Student Advisory Neighborhood Commissions members fight for student, campus rights

With ongoing battles at Georgetown and American universities over campus expansion, two undergraduate students are in the mix as elected officials, trying to make a better name for students in often-strained university and community relations.

Georgetown University sophomore Jake Sticka and American University freshman Deon Jones were elected last fall to serve on their respective Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. GW – which is continuing to implement a 20-year campus plan – has no student representative to voice student opinions on its ANC.

Sticka and Jones, both 19, said they want to give students a voice at ANC meetings, where neighbors often vilify students as loud, rowdy and a nuisance to the neighborhood. Recently, a neighbor in Georgetown said Georgetown University has turned the area into a “student ghetto.”

“I think a lot of the rhetoric that we hear from neighbors is that students aren’t part of the community,” Sticka said. “I don’t think that’s fair at all.”

Both Sticka and Jones said they are supportive of their respective university campus plans, and made it clear that administrators don’t influence their decisions on the ANC.

“For me what it’s really about is representing student interests,” Sticka said.

When it comes to representing students and neighbors, Jones said he sees himself as being “right in the middle.”

He said he understands the neighbors who don’t want to lose value in their property.

“I think as far as expansion, the good outweighs the bad,” Jones said of AU’s campus plan. He said the development of AU can help increase the university’s national appeal.

Jones said his campaign helped bring awareness to the ANC, and he plans to tackle issues like noise violations.

“We’re here for four years and it really becomes your home,” Jones said of D.C. college students and why their voices should be represented on the neighborhood comissions.

Even if students are represented on the ANC, Sticka said students’ voices are diluted by the way ANC districts are gerrymandered. Single-member districts of ANCs typically represent about 2,000 people, though Sticka said his district – ANC 2E – includes 6,000 students. His seat, however, has been safely held by a Georgetown University student since 1996.

At AU, Jones represents the southern half of his campus and residential area, while another commissioner represents the north side. GW’s Mount Vernon Campus is represented by a different member of ANC 3D as well.

In Foggy Bottom, GW’s campus is split among three single-member districts out of the six in ANC 2A, none of which are represented by GW students. While Sticka and Jones advocate for student desires at their local neighborhood meetings, in Foggy Bottom few GW students, if any, are in attendance when neighbors bring up problems with student behavior or other issues.

Asher Corson, a current commissioner of ANC 2A and Foggy Bottom Association president, was GW’s last student to serve on the ANC. He was first elected in 2006 during his senior year.

Though he’s an alumnus, Corson oftentimes sides with residents against GW initiatives. Despite his position against the University in some instances, he said he is supportive of student participation.

“I think it would be great to see [students] at ANC meetings,” he said. “I think students are only given GW’s perspective… it’s an opportunity to hear the neighborhood’s perspective on issues.”

While students don’t often voice their opinions at ANC meetings, GW officials have a continuing dialogue with the ANC over implementation of campus plans. Recent projects under discussion include the new Science and Engineering Complex and Law Learning Center.

The University also holds its own public meetings with residents in a group known as FRIENDS. When the University was attempting to pass its 20-year campus plan, it started a student-run group to help voice student approval over projects without students needing to be elected officials. The group – Campaign GW – is still in operation today.

Britany Waddell, director of Community Relations, said everyone in the GW community is encouraged to attend these meetings, and students are encouraged to be engaged members of the community.

She said off-campus issues “can best be addressed through open dialogue with all interested and involved parties, including students and neighborhood groups.”

AU will present a draft of its campus plan to Jones’ ANC Feb. 2. There will be an opportunity for public comment for the plan Feb. 9. On Feb. 22, Jones and the other commissioner representing part of AU, Tom Smith, will have a townhall meeting about the plan.

The next step for Sticka’s ANC is working on an internal report addressing the campus plan, and Sticka said at its Feb. 28 meeting the ANC is expected to pass a resolution about the plan that will be sent to the Board of Zoning.

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