After Quiet Term, DC Students Speak Seeks Louder Voice
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 02:04
Despite a muted presence on campus this semester, the advocacy group D.C. Students Speak has been making strides toward increased student representation in local politics.
According to Andrew Klemperer (SFS ’13), DCSS co-chair, the Georgetown chapter of the organization has been focused on encouraging students to register to vote in local elections, supporting the university in the 2010 Campus Plan debate and protesting the local noise ordinance, which jails or fines those who make an “unreasonably loud noise” between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
During the last week of February, the organization registered 250 students at Georgetown, American University, The Catholic University of America, The George Washington University and Howard University as D.C. voters.
Describing the voter registration strategy as a “dorm storm,” Klemperer emphasized the importance of having student representation in D.C. politics.
“The reason that student opinions and interests are usually not represented, especially in the local government like the [Advisory Neighborhood Commission], is because students don’t vote,” he said.
According to Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15), who is slated to be co-chair of the Georgetown chapter of DCSS next semester, student votes will be especially important this fall when Georgetown students will likely run for three positions on ANC 2E.
Across the District, DCSS has also focused on protesting political decisions that affect students, such as the D.C. Residential Parking Protection Act, a law that would repeal a special vehicle licensing exception for students.
The new law, which would have required students who live in D.C. and have a car to live in special permit zones, register their cars in D.C., buy D.C. car insurance and obtain D.C. residency and tags, was not instituted in part because DCSS chapters District-wide signed a petition in December.
The petition, which was signed by over 600 students, complained that many students have legitimate reasons to drive, such as commuting to work and tending to medical and family concerns and that legislation singling them out was therefore unjust, . In addition, several DCSS members testified in front of D.C. Council to oppose the act.
Klemperer said that because the university has turned to private negotiations with neighborhood groups to resolve the campus plan debate, student advocacy has played a diminished role in that process.
“This semester has been a little more quiet than we wanted it to be with the campus plan dying down,” Klemperer said.
Georgetown University Students Association Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) added that a change in DCSS leadership this semester may have contributed to its reduced visibility on campus.
“Previously, the president of DCSS was [Scott Stirrett (SFS ’13)], a Georgetown student, and this year it’s [Michael Panek], an American [University] student,” she said. “There’s sharing power between Georgetown and other schools involved.”
Alykhan Merali (SFS ’13), co-chair of the Georgetown chapter of DCSS, said that while the organization has been less focused on the campus plan dispute, it has been active in several other initiatives.
“We may have been a little bit more under the radar because the issues we are pursuing are not as controversial as the campus plan,” Merali said. “However, our goal is to work with all of the issues that affect students in D.C.”
Klemperer added that DCSS will continue to play an active role in the campus plan debate as necessary.
“The campus plan is an important issue for DCSS and for most Georgetown students,” Klemperer said.
According to Panek, the organization has been making strides toward fulfilling its goal of gaining more respect for students in D.C. politics and hopes to continue this trend in the future.
“The fact that city leaders are now reaching out to students, coming to college campuses and cultivating relationships that are so important makes me feel like I’ve been successful,” Panek said.
The organization brought Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, an advocate of ethics reform and government oversight, to speak at Georgetown in January. Wells talked about the unique challenges of the D.C. government and endorsed Georgetown’s position in the campus plan debate.