Diana Kugel: Unmasking GW

The just-planted flowers are in full bloom, and the recently retouched paint is glistening on the railings. It must be that time of year again: April visit days, when GW puts on its Sunday best in an effort to woo the droves of prospective freshmen that descend on campus.

Last year I was one of those unsuspecting high school seniors, and this is actually the first year that I get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into the production of making up GW’s image. A few days before April arrived, the campus received a miraculous almost-overnight makeover, which just so happened to occur around the same time as the busiest visiting season.

There is no reason to criticize a University for wanting to polish things up a bit when it knows that the overbearing parents will want to analyze every aspect of the school before signing that $50,000 check. However, it does make one wonder why GW in particular seems to go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to public perception of the school.

The special treatment starts as soon as a student is accepted to the school and lasts right up until the parents’ wave good-bye as they drive away on move-in day. A tour of a college campus may seem like a simple thing – how many different ways are there to say “this is the library?” Well, you would be surprised at how much careful thought and structuring goes into even the most basic of phrases and concepts.

Students do not live in dorms, but rather they reside in residence halls. No one is ever stuck in the basement: they inhabit the lower level of a given residence hall. And trying to get a straight answer out of a GW tour guide may very well be the last thing you ever do. I recall being slightly alarmed when all of the dining options I saw were fast food. Every time I asked a tour guide or later a Colonial Cabinet member how to survive without eating fast food three times a day, seven days a week, he or she delved into how many “options,” GW has, conveniently never answering my actual question.

One would think that the absurdity would cease after students send in their deposits, but since many parents attend orientation with their children, the show must go on. Before they even know which dorm they are going to be in, just about every student experiences the production that is Colonial Inauguration. From the almost impossibly perky Colonial Cabinet to the ridiculously overpriced laser light show, it is fairly clear that GW is out to impress. Most other colleges just have a simple one-day orientation the day before classes start, but GW makes the event into a two and a half day circus act.

The most useful parts of CI are getting to know the campus, and getting acquainted with your fellow students. Some of the CI events do facilitate these purposes, but more than once, I heard people wondering aloud whether some of this was really necessary. While most students do enjoy their CI experience, many leave with a nagging little thought in the back of their minds; why is this school trying so hard?

After parents wave goodbye in early September, life goes back to normal. The gold and blue balloons are taken down, and the House Staff is no longer forced to wear those matching yellow T-shirts. GW starts to appear a lot less like a three-ring circus, and a lot more like a university. And really, that’s not so bad.

Despite our many grumbles and complaints, we don’t have such a bad thing going here. In the end, the students that choose GW come here for the premiere education that they will receive or for the vibrant energy on campus, not because GW really knows how to put on a show.

The students that remain here all four years stay because they love the city and campus for all that it really is, not because GW breaks out the harvest decorations and the pumpkin painting contests during parents’ weekend. Focusing slightly less on the image being sold, and just a little bit more on the actual product, would invariably result in more customers, more realistic expectations and far fewer complaints.

-The writer, a freshman majoring in psychology, is Hatchet assistant opinions editor.

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