The proposed venue change for GW’s spring Commencement ceremony has provoked heated student sentiment this semester, and incited one of the most united activist movements on campus in recent memory.
“This is an even more united fight than last year’s fight against the tuition increase,” said Student Association undergraduate Sen. Patrick Macmanus (at large), who is spearheading the Senate’s efforts to keep the event on the Ellipse.
“Last spring, there were some people who said, `Mommy and Daddy are paying for my tuition, I can come back to GW even with the 6.9 percent (increase).’ And there were others who couldn’t – and they were fighting it,” Macmanus said.
But now students are raising their voices to save what many say should be a “priority” of the administration – a unified ceremony on the Ellipse – as a committee appointed last month by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg examines the financial demands of Commencement weekend.
Across campus, grassroots movements led by students who are not usually vocal on campus issues are sprouting up.
Students packed a Funger Hall auditorium during a SA-sponsored town hall meeting Tuesday night to emphasize their opposition to potential plans to move the ceremony to the MCI Center.
The Student Alliance for the Ellipse (SAFE) was founded when five seniors began discussing Commencement during dinner with a professor at T.G.I. Friday’s. The group met a few days later and embarked on a campaign they describe as “information-based.”
SAFE members say they hope the group will serve as a conduit between administrators and students, letting each side know where the other stands on the Commencement move.
“Our plan of attack is information,” SAFE member Kate Kennedy said.
Group members say they hope to schedule a meeting with Trachtenberg in the next few weeks. The group says it wants to relay students’ concerns and ask questions about the administration’s priorities and its reasoning during their conversation with Trachtenberg.
“Maybe there’s something they’re just not telling us about why they want to move the event to the MCI Center,” said SAFE member and SA Executive Vice President Tony Sayegh.
Sayegh compared the Commencement issue to last year’s tuition hike, when he said student leaders were not given sufficient information about the increase until the decision to increase tuition was made.
“Before we put ourselves in a position like that again, we want all the information,” Sayegh said.
In another grassroots effort, senior Gayle Crispin began collecting signatures on a petition when she heard the administration was considering a change of location.
“I knew the administration was considering moving the graduation site, and I went to the last three graduations including the one that got rained out,” Crispin said.
Crispin said she started the petition Nov. 11 and two days later, “I got e-mail from 50 people . random people from the Philippine Cultural Society, the Muslim Student Association – a really diverse group of people is concerned by this.”
“It’s not just another thing we’re complaining about. Alumni have contacted me . It’s such a special thing and to turn it into a corporate event would be a terrible mistake,” Crispin said.
Crispin presented the signed petition, with more than 800 signatures, at Tuesday’s town hall meeting, and said she will join forces with SAFE to ensure that students’ voices are heard.
Students can also add input to the discussion by sending an e-mail to SAFE at ellipse@gwis2. SAFE member Brandon Thomas said e-mail messages the group receives will be introduced during SAFE’s meeting with Trachtenberg as evidence of students’ opposition to the move to the MCI Center.
SAFE’s Web site (http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~ellipse) provides students with information about the progress of the issue.
“People keep coming to us and saying, `Just tell me what I can do!’ ” Kennedy said. “Of everything we do here, there’s one thing that’s all our own – Commencement. For two hours, it’s all about us.”
-Monique L. Harding contributed to this report.