transit Subsidy Program” – college students have gotten jack. Despite the fact that other cities, such as Philadelphia, Cleveland and Atlanta (with fewer students than here in the D.C. area), have built successful subsidy programs and discounts for college students, we have no programs of the sort.

We spend a lot of money in D.C. Whether it’s our parents staying at local hotels when they visit, getting our film developed at Moto Photo, or even purchasing kegs at Riverside Liquors, we contribute a nice hunk of money in sales tax and keep many a local merchant afloat. We deserve to park our cars where everyone else does.

A recent study by students at Georgetown University confirms this. College students contribute much to our D.C. community and neighbors – $1.24 billion in 2000-2001 to be exact. Indeed, colleges in the District area – through wages, purchases of goods, construction, etc. – are one of the largest revenue sources for the District government.

This figure, while substantial, does not even include the quantitative contributions college students make to this community through a variety of activities (e.g. community service, athletic events and social gatherings). Alas, despite all our contributions – economic and otherwise – we still see our friends in MPD busting every party and we still cannot use our Health and Wellness Center past 10 p.m. And, much to my chagrin, we still cannot park on our local streets for more than two hours (unlike my next door neighbor in Columbia Plaza, who pays the same rent as I do).

It’s time we stepped to the plate and told our representatives to represent us.

The Student Association has been working to lobby student issues over the past few months. I’ve had Jack Evans, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey and Foggy Bottom Association President Ron Cocome as my guests at Senate meetings. The goal was to have the trio hear from students about our interests as college students in the community and to reassert our presence in the District so that we are better represented.

In the future, we’ll be having more speakers at our meetings and I’d encourage students to come join us as we lobby our local leaders. The Senate is also currently planning a mixer with local residents to show them students are not inherently evil and that we are more than willing to peacefully co-exist with one another.

I’m pleased to announce that the SA will serve as the host school within the next few months for a District-wide college student meeting with D.C. leaders – from the Mayor to our local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

And we will continue to “quantitatively contribute” to the District through events like the Foggy Bottom Cleanup.

Perhaps, finally, we can put a face on “the college students of today” and work to get our share of the pie – then we can all, together, reap the benefits of working out in Hell-Well after midnight and taking the Metro without getting price gouged.

-The writer, a junior, is SA executive vice president and vice chairman of the D.C. Metropolitan-United Student Alliance.

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