Students urge peers to join city politics, boards

Alumnus Asher Corson was taken aback his senior year, when he realized local activists were working on community initiatives for longer than most students even attended GW.

Corson is the last GW student to serve on the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission – which advises the city government on issues concerning residents, like traffic, parks, safety and zoning – after being elected as a senior in 2006. He still holds a seat on the commission and is also president of the Foggy Bottom Association, another neighborhood group.

“As I got to know the residents that lived here permanently, I began to feel a connection beyond just being a student,” he said. “A connection of actually being a member of the community. It sort of shocked me at the time, but I realized that coming to GW, I was actually going to a university that was nested within a community, and I was not going to a university that surrounded a community.”

To encourage students to get more involved beyond campus borders, Corson said he supports a group of District students who have been lobbying their peers since late January to apply to fill vacant city board and committee positions.

Student representation on government commissions would bring their personal and academic expertise to the table, Patrick Kennedy, the president of GW’s chapter of DC Students Speak, said. The group, formed two years ago, gathers college students from across the city to lobby for a student voice in local debates.

“It is really about bringing that GW and student perspective to the [D.C.] Council while trying to get as many people engaged in the process,” Kennedy, a sophomore, said.

Boards with vacancies include the Environmental Planning Commission, the Advisory Committee to the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs and the Commission for National and Community Service, according to a list posted by the D.C. Office of Boards and Commissions.

American University sophomore Michael Panek, president of the city-wide DC Students Speak, said students have a stake in city politics, citing recent legislation, such as campus plans like American’s, which is still pending city approval. The proposal is currently stalled in the D.C. Council and, if passed, will end a $338 parking program for students, which would require students to become city residents in order to register their cars to park near schools.

“If we do not go out and show that we care about having our voice be heard, we will not be considered,” Panek said, adding that students at AU and GW typically do not concern themselves with local politics.

Two students from Georgetown and American Universities were elected to their respective Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in fall 2010.

While many college-related issues end up creating conflict between university administrations and neighbors, Kennedy said students represent a unique constituency because they do not fall under either of those categories.

Even though the student body goes through cycles and does not remain constant, Kennedy said increasing representation throughout city government can “create a better environment” for young people living in D.C.

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