We students often forget the strong influence we have on local politics and on the community beyond the campus gates.
In just under 50 days, Washington, D.C. residents — including many Georgetown students — will go to the polls to elect the District of Columbia’s next mayor.
And while the next mayor will have a long list of important priorities, one important initiative we hope to see implemented is a Mayor’s Task Force on Students in Higher Education.
The task force, originally proposed more than a year and a half ago by Rory Slatko, an American University student, was nearly implemented by the administration of outgoing D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D). The task force would have been composed of student representatives from different universities across the District and was to be responsible for identifying issues facing students in Washington, potential policy solutions and a long-term mechanism for dialogue between students and the city.
While we were encouraged to see a focus on the development of a relationship with university students by the mayor’s office, after 15 months of hard work, the initiative was shut down with no explanation. With the impending election of a new mayor, we are presented with another opportunity to revive this important initiative.
Students and the city need to work together to build this connection. A direct line of communication to the mayor’s office only makes sense. D.C is home to more than 85,000 student residents. Although the student presence in District politics continues to grow through representation on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and activism on issues likes D.C. statehood, this task force is crucial to a strong, working relationship between the city and its university students — both at Georgetown and at other universities across the city.
We face unique problems as students, and those challenges require an innovative partnership between our community and the city. Last year, students created the Georgetown Student Tenant Association, the first of its kind in the District, to help protect the rights of students living off campus.
It’s not just Georgetown University that is being impacted by decisions made in the local political sphere. Students from every university in the District are impacted by unnecessarily adversarial campus planning processes, Advisory Neighborhood Commission redistricting, noise ordinances and other policy concerns.
By failing to enact this task force, the city is diluting its own responsiveness to so many important issues. Why should its liaisons and staff have multiple conversations with student leaders across the District when they could be partaking in a single, coordinated discussion? A single task force on D.C. student issues is the most effective way to enhance our relationship with the city and ensure that our voices are being heard.
For some reason, students are and always have been a flash point in D.C. politics. We’re told we aren’t invested in our communities; yet when we try to be, we’re told that we don’t have a stake. We’re told that we can’t partake because we “don’t vote here” and we “don’t pay taxes here.”
However, the fact of the matter is that D.C. students are an integral part of the Washington, D.C. community. We live here, contribute to the economy and give back to the community in so many ways. We love living in the District, and many of us choose to stay long after our college years.
We encourage the next mayor to implement this Task Force on Higher Education. We aren’t asking to be the city’s priority. We’re asking for a forum to speak to one another, an effective way to communicate directly with the mayor’s office and the ability to improve our neighborhoods and communities.
Trevor Tezel and Omika Jikaria are seniors in the School of Foreign Service. They are president and vice presidnet of the Georgetown University Student Association.