At his first community meeting with Foggy Bottom residents Tuesday night, University President Thomas LeBlanc said he hoped to alleviate campus noise by creating more community spaces in residence halls.
Speaking to FRIENDS, a monthly University-organized meeting with area residents at the School Without Walls, LeBlanc introduced himself to neighbors and community members posed questions about off-campus noise, a long-running frustration in the surrounding neighborhood.
LeBlanc – who lives in F Street House across the street from Thurston Hall – said the issue was personal to him and that he and other officials were searching for ways to add more space for students so they can gather mainly in residence halls and not in off-campus neighborhoods.
“I live right across the street from 1,000 freshmen, so I know exactly what the gentleman is talking about, and right around the corner from those 1,000 freshmen is another 400 freshmen, so I’m very sensitive to that issue,” he said.
LeBlanc said he and his wife Anne would be visible members of their local community.
“We have a tremendous sense of place here in Foggy Bottom,” he said. “We will be seeing you in the neighborhood. We want to be good neighbors, not only as people who live here but as a university.”
Leblanc did not mention any specific plans for neighborhood outreach at the meeting. He said in an interview that he wanted to learn more about the community in Foggy Bottom and build up the University’s relationship with its neighbors.
“I’m still in the learning phase, but I wanted to start by coming out and meeting folks.” he said. “We’ll try to attend other community events and get a feel for the neighborhood at the grassroots level.”
LeBlanc also fielded questions at the meeting about student diversity on campus and access to University resources from Gelman Library.
For years, relations between GW and the surrounding neighborhood were strained as the University continued to expand its Foggy Bottom Campus. During Knapp’s tenure, officials focused on building taller buildings rather than expanding further into Foggy Bottom.
Community organizers who attended the event said they were optimistic that LeBlanc will be able to continue where Knapp left off.
Michael Akin, the president of Link Strategic partners and GW’s former executive director of the Office of Government, International and Community Relations, said the commitment from LeBlanc is key to establishing healthy relations between the community and the University.
“Any time community affairs is one person’s job or one office’s job, it’s only going to be marginally successful, but if it’s a commitment from the top down, you can tell it’s going to be lasting,” he said in an interview.