University President Steven Knapp made big promises to community members Tuesday night during his first appearance at a Foggy Bottom Association meeting.
About 60 Foggy Bottom residents gathered in the basement of St. Stephen Martyr Church to hear the president speak and answer questions from the audience. The FBA, a community organization, has traditionally been critical of GW’s expansion, and Knapp said he cannot change the University’s past relationship with the community.
In a short speech, Knapp stressed the University’s research efforts and his goals for environmental sustainability and community involvement. He then responded to audience concerns.
“I can’t take responsibility for what has been done in the past,” Knapp said in response to a question from ANC 2A chairman L. Asher Corson. “I have to look forward because I’m new.”
Many audience members were particularly concerned about the disruptive effect of student noise in the neighborhood. Past complaints have resulted in the establishment of “Quiet Zones,” and Knapp was eager to assure neighbors that GW was trying to control late-night disturbances.
“I really do think we need to go out of our way to make sure we do everything we can to minimize the impact of students on the community,” Knapp said.
Staff members from GW’s Office of Community Relations and the Dean of Students joined Knapp at the meeting. They addressed several concerns including 4-RIDE being used for transporting drunk students and the recent Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week poster controversy.
Between statements about the recent events, Knapp reiterated that he was a new leader and a new face of the University.
Joy Howell, the president of the Foggy Bottom Association, asked Knapp about the future of the recently approved 20-year Campus Plan. “You’ve heard the term ‘broken promises’ here tonight. Will you commit as the president of the University to following the letter of the campus plan?”
Knapp replied, “Yes,” which was met with applause from the audience.
The Campus Plan lays out the specifics of GW construction for the next two decades and sets a cap on the number of students who can live in Foggy Bottom.
The only disagreement of the night came when Knapp addressed questions from Larry Mrozinski, a member of the Foggy Bottom Association’s Board of Directors. Mrozinski asked Knapp why he had not disciplined the students who put up the fliers protesting Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.
“Instill in these young people that they live in a community and to act civilly,” Mrozinski said.
Knapp denied having ever promised to have a hand in disciplining the students, and said he would abide by the decision of Student Judicial Services.
“We have due process and it’s not responsible for the president to take over when this issue has become a political hot potato,” Knapp said. “I never said I was going to expel anybody.”
Laetitia Combrinck, who has lived near campus for 28 years, spoke about the tumultuous relationship between the Foggy Bottom Association and the University during the administration of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. She predicted that Knapp will have a warmer reception.
“He’s coming at a time when the ideals set maybe 10 to 15 years ago are coming to fruition,” Combrinck said, in regard to the end of fighting with the community over possible construction projects.
Commenting at the end of the question and answer session, 16-year resident of Foggy Bottom Anne Harvey complimented him on his composure.
Harvey said, “He was very low-key but very comprehensive. He was a listener. Hopefully he’ll follow through.”