An open letter to the newly minted GW class of 2009:
Welcome. Since GW is your chosen institution for higher learning, there’s about a 90 percent likelihood you hail from one of three blue states: Pennsylvania, New York or New Jersey (OK, that’s a bit of a stretch). If you’re in that 10 percent that comes from one of the other 47 insignificant states in the union, well, that state is probably blue, too. If it isn’t, you probably voted for Kerry anyway.
Of course, there are Republicans on campus, and they will make their presence nosily heard during the formative months of your time here. There will be plenty of barbecues, speakers and events. (Like the national GOP, the one here at GW is far better at grassroots organizing than the Dems.)
But make no mistake about it: When you picked GW, you picked a liberal school with a liberal student body that comes from liberal parts of the country, supports liberal causes and generally votes Democratic. And the professors – like most professors nationwide (excluding economics teachers) – are liberal, too. On the whole, you will find yourself surrounded by people like you.
During the fall of my sophomore year, I was taking an upper-level class with a tenured professor, one of our school’s most venerable, and talk turned to an incident in Iraq. Last November, a young marine shot and killed a wounded Iraqi man who was lying on the floor of a mosque in Fallujah. My professor shook his head as he told the story, lamenting the lawlessness of the war and wondering aloud if the marine would ever be brought to justice. He was preaching to the choir: Students used long, convoluted sentences to affirm their condemnation of such a hideous act. They talked a lot about the Geneva Conventions and insisted that there was no excuse whatsoever for what the young fighter had done.
This brought me up short. “Professor,” I said, “you forgot to mention that insurgents have been using this tactic – strapping themselves with explosives, playing dead and then catching a couple of U.S. soldiers by surprise – widely in Fallujah.”
I then asked if anyone had stopped to consider what he or she might have done in this situation? What anyone wished their brother or father or boyfriend would have done? Is no one willing to give this marine a fair shake? When I fell silent, my professor looked at me and thanked me for having the courage to speak up.
This story shouldn’t tell you anything, necessarily, about the marine. (In the end, the military decided he had done nothing wrong.) It shouldn’t tell you anything about Democrats or Republicans. I, as this column will probably illustrate by year’s end, am a registered Democrat. What it illustrates is how easy it is to let your time in the classroom do nothing more than reaffirm what you already believe.
Speaking up in class with a different viewpoint should not be considered courageous. It should be expected.
My challenge to you, dear freshmen, is to check your complacency at the door of every classroom you enter. I make the distinction between conservatives and liberals because this will be much harder for the latter. Right-wingers will be forced to defend their assumptions and their positions by default. Lefties will be told what they want to hear, and will have to dig a little deeper.
Your time at GW should not necessarily change where you stand or what you believe in, but it should broaden your mind and deepen your thinking. Use your years here wisely, so if you ever decide to run for office one day – as so many GW students aspire to do – you can defend your positions not just to people who agree with you, but also to those who do not.
-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.