“Extracurricular activities galore” declares the GW Web site under the heading “About the Student Body.” The site claims that 92 percent of GW undergraduates have either been employed or interned to supplement their coursework. But is that really a number to brag about?
In recruitment efforts, GW lures students with the motto, “Something happens here.” But, what often happens is that students take Mark Twain’s famous words – “I never let my schooling interfere with my education” – to the extreme. As a group, we are not just allowing classes to interfere with our broader education; we are pursuing this life education at the expense of our schooling and ironically, in the process, narrowing the broad experience we seek.
Students are drawn to the opportunities that GW and Washington, D.C., offer, and the result is a campus filled with people that play their “full-time student” roles in their spare time – between internships and other activities.
We’re probably all familiar with peers that come here specifically to use their four years to learn the ins and outs of politics and the D.C. work environment, doing their grunt work a few years before their friends from home. It’s ambitious, motivated and smart; I’d like to think that I have spent three semesters and two summers of my college experience pursuing similar things. But as I reflect on my academic experience, my recurring thought is that maybe we are missing out on some “stuff” in the process.
That “stuff” is academic rigor. There’s probably something to be gained by spending time struggling to understand and explore Kant’s categorical imperative – but because that is something we all lose out on, I can’t say for sure. The academic environment here does not often cater to people that want to just learn for the sake of intellectual curiosity.
Personally, I’ve been intellectually disappointed with various classes I have taken in my seven semesters here. While class content often seems promising at the beginning of the semester, I’ve rarely attended class sessions that have examined the material with the sort of depth that would elevate subject matter from interesting to stimulating. This results, in part, because GW students are driven more by career aspirations than they are by serious intellectual curiosity. We’re a “pre-professional” breed, as a friend of mine once put it.
Consequently, the pervasive attitude is that time in the classroom is seen as a means to an end, the learning process itself is not seen as inherently valuable, and as a result the caliber of class discussion suffers because students would rather spend time on the Hill than the library on H Street.
Professors also perpetuate the problem, perhaps unknowingly. Sensitive lecturers, all too aware that GW students are so busy with future aspirations, are often understanding of this predicament and so this translates into accepting a lot of mediocrity.
At the end of the day this adds up to a place of very average academics. Students and professors understand the value of being in the heart of the nation’s capital and seek to maximize that opportunity. I’m not suggesting that we should neglect this – it is an asset that makes GW a truly unique place – I’m just wondering if perhaps we can try to introduce some level of balance into the environment so we can at least try our hands at Soc. 103 – classical sociology theory – to supplement our career ambitions.
College is supposed to be a testing ground for ideas, a safe place where students can pursue any intellectual question, lose themselves in alternative lifestyles and, most importantly, experiment. If GW is simply a convenient name to adorn a diploma and a venue to sleep at nights in between internships, then perhaps we should be more honest about that. Instead of GWU, perhaps the name should be changed to GWH, the George Washington Hotel.
-The writer is a senior majoring in international affairs.