Speaking to an audience still wary of GW from a previous administration, University President Steven Knapp told local residents – in his first speech to the Foggy Bottom community and its FRIENDS organization – that he would be more responsive to their concerns.
The event was one of many stops made by Knapp on his campus-wide “listening tour.” About 90 community members, students, staff and faculty attended the speech and question and answer session, which was held on the top floor of the Elliott School of International Affairs Tuesday night.
Knapp assured those in attendance that he held the relationship between the University and its neighbors in very high regard and referenced his past as a way to look to the future here at GW. Knapp said when he was provost at Johns Hopkins University, he spent time looking into the health of residents in East Baltimore.
“The community has been a very important part of my interest here,” Knapp said.
Many who attended the meeting said Knapp seemed to be moving the University in the right direction in terms of addressing community concerns.
P.A. Morton, a member of FRIENDS, said she felt some were unfairly comparing the new University president to former University president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, but that Knapp had a very positive outlook for the future of GW and its community.
“Under Trachtenberg’s administration so much was done,” Morton said. “They reached the cap – so to say. I’m sure (Knapp) sees that. He has a better understanding of how students and GW and the community interact. He seems like he’s putting himself where his words are.”
Bernard Demczuk, GW’s assistant vice president for D.C. Affairs and a founding member of FRIENDS, said he is excited to work with the new president, and that he will overcome the challenge of keeping the community strong during this transition period.
“There is always room for improving relations with the community. It’s an ongoing struggle,” Demczuk said. “(Knapp) has gone on this listening tour and everyone is very happy about it.”
While most held a positive outlook on Knapp’s relationship with the Foggy Bottom community, some wanted to see the president’s words take action before offering their support.
Steve Timlin, a longtime member of the Foggy Bottom Association, another community organization, and current member of FRIENDS, said Knapp represents a fresh start for Foggy Bottom and University relations.
“I think with Mr. Knapp at the helm, we all have a new start,” Timlin said. “And I think with a new start we have hopes for some improvements. Different people are going to have different ideas about what would be an improvement. But still it’ll be useful to have somebody to bring all these groups together.”
After his speech, Knapp told The Hatchet that this initial meeting with the Foggy Bottom community symbolizes his willingness to be responsive in the future.
“Do I plan to listen? You bet. That was really my message here tonight. I think we really benefit by being guided by what any of us have to say,” Knapp said.
Michael Akin, director of Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs said Knapp has a genuine interest in reaching out to community members.
“Community relations is not just a check-list for him. It’s not something he just has to do. He actually wants to build those relationships,” Akin said.
Knapp also joked about his plans to live in the Alumni House on F Street near Thurston Hall. He said he and his wife Diane have already been planning “counter-pranks” for any local jokesters.