Students at GW constantly complain about the lack of traditions here – the kind of traditions that elicit pride at many other colleges and universities. While some schools have traditions handed down over the many decades, GW has mail-order traditions.
A hippo was never part of GW lore until a few years ago when it made the corner of H and 21st streets its home and administrators tried to make a “tradition” of rubbing its snout for good luck. Pre-fabricated gates seem to pop up in different sections of campus when no one is looking and Presto! a new tradition is born. However, that’s not the way traditions and GW history are created.
In a recent four-part series on the history of the GW basketball program, GW Hatchet writer David Holt focused on a part of the GW experience with which nearly everyone has had some connection or interaction. GW alumni have responded with their own memories of what they consider the “greatest game ever” or the best GW team. It was the first time many students saw that the GW men’s basketball program has a history well beyond Coach Tom Penders and former head coach Mike Jarvis.
But there is more to GW history than hoops. How many students know that GW was the site of numerous riots and “people power” protests during the Vietnam War era? How many know of professors, who are still here, who were in the midst of negotiations with the protesters? How many know about the rows of town houses that used to line the street where the 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. complex now stands? Or what about what life was like at 1900 F St. before it became the residence of more than 1,000 freshmen?
A familiar catch phrase is that GW was an unknown commuter school before the 1980s, but that is not true. The history and traditions are there; people just need to take the time to look into them. Gelman Library houses material dating back to the earliest days of GW’s existence. Yet how many people actually go there and look through the collections? What GW needs is not more ready-made gates and commemorative signs and plaques; it needs to know more about itself.