In March, University officials had senior Allison Robbins arrested for protesting in the Marvin Center. At Sunday’s Commencement ceremony, they will honor her for it.
Robbins, along with senior Graham Murphy, will receive the first Manatt-Trachtenberg awards at the May 16 ceremony for “their efforts to inspire social consciousness” at the University. The newly created award is named for University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Manatt.
“I was at Yale for commencement a couple years ago and my son Ben got an award for the purposes articulated in the Manatt-Trachtenberg award, much to his astonishment, because he was a thorn in the side of the administration,” Trachtenberg said last week.
The award honors the two students by giving them a $250 cash prize and engraving their names on a silver plaque. A committee comprised of an administrator, two faculty members, two staff members and two students looked at nominated seniors and referred a list of recommendations to Trachtenberg and Manatt, who selected the final winners.
Trachtenberg said the two leaders have left an indelible impact on the school.
“I may or may not agree with them, but you can’t deny their enthusiasm, their sincerity and their commitment,” he said.
Robbins, a workers’ rights activist, is a member of the Progressive Student Union and has helped to organize marches, rallies and a sit-in at the Marvin Center March 29 where she and ten other students were arrested. Given all the controversy surrounding Robbins’ actions, even she wondered why the University would choose to give her the award.
Murphy, a founder of The Out Crowd, a gay rights advocacy group serving GW and the D.C. area, has also worked on the Student Equal Rights Campaign that was created in response to President Bush’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Murphy ran unsuccessfully for Student Association president last year, placing third in a crowded field of eight candidates.
As a Hatchet columnist, Murphy has been highly critical of Trachtenberg, who he has called an “exhausting figure” that “has left me with a sour taste in my mouth.”
Murphy said his columns for The Hatchet inspired someone to nominate him for the award.
“The person who nominated me I actually don’t know, but they had been reading my column all year in The Hatchet, Googled my name and nominated me,” he said.
Murphy also said it was ironic that the University will honor Robbins with the award.
“I thought Allie was going to get the ‘Pain in the Ass Award’ from the administration,” Murphy said. “I definitely think that she is more worthy than I am for this award.”
Trachtenberg said while he often disagrees with Robbins, the award recognizes student activists.
“I think she’s terrific, but I think she’s wrong in some cases and excessively idealistic in others and under-informed in others,” Trachtenberg said. “But I think she’s a great kid, and I think she is going to reflect well on the University for years to come.”
Members of the PSU said Robbins, who has urged the GW administration to increase pay and benefits for its workers, embodies the spirit of the award.
“I think that she is a perfect fit for the award,” Tim Kaldas, a sophomore member of the PSU said. “She has done an amazing amount of work in an effort to get the students, administration and the University as a whole to understand the plight of GW’s workers.”
When she first heard that she had been nominated for the award, Robbins said she was not sure if she would accept it but ultimately decided to partly because of its cash prize, which she may use to fund the PSU.
“I still feel weird about accepting the award now,” Robbins said. “I just think it’s a little strange that the president of the University and the Board of Trustees, who have been the ones trying to derail my work over the last couple years, are now honoring me with this award.”
-Ryan Holeywell contributed to this report.