GUSA did something great last week. No, seriously!
The student body’s esteemed representatives released a proposal on Jan. 11. In it, they call on D.C. college and university students to unite to eliminate the city residency requirement that is currently a prerequisite for serving on D.C. Boards and Commissions. As of now, students who aren’t permanent D.C. residents can’t serve on the over 100 boards and commissions that the city relies upon to deal with a myriad of governmental issues. Although the proposal doesn’t sound like much on the surface, it’s a step toward resolving the injustice that has been visited upon D.C.’s college students.
The current situation is a shame. Many college students—who, at 80,000 strong, constitute about ten percent of D.C.’s population—are being disenfranchised just because many change their residency after four years. This isn’t always the case, however, as the Georgetown grads still hanging around Burleith can attest to. It’s ridiculous. If this is the way D.C. is going to treat college students, they might as well issue this questionnaire to other new arrivals: “How long are you planning on staying here? If it’s less than four years, then say goodbye to the ability to serve your local government.” Students are affected by the policies made by the boards and commissions and it’s only right that they should have as equal a say in determining them as any other District resident.
It’s fair to say that the average Georgetown student—or the average student at most D.C. colleges, for that matter—has a greater interest in politics than most other young American scholars. Denizens of the Hilltop are well known for their affinity for Hillternships. Their awkwardly besuited bodies cram the Law Center GUTS bus and fill its stagnant air with chatter about such-and-such politician they “actually saw, like, in real life.” For the most part, congressional internships don’t provide very much in the way of practical political experience. They sound nice on a resume, but the day-to-day work of an intern is pretty far removed from anything of real significance. There’s a lot of answering phone calls from deranged constituents, and at the end of the semester, lucky interns might get a photo and a handshake with the Senator they’ve been serving.
If students had the opportunity to apply for positions on the city’s boards and commissions, a whole new option for gaining political experience would open up. They might actually accomplish something concrete because boards and commissions have judicial authority (read: they can do things). If Hoyas and others could join, they’d be representing the interests of college students, a demographic that is roundly ignored by D.C. policymakers despite comprising a significant portion of the city’s population.
There are over 150 different boards and commissions, according to the Washington City Paper, and many of them have plenty of open seats. They cover a wide range of different issues. For a student interested in public policy, serving as a full member of a D.C. administrative body that addresses an issue of specific interest to them is a perfect way to gain valuable experience. Into urban planning? There’s the Public Space Committee. Criminal policy? That’s what the Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission is for. Not to mention that lots of these seats are paid part-time gigs.
GUSA is taking the right route in approaching the issue. Rather than doing it alone, it’s recruiting the student governments of our fellow universities, including American, George Washington, and Howard. If they all band together effectively and manage to get D.C. policy changed, students will have the opportunity to effect real change in the city that they’ll be calling home for at least a few years.
Sure, “Boards and Commissions” might not sound as slick as “Internship with Fancy Senator,” but students will get the opportunity, at least in one small aspect, to help govern the nation’s capital. That’ll look good on a resume, right?