The 2010 Campus Plan debate and a contentious amendment to the D.C. disorderly conduct statute spurred a rise in student activism and involvement in neighborhood and city politics this academic year.
“This year has certainly seen greater student response,” said Colton Malkerson (COL ’13), a Georgetown University Student Association senator and a co-founder of a student activist group called Stop Crime, Not Parties.
The Disorderly Conduct Amendment Act, which went into effect on Feb. 1, made it unlawful for residents to make loud noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., instituting a punishment of up to 90 days in prison and up to a $500 fine.
“It’s definitely something students are angry about,” said Scott Stirrett, chair of DC Students Speak, a student rights advocacy group in the District.
While many students originally feared that the amendment would result in a crackdown on off-campus parties, there have not been many reports of party busts since the order was put into effect.
Stop Crime, Not Parties has a website that allows students to submit complaints about encounters with police and other authorities over noise levels, but Malkerson said that there have not been many cases reported.
According to him, the changes may have incited more of an outrage than was necessary.
“I think a bit of the concern over the noise law was overblown at first,” he said.
Ron Lewis, chair of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, said the amendment was a clarification to the statute — not meant to be purposefully targeted at students.
Even still, Stirrett said he thought that the warm weather and a new school year could usher in greater MPD action on the amendment.
“We think it’s an issue students should be really aware of, especially going into the month of September,” he said.
While not many arrests have been made, the amendment got students thinking about city politics and the role they could play, according to Malkerson. He added that the group had over 50 orders for lawn signs that read “Stop Crimes, Not Parties.”
“We’re just trying to show the neighborhood and surrounding community that students aren’t going to sit idly by anymore,” he said.
The focus of Stop Crimes, Not Parties will shift toward an educational role, as there is not enough student awareness and activism, according to Malkerson.
“A lot of students don’t know necessarily what their rights are,” he said.
Stirrett said the increased interest in DC Students Speak and in the District policies affecting students has been encouraging. The group established a blog in January, which has since received over 10,000 hits. Students also have supported their petition opposing the disorderly conduct amendment and a petition backing the university’s campus plan. According to Stirrett, of the 85,000 students in D.C., 40,000 live in Ward 2, where Georgetown is located.
DC Students Speak is encouraging students to register to vote in D.C. and has put on campus voter drives.
“We encourage students to vote where it affects them the most,” Stirrett said.
Stirrett cited a historic basis for Georgetown students’ activism in D.C., especially in the late 1990s. He said that after a drop-off in participation between 2002 and 2010, students are reviving their involvement. DC Students Speak is looking to capitalize on this interest and facilitate greater student participation in city politics.
Lewis emphasized the positive and important role that students play in neighborhood politics, stating that his experience with student commissioners on the ANC has been positive.
“They have been absolutely terrific,” he said. “It’s perfectly important for student voices to be heard.”
According to Lewis, the community and students have many of the same concerns, such as better space on campus and increased safety.
“I think there are a lot of issues where student interests and the community’s interests are the same,” he said. “There are a number of areas where we can and do work together.”
Adam Mortillaro, co-founder of Stop Crimes, Not Parties and GUSA senate speaker, said he hoped that students and the neighborhood can work together more in the future.
“We live together,” he said. “There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t all get along.”