As a GW alumnus, veteran student government official and former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Foggy Bottom, I feel that I can add a unique perspective to the editorial issued by The GW Hatchet April 7. The staff editorial “Zoning 101” (p. 4) overlooks some key historical facts.
When the GW administration initially proposed the campus plan, the Student Association, The Hatchet and the community were in agreement that the undergraduate population had grown too quickly and, as a result, that the quality and value of a GW education was suffering. The SA and the Hatchet agreed that the University needed to make improved academics and on-campus housing, and not increased enrollment, a priority. However, the GW administration of President Trachtenberg and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz refused to budge on their desire to increase the undergraduate population before addressing other needed improvements.
The city agreed with the students and the community that GW was growing too quickly and that the GW policy not only hurt the quality of life for students but also helped to dissolve the fabric of the community. The U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with the city’s finding. Additionally, the community did not purport to restrict the housing options of any class, as the University now contends in its lawsuit in city court. Freshmen and sophomores have to live “on campus” because GW suggested the regulation in the campus plan and the Board of Zoning Adjustment agreed.
Now GWU claims that students are being discriminated against because the University is not allowed to overcrowd students into GW-owned property in Foggy Bottom. Yet GW fails to mention no student is being denied an apartment in Foggy Bottom, only GW is being denied the opportunity of buying apartment buildings and hotels in Foggy Bottom and converting them into University housing. Students, because of the D.C. Human Rights Act, are free to compete with anyone else for an apartment in Foggy Bottom.
When GW buys, or leases, housing property they then deny a non-student the opportunity of living there. GW is actually discriminating, and has been doing so for decades. Answer me this, if you wanted to live in Foggy Bottom the day after you graduate, could you get a one-year lease in the Dakota? No! Because you are no longer a student that housing is no longer available to you.
So, if GW can buy, lease or take over more residential property in Foggy Bottom, then GW will deny an “outsider” a lease. Foggy Bottom will become an “only students allowed” neighborhood; that is discrimination. If the University wants to cry foul, then it will have to go under the same microscope. To apply the D.C. Human Rights Act to GW students is an insult to those that fought to enact the law.
GW also claims that their academic freedom is threatened. GW can teach whatever they want, wherever they want, but they are not allowed to concentrate too many people in one neighborhood. There is a campus in Virginia. GW can teach students online. The University could let students participate in other study abroad programs. GW can say what it wants to whomever it wishes. It just cannot take over Foggy Bottom.
There is a simple solution to GW’s dilemma – admit fewer freshmen. My graduating class was 1,400 students. We had plenty of class space. Housing was not that big of an issue. We did not have to wait a half-hour to get lunch, and GW was ranked 46th in the nation. If GW lowered its undergraduate population levels, they could automatically surpass the 70 percent threshold required by law and could apply to build another business school building and get the hours at the Health and Wellness Center extended. Do not believe that you are being discriminated against by the city; understand that you are being used by the administration. If you cannot live “on campus,” then get an apartment. Let GW know that they are not above the law, that GW is part of the city and that they must obey the law.
-The writer is a 1995 GW graduate and former Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.