GW students have an odd habit of popping up all over D.C. From Congressional offices to the hippest clubs, we help to keep this sometimes-stodgy town vibrant and fresh. If the District’s tantalizing cultural institutions aren’t enough to draw students into the city, GW helps students to engage the city through adjunct professors who also work as professionals in their fields and classes that require field trips to exhibits or performances.
The distractions of urban life, coupled with an administrative system that appears to place student interests below money-making ventures, results in GW students voting with their feet when it comes to where they want to be. Unfortunately, more and more of them are pounding down escalator steps into the Metro rather than into Lisner Auditorium for a performance.
Campus culture suffers when students spend so much of their time and energy off campus. Support for student-run events dwindles, as evidenced by poor attendance to many on-campus events (with the exception of political speakers). This lack of student interest in GW happenings is reflected by seemingly low school spirit, a spirit that is only visible when the men’s basketball team does well. Student loyalties lie with D.C. and not GW. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
A lack of support for student events can’t simply be credited to a dearth of Student Association funding, which goes well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The bulk of the blame for a lack of cohesive campus culture rests with the University. From the first day a prospective student looks at GW to the day he or she walks across the stage at graduation, the main selling point of the school is its location within the District. Starting at Colonial Inauguration, students are heavily encouraged to take advantage of what the city has to offer, demonstrated by fall kickoff events like SASS in the City and the 101 things to do list on the myGW Web portal.
Of course the University and its students ought to get out into the city and revel in the cultural wonders here. However, the District of Columbia is not a substitute for a thriving campus culture, as GW may like students to believe. The lack of a student-only space on campus highlights University administrators’ half-hearted commitment to students.
The Marvin Center – excuse me, the Cafritz Conference Center in the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center and University Conferences – devotes limited space to student use. Student organizations tiptoe through a labyrinth of paperwork to reserve space, hold events and even have office space (frequently shared with one, if not two other groups). Wrapped tightly in the clutches of the commercial ventures of the University, the Marvin Center therefore has limited operating hours, strict food contracts with food service giants and a gentleman who informs large groups of students to break it up because they’re not allowed to meet on couches and chairs.
If the Marvin Center is a physical representation of a lack of commitment to students, the spate of new buildings erected in the past few years embodies the institutionalization and commercialization of GW. The Elliott School of International Affairs building, the new business school building and Ivory Tower are all beautiful, but they are sterile constructions. More and more of these sleek buildings host events unrelated to the students of this school.
By opening more of these spaces to students and their vast organizations, especially at off hours, GW could begin to encourage students to make “things happen here.” More University support, and not simply in the form of fistfuls of dollars, could help bolster school spirit. In particular, University offices should use their power to publicize big- and small- name events alike.
D.C. is a rich city, flush with an orgy of cultural wealth and highly educated individuals. Though there may be plenty here to keep students busy, GW needs to start bringing people back to campus. Otherwise, these few city blocks will merely become a pit stop for class and a nap for thousands of students.
-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs and political science, is a Hatchet columnist.