Maybe University President Steven Knapp’s inauguration Friday really was nothing new. Maybe he said the same things every new university president says across the country; maybe he said the same things President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said 19 years ago. Maybe the speeches and the slogan were nothing more than rhetoric, tools for the offices of media relations and admissions. Maybe, but it did not feel that way.
Knapp’s speech outlined GW’s long history, proving that this institution has come far in its almost 200 years of existence. More importantly, the 16th GW president highlighted his vision for the University’s future, a vision of improving overall academics and research, of building partnerships with the city and of listening to students as we advocate for our respective visions for the University. The only problem was with that last one: Not enough students were there to hear it.
My counting could be off, but I noticed 75 to 100 students in attendance. Obviously some students were in classes, and if the University had cancelled classes then more would have come. Still, it seems most of the students in cancelled classes would have chosen to sleep in rather than attend the inauguration.
It is not that I do not understand why students would not want to attend a mainly symbolic event; there’s a good chance I would not have gone had my friends in GW STAND and I not decided to use this opportunity to kick off our DivestGW campaign. I’m just concerned that this lack of attendance will foreshadow student participation, or lack thereof, in Knapp’s term.
Knapp understands the importance of student participation, or at least his speech suggests he does. The new president highlighted the efforts of Campaign GW, a group of students who successfully pushed for the approval of the 20-year Campus Plan. Joking that he never thought he would see students so passionate about zoning, Knapp noted how important it is for students to play a role in the University’s future. He clearly wants to be able to listen to students, but the student body needs to speak up for that to happen.
Student Association President Nicole Capp, who also spoke at the inauguration, thinks that Knapp has already started incorporating students into plans for GW’s future. That is because the SA is doing its job – Capp and her administration have been vocal advocates for many different programs that are beneficial to students. Some students may be content to let leaders such as Capp do all the talking, but the SA cannot be the only student voice on campus. Different student groups need to speak up and let Knapp and other administrators know what students want. They need to push hard and yell loudly, loud enough so that they are actually heard all the way up on the eighth floor of Rice Hall.
There are plenty of groups who are already doing this – Green GW, Students for Fair Trade and my own organization, GW STAND, come to mind. And students who do not, at this point at least, have their own specific attention from the University can pay attention to these other groups. Sign petitions, participate in events or ask your parents to call in. It is easy, probably easier than sitting through an inauguration on a Friday morning after the usual Thursday night end-of-the-week celebration.
Low student attendance at the inauguration was embarrassing for the student body, but it’s easily corrected. Here at the nation’s most expensive institution there are a lot of things that need fixing, and it won’t happen unless students do something about it.
The writer, a sophomore majoring in history and political science, is a Hatchet columnist.