Stephen Glatter: The path toward unity

On Nov. 4, 2008, Barack Obama achieved the impossible – he united GW.

Okay, so the 20 percent of campus who opposed him or didn’t care probably felt left out, but by our standards of unity, it was quite the accomplishment.

After Obama was announced as the victor, scores of GW students poured into the streets of campus and cheered in front of the White House. Strangers hugged and sang. Like all things, however, this euphoric feeling will subside, and the questions about our community will re-emerge.

See, in case you haven’t noticed, GW has a bit of an identity complex.

In my four years here, I have watched as administrators and student leaders struggled with the questions of why we never seem to act as one campus and why we lack school spirit.

Every year, the University and the student government dedicate hundreds of thousands of dollars to programs like Colonial Invasion and Unity Ball to try to create this mythical feeling, but nothing has come close to matching the success of one storied election night.

While it is impossible for the University to capture the emotions of a national election, there are things to be learned from the spontaneous gathering of GW students triggered by the Obama victory.

First, unity cannot be forced or purchased – it is forged by people who celebrate their common ground. While ignorance fuels hate, experience breeds togetherness. Often, programs like the Unity Ball ask GW students to appreciate the big picture of diversity at GW. However, celebrating diversity is often something that occurs on the micro level. People understand those who are close to them.

The second lesson from Obama’s victory is that spirit emerges when people celebrate the success of things that interest them. The largest spirit event of the year at GW, Colonials Invasion, has probably not experienced the success imagined for it because the basketball team is not significant to enough GW students.

Instead of pretending we are an NCAA powerhouse, the University should do more to promote and support what GW students care about the most. Highlighting our strengths will put us on the right track toward raising school spirit, promoting diversity and carving an identity for our University.

For example, GW is nationally known for its politicized culture, its proximity to the White House and its students’ embracing of D.C. life.

Why not create an all-inclusive Office of Involvement that publicizes opportunities to become involved in the city (not just internships), tracks political activity and community service hours, rewards exceptional volunteerism, facilitates independent study projects and holds events to highlight the ways GW students have made an impact on our world?

Of course, student groups already do an excellent job facilitating the wide variety of talents that GW students possess. Still, they are notoriously underfunded and the SA can only spread its miniscule budget around so far. The University needs to do more to promote critical programs.

The University is populated with future activists, journalists, lawyers, artists, teachers, businesspersons, engineers, diplomats and more. Why not fully fund our nationally competitive mock trial team? Why not provide institutional support for our successful Model UN team? Why spend tens of thousands of dollars on Colonial Invasion when the money could be used to send our club sports teams to competitions?

When the University promotes what interests GW students, we will become more spirited, and we can cement our identity as a destination for highly motivated and talented individuals. If not, we might have to wait another four years to find GW students cheering in the streets.

The writer is a first-year law student, GW alumnus and current SA senator (Law).

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