GCP Makes Progress With Neighbors
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 02:01
Over the last semester, administrators and neighbors alike have noticed lessening tensions between the two groups, with many crediting the Georgetown Community Partnership for channeling frustration into a productive setting.
“We ask the neighbors [if they see a change] periodically, and the answer is becoming more and more ‘yes,’” Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E Commissioner and Steering Committee Co-Chair Ron Lewis said. “There has been a change and it’s continuing to change.”
Neighbors have responded positively to the creation of a university helpline which residents are able to call 24/7 to address concerns, including complaints of noise violations.
“Now, you see that more neighbors are willing to get that callback … that way, they can be invested in the process,” Safety and Student Life Working Group Member Cody Cowan (SFS ’14) said.
In order to increase neighborhood engagement in university life, the Communications and Engagement Working Group has organized a series of events on campus. Last fall, the group organized a Neighbor Night, which gave neighbors the chance to participate in an on-campus panel discussion about Shakespeare before attending the Georgetown University Theater and Performance Studies’ performance of “Hamlet.” Two more Neighbor Nights are scheduled to occur this spring.
“There seems to be a heightened understanding on campus and in the community of activities that we can enjoy together, so we can spend time together and get to know each other better,” Co-Chair of the Communications and Engagement Working Group Tom Birch said.
“We have really learned that the university and the neighborhood are most effective when we are communicating freely with each other about what the real issues are and being transparent about the complexities,” Associate Vice President for Community Engagement and Strategic Initiatives Lauralyn Lee said.
Composed of university administrators, community leaders and student representatives, the partnership consists of a steering committee and five working groups that focus on specific issues in university-neighborhood relations including student life, safety and transportation.
“As time went on and we got to know each other, we realized we were all interested in the same thing: success and a better relationship and most importantly a quality of life that was good for the community and for the students on campus,” President of the Burleith Citizens Association and a member of the GCP Steering Committee Nan Bell said.
Georgetown University Student Association President and Steering Committee member Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) agreed that the GCP’s creation has facilitated greater dialogue among students, administrators and neighbors.
“It’s really hard to distrust and dislike somebody if you know them. What we saw before [the GCP] was a lot of back and forth rhetoric because students really didn’t understand who the neighbors were and where they were coming from,” Tisa said. “In the long term, if we could really build up those relationships on an individual level, a lot of the neighborhood tensions will diffuse over time.”
As one of the five working groups, the Safety and Student Life Working Group’s primary aim is to move social life on campus. To that end, the group has been responsible for initiating and supporting the removal of the one keg limit for on-campus parties and advanced registration for on-campus parties last year.
“The neighbors wanted the neighborhood to be more quiet, the students wanted an atmosphere on campus where parties were more welcome and the university wanted everyone to be happy,” Cowan said.
The Safety and Student Life Working Group has also aimed to create more transparency in the sanctions process so that students who are written up are able find out what their sanctions, or punishment, are within seven to 10 days of the event’s occurrence. Previously, the process took up to three weeks.
Although the university and the community agree that the GCP has made significant progress, student noise remains a particular concern of Georgetown neighborhood residents.
“Walking and talking at night makes noise. There’s nothing necessarily all that wrong with it, but it is a problem if it becomes disruptive,” Lee said.
Despite the persistence of the noise complaint, neighborhood residents who have not been actively engaged in the partnership have acknowledged the progress that the partnership has spurred.
While student representatives on the GCP are appointed through GUSA, Lee said that GCP will seek greater student involvement across all working groups through the creation of a more formal application process which will debut in February.
“We’re trying to make sure that there is always a formal student voice at the table, but also that that’s informed by broader outreach,” Lee said.
Tisa agreed that increased student participation is critical to the success of the working groups moving forward.
“In the working groups this year we’ve had increased student participation and that’s a long-term goal. It’s really important to have that kind of representation in terms of increasing that neighbor-student connection. We talk about things that we’re facing on campus and the neighbors talk about the way they see it. Usually we’ve found that there’s common ground on almost everything,” Tisa said.