If I had to wear one of those T-shirts tourists buy off the street corners in big-cities, mine wouldn’t say I Love NY. Do I like New York? Of course. But I love D.C.
Anyone can see the beauty and history permeating Washington, both of which add to a unique GW experience. Yet take a closer look past those gleaming monuments and impressive federal buildings – it’s not always a pretty picture. Take for instance the Anacostia river in Southeast clogged with tons of trash and pollution or the fact that D.C. has the highest AIDS rate in the entire country – things happening while city officials continue to try and combat the constant violence and crime that has plagued the District, especially since the early 1990s.
Channeling the question that still lingers decades after President John F. Kennedy posed it to our country, what can we, as individuals and as a GW community, do for D.C.?
It’s been four years and I still remember those glossy packets of information I got in the mail from GW proclaiming the benefits of “Campus. Classroom. City.” Our university has made city life an integral part of a GW experience and wisely so. And we, in turn, must not only be aware of the challenging situations facing D.C. but be willing and ready to help our neighbors in a city many of us have adopted as home.
A large part of our community has conquered those first two C’s but only certain aspects of the third. I’ve taken in all the city has to offer: a presidential inauguration, internship opportunities that would be hard to come by anywhere else, the culture, the excitement and, not to mention, the fun.
But what happens when we take a closer look at our capital city? According to information from the 2006 American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, D.C. ranks first in terms of child poverty at 32.6 percent and second in the percent of residents over 65 living in poverty at 15.2 percent.
This summer The Washington Post reported that a majority of D.C. students earned “proficient” or “advanced” scores on the 2006 Comprehensive Assessment Test only at 19 of the 135 public schools in the District. Their report also found that D.C.’s fourth and eighth graders rank at or near the bottom in relation to 11 other major school districts.
The past few months have also seen a spike in violence as the District’s homicide count has already surpassed last year’s total. And these are simply a sampling of social and economic hurdles D.C. is facing.
Yes, it’s a pretty gloomy portrait of our city, but part of the battle is being educated. Drawing on youthful optimism and sheer volume, we can make it better. Can a GW student find a cure for AIDS or revolutionize the world of public education? Maybe one day, but for now we can all give something precious and something appreciated – our time.
Think about it: if the undergraduate population of 9,700 committed even five hours of their time a year (yes, year, not semester), GW students would be pumping over 48,500 hours of service back into the city.
The GW Office of Community Service, with a solid 2,500 volunteers last year, pumped 55,000 hours into improving the city according to it’s website. Add yourself to the number of committed volunteers and we could see that number rise.
I’m not suggesting a mandated service requirement, just highlighting what a few hours (probably less than what we spend on Facebook or playing beer pong in a week) could accomplish.
Find a charity or service project that appeals to you. Utilize the Office of Community Service and the people and services there committed to connecting GW volunteers with the District citizens who need it. Encourage your student organization to plan one more volunteer project this year. Participate in a charity walk or race with a team of friends or spend an evening helping out at one of D.C.’s numerous shelters or soup kitchens. Add yourself to the dedicated volunteers from GW giving part of themselves back to D.C.
It doesn’t take a lot to make our city a little better, a city that has given so much of itself to GW and us.
-The writer, a senior majoring in English, is The Hatchet opinions editor.