When Drew Dushkes (GRD ’16) threw a mid-September housewarming party at his off-campus Georgetown residence, he never expected the night to culminate in Office of Student Conduct summons, the threat of sanctions and a disorderly conduct violation.
Although Dushkes’ lease allows him to have guests on his back patio until 11 p.m., a neighbor called Georgetown’s Student Neighborhood Assistance Program and the party was shut down at 10:46 p.m., leaving Dushkes and his housemates with a disorderly conduct violation on their student records.
“It seems like Georgetown has sort of increased its enforcement this year,” Dushkes said. “I’m not really sure where they draw the line, and therefore, that really restricts my ability to have a student life off campus.”
Since the implementation of the 2010 Campus Plan, off-campus noise violations have come with increasingly stiff punishments and stricter enforcement. The plan, passed in 2012, defined any noise that could be heard over a property line as a noise violation.
Subsequently, off-campus violations have become more severe than on-campus violations. According to the Code of Student Conduct, on-campus violations require “clear and convincing” information for a student to be convicted, while an off-campus violation only requires information that suggests that a violation was “more likely than not.” Off-campus noise violations are also considered disorderly conduct offenses, whereas on-campus noise violations are not.
The Code of Student Conduct also states that off-campus “quiet hours” are between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., while they are between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. on nights preceding classes and between 12 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays on campus.
According to Student Advocacy Office Director Ryan Shymansky (COL ’16), the SAO has processed at least 30 noise violations since October, the majority of which were first-time violations. Around 60 to 70 percent of the violations occurred in West Georgetown and the remainder occurred in Burleith.
“I think my biggest gripe — and the biggest gripe that I’ve heard from students — with our current off-campus noise policy is really how draconian a first offense actually is,” Shymansky wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“When SNAP is stopping at houses because five roommates are playing music from an iPhone in their kitchen — and yes, this really has happened multiple times this year — then it starts to have an enormously stifling effect on neighborhood life,” Shymansky wrote.
The Office of Student Conduct reserves the right to impose a disorderly conduct violation and can also impose some combination of a $50 fine, five work sanction hours, an educational paper, a six-week property party restriction and disciplinary probation.
Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson said that the university has not increased its enforcement of noise policies in the past year.
“The university has taken noise issues in local neighborhoods seriously for the past several years, and our approach to enforcement is very similar this year to the approach last year,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Office of Student Conduct Associate Director Adam Fountaine, who is responsible for off-campus concerns and violations, said the 2013 revision to the Code of Student Conduct intended to simplify the rules.
“A few years ago, we had different ‘categories’ of violations and a lot of procedural information within the Code,” Fountaine wrote in an email to The Hoya. “However, we received feedback that the categories were confusing and the procedural information was a little dense. So, we removed the categories and created separate procedural documents to streamline the code into how it looks today.”
The Office of Neighborhood Life formed in the summer of 2013 to facilitate and improve relationships between the university, students and the surrounding community.
The ONL also coordinates SNAP, which responds to calls received from neighborhood residents on the Georgetown University Community Helpline. SNAP provides reports to both the Office of Student Conduct and the ONL every Monday morning about the weekend’s incidents and violations. The OSC then decides whether the report merits disciplinary process.
According to Shymansky, the SAO acknowledges that these new policies may be hard to understand, and offers support to students going through the adjudication process after a violation. It works closely with the Office of Student Conduct, the Office of Residential Living and the ONL to push for administrative changes when necessary.
“Our job is to help the process make sense because the whole adjudication system can seem pretty opaque,” Shymansky said.
The SAO has worked for several months on potential solutions to the discrepancy between on- and off-campus noise violations. Shymansky said he hopes to present on potential reforms this month to the Georgetown Community Partnership, a forum for discussion created after the 2010 Campus Plan.
“The Code of Conduct … is not a system of policing objectionable noise, it’s a system of policing noise, period,” Shymansky said. “You have people unable to invite friends over — I’m talking small gatherings of maybe five friends — without the fear of coming into contact with the university.”
A senior in the College, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had firsthand experience with the noise policy. During the summer of 2014, SNAP broke up the student’s Fourth of July party at his off-campus townhouse. The student later received a conduct violation.
“It was strange because there was no one living next to us, and no one living on the other side of us either, so there was really no one who could give a noise complaint,” he said. “Basically, we were really just at the mercy of a car going around the neighborhood searching out the window for noise. It was a pretty rough situation.”
The Office of Student Conduct stands behind the differences between on- and off-campus noise and evidentiary standards.
According to Shymansky, although there has not been an uptick in enforcement, SNAP has increased its amount of proactive stops, in which patrollers check on houses regardless of whether they received a complaint.
“We recognize that excessive noise experienced on-campus may have a less significant impact on a student’s lifestyle than it would on a professional or family’s lifestyle off-campus,” Fountaine wrote in in email to The Hoya.
However, Shymansky said there must be more continuity in the way on- and off-campus students are treated under the Code of Student Conduct. He said that the best course of action is to bring the university’s standards more in line with the standards set by District law, where there needs to be a reasonable disturbance to merit disciplinary action.
“Off-campus enforcement needs to be done in a way so that we allow students to exist as residents of the neighborhood where they can have friends over without having to worry about a car with an orange light on top of it pulling up outside their house,” Shymansky said.
Dushkes said the university must better help students understand the potential punishments for a noise violation and how those punishments are determined.
“There needs to be very clear policies in place, essentially making students aware that policy exists and what the potential consequences are,” Dushkes said. “I don’t feel that is happening.”
The senior said the university needs to stop the policy of “more likely than not” when it comes to off-campus noise.
“You’re just assumed guilty, and that starts out the moment that SNAP gets into their cars, and it’s from the moment that the university lays out a policy like [objectionable noise],” the senior said.
Dushkes agreed with the need for policy reform.
“There needs to be a clearer policy in place. That’s all I want, a clear, transparent process,” Dushkes said.