ANC hosts on-campus town hall to boost student engagement

Media Credit: Nick McCrae | Hatchet Photographer

James Harnett, a junior and ANC commissioner, said at a town hall event Wednesday that students should become more involved in local politics.

The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission held its first town hall targeted specifically toward students in the Marvin Center Wednesday evening.

The event was hosted by junior James Harnett and Detrick Campbell – two ANC commissioners – and Jillian Wolons, the Student Association’s vice president for community affairs who acts as a liaison between the ANC and the SA. The trio said they called the meeting to increase student engagement in local politics.

Roughly 30 residents and students attended the town hall to ask the commissioners questions about how students and officials can better interact and work together to promote local initiatives.

Here are three key takeaways of the meeting:

1. Local government is equally as important as federal government
Campbell and Harnett said many students come to D.C. to interact with the federal government, but students should involve themselves in local politics because D.C. is a federal district that can accomplish matters that “normal city councils” can’t address.

“We all feel really motivated to do something, but we don’t really know how to do it,” Harnett said. “Right now, and I think maybe for the foreseeable future, the federal government may not be the most effective place to do that.”

Wolons said students may feel torn between spending their time on either local or federal policy, but the opportunities for involvement are not mutually exclusive.

“You don’t have to settle for one when you can do both, because local issues matter just as much as federal issues matter,” Wolons said.

2. Continuing a positive relationship between students and residents
Leaders said student collaboration with local government is critical to enact change in a neighborhood that deals so heavily with student-neighbor interactions.

Wolons said she was surprised that the SA’s support for the ANC in the spring had a fundamental role in obtaining approval for the construction of a helipad atop the GW Hospital.

“I didn’t realize that students had such an impact,” Wolons said.

Harnett said a plan to bring a four-way crosswalk to the intersection at 23rd and I streets was the direct result of combined student and resident communication with the ANC to bring attention to pedestrian safety concerns.

“These are opportunities for us to engage in and have a conversation about how to make them better,” Harnett said.

3. Finding a voice in local politics
Students in attendance said they feel they don’t have a strong voice in D.C. government because they are from other states. They asked how to become invested in the city when they have only lived in D.C. during their college career.

Campbell, the other ANC commissioner, said student and resident interests often overlap because many students work in D.C., so they are affected by local policies, like the District’s minimum wage.

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have voter registration in D.C.,” Campbell said. “That doesn’t mean that you don’t have a right to speak up and advocate for the things that you want in your community.”

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