Student leaders question new policies to monitor off-campus townhouses

Student leaders are calling out University officials for failing to gather enough input before proposing stricter policies to monitor and discipline students who live off campus and disturb Foggy Bottom neighbors.

Student Association President Julia Susuni said GW is overreaching on the proposed policies that come down harder on students who misbehave off campus. Hatchet File Photo

Student Association President Julia Susuni said the policies – which would include collecting the addresses of Greek life members this fall and taking faster disciplinary action against students who disrupt neighbors – “would unfairly encroach upon students’ private lives.”

“After initial conversations about the policy, I was told that many more students would be consulted and followed up with before any action was taken, and I was surprised to hear that the proposed policies were announced to the public,” Susuni said in an email Friday. She declined to speak on the phone.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski announced to a group of Foggy Bottom residents Wednesday that the University will take stronger action against students who throw loud parties off campus, and will set up an online complaint form for the first time for neighbors to report incidents. GW will also try to muscle a law through the D.C. Council to expand the jurisdiction of University Police officers to respond to off-campus calls.

The announcement came after University officials consulted with the top two student leaders: Susuni and SA Vice President Kostas Skordalos. Susuni said she urged Konwerski and other University officials to speak with other members of the Student Association and leaders in the Greek and athlete communities, among others.

Susuni and Skordalos met with members of GW’s Office of Community and Government Relations on Thursday to discuss alternatives to the policies, including direct mediation between students and neighbors.

In an interview Friday, Konwerski explained that the University did not consult with other students prior to the public meeting with Foggy Bottom residents earlier this week because many students were not in the area and “there is something to be said for face to face meetings.”

“It’s hard to do a lot of that outreach when there are students who aren’t here,” Konwerski said. “This isn’t an ideal scenario in terms of timing because most of the conversations with the neighbors were happening after students left for the summer.”

While the policies announced to neighbors Wednesday came with a timeline to implement the changes this month, Konwerski added that there was still room for them to change.

Konwerski stressed Friday that the proposed policies would not be used to target student organizations, including fraternity chapters, but would affect every student living off campus. The University will collect the addresses of fraternity and sorority members living off campus this fall,  and begin the same practice with other student organizations in the spring.

“What we’re going to try to do is make sure that we have complete information for every student,” he said. “We’re actually looking for more information on their individual identification: where are students located?”

Konwerski added that students are already required to provide their D.C. residence while enrolled. The University would take additional steps — through the Greek member registration process in the fall and student organization registration in the spring — to verify that students living off campus have provided a District address.

With that information, the University would be able to better identify which students rack up complaints from neighbors, though Konwerski said he has not given “that much thought” to how GW will use the information.

Several Foggy Bottom residents have blamed University officials for not dealing with students’ disruptive behavior, which many residents associate with sororities and fraternities because they see T-shirts with Greek letters. Those neighbors met with the Office of External Relations in May to hash out their concerns.

Panhellenic Association President Rachael Abram said she would have preferred to discuss the policy proposals with GW officials before they were announced to neighbors.

“We would have appreciated some kind of input, some kind of conversation with the university,” Abram said, who added that while they were not the sole cause of trouble, Greek students living off campus do draw neighbor complaints.

The stricter stance on off-campus parties comes after the University said it would begin requiring students to live on campus for three years instead of two, starting with the Class of 2018 – a move also designed to appease Foggy Bottom residents.

Sen. Omeed Firouzi, U-At-Large, said while he understands neighbors’ concerns, he is “concerned about the lack of student input.”

“The practice of gathering all these off campus addresses appears to be an overreach and I fear that the proposed actions that will be taken will cause a chill among students off campus who just want to have a good time,” he said in an email.

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