After decades of tense relationships with the University, many of the neighborhood’s top activists believed last fall that things would be different this academic year.
GW had made big promises: an online complaint form, a collection of students’ off-campus addresses and a three-year on-campus housing mandate starting with the Class of 2018.
But since then, many of the neighbors now say relations with students next door have remained just as sour since GW pulled back on some of its plans to crack down on rowdy students off campus, and other ideas – like the online complaint form – failed to catch on.
“It’s very frustrating because we’ve talked and talked and I’ve had many conversations with students. It seems there is a fundamental lack of understanding,” said Marina Streznewski, president of the Foggy Bottom Association. “We were here before GW got so big – we own houses and pay property taxes and it is not unreasonable that we want to sleep.”
Just months earlier, the decade-long resident said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the University’s plans after neighbors’ demands for stricter policies regulating off campus conduct went unanswered for years.
She said neighbors now are “sick and tired” of the boisterous parties that they have tried to report to GW and the Metropolitan Police Department, as well as knocking on the doors of noisy students.
Many have started to mobilize on an email listserv, made plans to start flooding GW’s complaint hotline with calls whenever a party starts, and sent emails about “drunken hooligans” roaming the streets late at night, throwing noisy parties and leaving trash on the sidewalks.
Some landlords tried charging $100 fines for noise complaints.
For students in multiple houses on the edge of campus, their neighbors’ frustration has been channeled through threatening notes, “vigilante” patrols of the neighborhood, expletive-filled exchanges in their backyards – and for at least five students, being placed on probation by the University.
While students rarely go on probation for behavior off campus, said Andrew Goretsky, the director of off-campus student affairs, a house of students landed on probation last week for holding loud parties in their off-campus townhouse.
One student who has recently landed on probation, who requested anonymity, said a neighbor walked by his house at the start of D.C.’s mandated quiet hours and threatened them for hosting loud parties. He added that another neighbor yelled at them for grilling outdoors during the day.
“They can call in whatever they want and we’re forced to explain ourselves when most complaints don’t have any validity,” the student said.
Relationships between neighbors and the University as a whole have deteriorated since the 19-year tenure of former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who pushed massive campus development projects that left neighbors feeling pushed aside. University President Steven Knapp, who holds fall block parties and spring barbecues for neighbors, has received a better reception from most neighbors.
Robert Vogt, who has lived on 24th and I streets for more than four decades, said he thinks communication between neighbors and the University has improved since he came to Foggy Bottom, but doesn’t see an easy answer to quelling neighbor concerns.
“The students think that this is their campus and the people that live here think that this is their community,” he said. “I think we have reached a point where I don’t think we will ever solve the problem. We can only work towards a solution.”
– Benjamin Kershner contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the April 7, 2014 issue of the Hatchet.