You’ve met these three before.
One is the girl from who-cares-where in the Northeast, so concerned with designer purses and ridiculous shoes (Uggs, pink rainboots, etc.) that she doesn’t have time to involve herself in anything of substance. Another, the guy who always wants to pick a fight with you because you accidentally looked at him when he was drunk, is too busy planning the next party at some sketchy D.C. club to concern himself with the nature or quality of his education. The third person, represented here by basically everyone else, cares a lot, but most likely about his life, future careers, world issues, D.C. and national politics – just about anything besides what’s going on at GW.
This is the quintessential problem facing GW in terms of student involvement: everyone is either concerned with only the most superficial aspects of their lives, or involves themselves to such great extents in issues external to GW that they end up approaching their experience here as a brief stint of cramming, drinking and socializing. Academic and University concerns, such as the future of the old hospital site (Square 54) and intrusive health and safety inspections, passing interest at best. Most of the time, however, the reaction to such issues is the classic GW apathy.
This is not to imply that GW students are apathetic. On the contrary, most – with the exception of the characters mentioned earlier – care a great deal. It’s just that they care about anything besides campus political issues.
Of course, it’s impossible to generalize about an entire student population. There are diverse interests and diverse people at GW. There is even a small contingent of students who devote themselves to campus life, either through the Residence Hall Association, Student Association or other groups. Even these students, however, often have narrow self-motivated political concerns that hinder the effectiveness of these purported representative bodies of the students. So, for most students, an exploration or concern for GW issues is absent.
I wondered, for instance, why there was so little reaction, beyond the pages of The Hatchet, to the ultimately intrusive – and possibly illegal – confiscations of student property during recent health and safety inspections. Even a meeting I had with an administrator close to the program revealed that relatively few students or parents had lodged complaints after hundreds of rooms had been searched and property seized. GW apathy transforms itself in this case into complacency exhibited by the GW community in the face of such blatant privacy violations.
There are, however, a few issues that surmount the plague of GW apathy. For instance, when something directly affects a great deal of students simultaneously, the affected students rise up to complain in unison.
This phenomenon was evidenced most prominently when The Hatchet reported that the Ellipse was no longer an option for Commencement. University officials reacted swiftly to an outcry from exasperated seniors and attempted to accommodate the recommendations of many students, including the editorial board of this newspaper, by trying to find a site on the National Mall equally as impressive as the Ellipse.
The loss of the Ellipse for graduation is a campus political issue and deserves attention. I just wonder what happened to the campus outcry about ridiculous Aramark labor practices, or where I can find student debate on the lack of foreign language professors.
Because the concerns of GW students are so broad, we often accept cramped classroom situations or big-brother-style treatment from the University bureaucracy, failing to see what goes on in our own homes in favor of focusing on the city or even looking past our four years here to future careers. It doesn’t matter how GW treats its students, professors or workers because after a few years we will be moving on to corporate boardrooms, the State Department or the White House – or so we think.
Perhaps this type of apathy is indicative of every University setting. I have a feeling, though, that the unique location of GW and its intensely focused student population coalesce to engender campus apathy.
It’s all right not to care. If you are comfortable with GW, then go about your business. You will get a quality education, probably a decent job and maybe do your part in the future by sending in an alumni donation. If, however, you think there might just be something on this campus worth caring about, then educate yourself about GW and speak up when something isn’t right. GW students are capable of caring about their community even while they are busy caring about the entire world.
-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet opinions editor.