This afternoon, the Voice spoke to Associate Vice President of Community Engagement Lauralyn Lee and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ron Lewis about the campus plan, the new Georgetown Community Partnership, and the future of the neighbors’ relationship with the University. We asked you for your questions. Although the phrase “now this part is off the record” was thrown around at least a few times, we managed to get some answers. Here are (some) of the questions asked during the press meeting.
Ron Lewis: The on-campus student life, the idea of a true living and learning community on campus, the various issues with that, are starting to come out very clearly, with room for improvement, places where it could be made a lot more congenial for students and a lot more opportunities for students to socialize on campus and have a welcoming, safe, and physically adequate building space that just doesn’t exist now. [He continued his response, but off the record.]
The GCP is a comprehensive partnership. I expect with student involvement we will talk about every issue that affects what the campus plan is about (current living conditions, current ground rules for off-campus activities, future growth) everything that’s important to the university is equally important to the students and to the surrounding community. We have three years to look at those in great detail in a cooperative way.
Georgetown Patch: In Clara [Gustafson, GUSA President]‘s letter sent to students, she said that student interests weren’t adequately represented during the campus plan process…do you agree with that statement and what do you think about it?
Lauralyn Lee: I can certainly appreciate why it might have felt to the student body that their interests weren’t represented, because I think in the nature of the conversation that resulted in the agreement, and the speed by which it had to happen, it necessitated that we be doing that with the very senior administrators at the university.
That said, I can assure our student body that their interests were constantly considered and very fairly represented. Our Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson was very involved in all parts of the conversation…Our mission is certainly about educating the students…So we think about the interests of the students and the competitive future of the university all the time. The goal here was to move forward towards an agreement that recognizes the shared interests of our communities, both our neighbors and the University. We really have some shared strategic goals, and that’s the real value that we were able to get to an agreement about. Those interests are very consistent with interests that will benefit our students.
The other thing is that we recognize that the nature of the particular negotiation process wasn’t conducive to having students at the table, but that we would ultimately get to the partnership where we really think the rubbers going to hit the road in terms of the work, what real value of building our community, and there we are expecting to have student engagement.
Vox: What do you believe is the biggest GCP challenge?
Lee: I think one of the challenges which I actually view as an opportunity is to begin to think and act like partners. We are transitioning from what was a hostile environment for students…There were yard signs and the community seemed at odds with each other, and that’s a very difficult place for our students to live.
We are asking people, not only the students but also the community members, to change their thinking in a really meaningful way and start treating their neighbors as neighbors and each other as partners and work in that collaborative spirit towards partnership. I think those of us who have already had the opportunity to start doing that have found it tremendously rewarding, and it’s the way in which we want to live.
Patch: Students should have the same rights or priorities because they are temporary residents. What do you say to those people who still feel that students will only be here for four years, why should they be a part of a permanent discussion?
Lewis: I don’t think that’s what the community members were really saying, I heard it a bit differently, even at the height of the controversy…I don’t think they meant to put it in terms of who gets a say [...] I think it was more in the nature of there are landlords who don’t live in the community who extract very high rents and don’t take care of their properties and that this is a long term issue. It was not a conduct issue and it’s really not a student issue. It’s a house that stands out because it’s untended (sic)…the stuff somebody’s absentee landlords do. I don’t think, nobody blames students for whom the University doesn’t have housing, for living where the houses are. The issue with students was off-campus conduct.
Patch: What could neighbors do to be involved in GCP issues?
Lewis: There are plenty of mechanisms to participate. One of them is that everyone from the community who sits on the committee and subgroups will represent an organization (CAG, BCA) those organizations are very active in soliciting the views of the community. They really keep their finger on the pulse.
Vox: For New South Student Center, are you in support of the creation of a pub? What other ways to you see noise reduction on campus?
Lee: That’s an area where we are really going to value student engagement. Nobody can tell us better about what’s desireable for students on campus than students…We’ve said yes to the pub, and there’s nothing to suggest there’s not going to be one. The notion is that there is a lot about a comprehensive living community that goes beyond just a place to drink beer.
We’re really talking about spaces for students to socialize in all kinds of ways at all times of day (and the night), and for places for people to study and learn and have coffee and just have conversations in green space…as well as social venues. We’re very much informed by what sutdents have already told us in the Student Life Report and Hoya Roundtables.
Lewis: I can’t improve on that, I hope the New South will have a great pub. And the people enjoy it, and that the rest of New South will be designed to be very student friendly.
Vox: Why do you insist on making GUTS buses so circuitous?
Lewis: GUTS buses are an important service. We know this. At the same time, they’re so big and they run so frequently and they used to run 24/7 through the residential streets the entire width of Georgetown. The residents who live on those streets live on fragile, old houses that weren’t built to modern construction standards and their houses are shaking. The principle of keeping buses on arterial routes and not residential streets is what drives this, and that is a transportation principle, especially for express buses (the D2, D buses, the G2) run on residential streets, but they also serve every couple of blocks, those streets.
When you add the GUTS buses to that, it probably triples the number of buses and it was just a constant stream of buses past these houses, houses were shaking and its just disruptive. It’s a tradeoff. There’s no arterial street except M Street that runs East-West through Georgetown. So that’s what drives this. Is it a little more circuitous, yes? But I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do to balance all the interests.