Foggy Bottom neighbors use newfound clout to tame off-campus students

Marina Streznewski has contended with rowdy parties, vandalism, public sex and urination outside her Foggy Bottom home over the last 11 years.

Then the 55-year-old helped organize more than two-dozen neighbors over the last year and prompted GW to respond with plans to better control students – a major breakthrough for Foggy Bottom residents that now has students wondering how neighbors gained such strong sway over GW policies.

The University announced this summer it plans to crack down on students living in off-campus apartments and townhouses. Administrators want to hasten potential disciplinary consequences, verify student addresses and allow neighbors to call attention to specific residences through an online form. GW will also force students to live on campus through their junior year, starting with the Class of 2018.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” Streznewski said, “But after so many years of being dismissed, it was a pleasant surprise to feel that we had really been heard.”

For decades, GW has bought up land in Foggy Bottom and swelled its student body, helping create a neighborhood with more high-end apartments and restaurants but sometimes driving a wedge between itself and neighbors.

Streznewski said the most recent conflict reached a peak last academic year. Multiple townhouses in the Foggy Bottom historic district – which includes parts of 25th, 26th, H and K streets and New Hampshire Avenue – threw large parties on Labor Day last year, culminating in a student tossing a beer can near Streznewski’s husband.

So the neighbors began to step up the pressure on GW to intervene.

They took to a community-run email listserv to air their frustrations about noise, unsanitary sidewalks, excessive trash and marijuana smoke. Kenneth Durham, a long-time Foggy Bottom resident, wrote or contributed to at least a half dozen of those messages.

“Last year was much worse. GW has not adequately educated students to D.C. laws,” Durham said. “I believe they plan to do a much better job this year.”

Neighbors pressed the University mostly through email, hoping their messages would reach past community relations representatives and to administrators who could actually alter policies.

But they also increased their visibility in front of GW’s top brass at multiple meetings this summer, which featured visits from top-level administrators like Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles, Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia Knight and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski.

Neighbors complained at a July 31 meeting that GW was not doing enough to “play hardball” with student misbehavior off campus. “I’ve invested all my savings in my home here, and I won’t let that go away because some kid wants to have a kegger,” resident Daniel Gage said then.

The irritation could be mistaken for vitriol, Streznewski said.

“I think a lot of the students think the neighbors really hate students, and that’s not the case,” Streznewski said. “What we have a problem with is the behavior with those things that interfere with our ability to live in a safe, clean neighborhood where people can sleep at night.”

Daniel Egel-Weiss, second-in-command of the Student Association Senate, said students have expressed outrage at the policies because the administration seemed to craft them without student input.

“When it came to these decisions, I think it’s relatively obvious there was a little more weight given to the voice of the community than to the voice of the students,” Weiss said, adding that the SA is pushing the University to address student concerns before it puts the changes into practice.

Streznewski said the arrival of University President Steven Knapp in 2007 marked a change in community relations. This administration has cultivated a “more productive level of communication” than former President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s, she said, pointing to a meeting last week when residents sat down with members of GW’s campus planning team.

Richard Livingstone, GW’s community relations coordinator, said in an email that the outreach is nothing new: “The University actively engages with members of the Foggy Bottom community and is responsive to all complaints regarding student behavior off-campus.”

But neighbors and administrators said they have seen a noticeable shift from past years when they clashed over off-campus student behavior and noise from construction of academic buildings. Campus development especially drew ire from residents during Trachtenberg’s 19-year tenure.

“As in all family relationships, not everything goes smoothly every single time, and everyone has a cranky cousin who comes to the family reunion and makes life difficult,” Trachtenberg said in an interview.

This post was updated Aug. 22 and 10:41 p.m. to reflect the following:

Correction appended
Due to an editing error, The Hatchet reported that a beer can hit Marina Streznewski’s husband. While the can was thrown at him, he was not hit. We regret this error.

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