Student organization condemns Obama’s challenge

A conservative group on campus is asking the University to deduct their service hours from the 100,000 hours first lady Michelle Obama challenged students to complete this year.

Obama said she would speak at Commencement May 16 if students meet the goal, but the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative group that has hosted commentators such as Ann Coulter and David Horowitz, is asking the University to deduct their service hours from the 100,000 total hours.

Joe Naron, YAF’s director of press, said the University is “politicizing” public service by accepting Obama’s challenge.

“We do take issue with what we believe was not only advancement of another liberal speaker, but also the degree of politicization that accompanied the action,” Naron said in an e-mail. “It is hard to believe that so much hoopla would have been created surrounding a day of volunteering if the first lady was not affiliated with the event. Therefore, justification for the event seems contorted.”

But fellow conservatives, including the GW College Republicans, said they do not agree with YAF’s approach to the issue.

“The College Republicans do not support any such initiative to undermine the community service efforts of the GW community as a whole,” Brandon Hines, chairman of the College Republicans, said in an e-mail. “It is unfortunate that YAF is unable to distinguish and respect Michelle Obama’s non-political role as the first lady.”

Hines said Obama has made outstanding contributions to the community and she has the varying experiences that would make her a valuable Commencement speaker, noting her experience as a “working mother, successful lawyer, and business woman who rose from the South Side of Chicago to attend Harvard and Princeton.”

“It is difficult to see by any objective measure how the first lady would not be a suitable commencement speaker,” he said.

Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said all students will have their community service hours counted. Obama will speak at Commencement, even if he has to volunteer for five straight weeks himself, he added.

“I don’t agree with what they’re saying,” Chernak said. “They’re saying ‘let’s try to do everything we can to make sure we don’t have Michelle Obama as a Commencement speaker.’ That’s as much politicizing of it as you could possibly be doing.”

GW students offered mixed feelings about YAF’s initiative.

Senior Molly Giorgio said if groups did not want their hours counted toward the total, the University should respect that decision. She added, however, that students should not be allowed the opportunity to deduct their community service from the total, saying the action was counterproductive.

Other students, however, said they feel the entire idea of students’ not having their community service hours counted is the wrong way to show their discontent with the choice of Commencement speaker.

“It is almost as if they are telling GW students that just because we do not like your choice of speaker, we do not want to be associated with the University,” junior Zach Borenstein said.

Though Giorgio may not agree politically with Obama, she expressed support for the first lady as Commencement speaker.

“I am a conservative and I am not the biggest Obama supporter, but I still think it is really cool that the first lady will be speaking at Commencement,” Giorgio said.

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