In the wake of natural disaster, the GW community has always been willing to respond. Whether opening classes to students displaced by a hurricane or holding a benefit concert for victims of a tsunami on the other side of the world, GW isn’t a university that stands idly by. Now that the world has turned its attention toward Haiti, the University community has followed in this service tradition. While it’s good to see GW stepping up, this past week has revealed areas that need improvement.
The University’s initial response was laudable. In a rare occurrence, we praise the Infomail that followed shortly after the disaster – it offered concise information for individuals dealing with the emotional stress of such a tragedy, and informed students of efforts being made by GW physicians and staff. In addition, the resources put front and center on GW’s Web site are also impressive.
On the other hand, the University was slow to engage student groups in response to the disaster. It was several days before GW began to help students organize around relief efforts. The University needs to recognize that students are energized to help after tragedy, and disaster relief is done a disservice when the school does not bring students to the table right away. Even if it was simply providing space for students to gather quickly, coupled with the promise to help students help Haiti, student groups could have used the support.
Regardless, student groups have been effective in getting the word out for ways to help. The Caribbean Student Association in particular deserves credit for organizing a response to the earthquake. The CSA displayed notable leadership at a meeting on Sunday to discuss and centralize student efforts. The same meeting was conspicuously not attended by University President Steven Knapp. With this administration’s intense focus on community service, it is disconcerting that the Office of the President would send a representative in lieu of attendance by Knapp himself.
Although we recognize that resources are scarce on a college campus, and most students cannot send thousands of dollars in aid, we encourage students to continue to find ways to help. The easiest opportunity will come at a not-yet-announced time when all Marvin Center food venues will offer students the ability to donate from their GWorld funds whenever they purchase food. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (www.clintonbushhaitifund.org) has stated that sending funds is the best way to help. However, if you want to donate supplies that you have around your residence hall, the Haitian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue is accepting donations of toiletries and survival supplies. More information can be found at www.noahhaiti.org.
It is important to remember that infrastructure challenges have made the donation of supplies more difficult for organizations than simply donating funds. Along those lines, we encourage students to donate money and any supplies organizations are specifically requesting, but turn the rest of their energies toward charitable efforts right here in D.C.
The images of Haiti continue to compel students to action. Most students do not have the resources to jump on a plane and start rebuilding, and in reality this isn’t what would be most effective at these early stages. But this is no excuse to let students’ motivation go to waste. It’s important to remember that the ability to help those in need is always present. So donate some GWorld money (even if it means you have to eat at J Street) and make a CVS run to pick up some toiletries. But remember that while tragedies highlight our ability to help, the opportunity is always there.
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