On Sunday, May 16, the GW class of 2010 will become the third graduating class at GW to hear a first lady speak at Commencement – but they will be the first graduates to have worked specifically for that honor. Perhaps the biggest story of this academic year has been Michelle Obama’s service challenge to the GW community, and having admirably surpassed the goal of 100,000 hours well before the May 1 deadline, GW’s commitment to service is in many ways both permeating and unambiguous. While this perception correctly applies to much of the GW community and the service challenge, we are disappointed that on more than one occasion throughout the challenge, the University’s actions did not match its expressed strong support for community service.
Most recently, we take issue with the way the public was informed of GW’s completion of the challenge. The first opportunity students had to learn that the goal had been met came late Sunday night through an article published by The Washington Post. While we understand that the University needs to promote its activities and successes, we feel that information as important as this should have been shared first with the many students who put in a great deal of effort to reach the goal. These students put their time and energy toward meeting the challenge, and they deserved to be the first to know their efforts had earned the honor of hearing Michelle Obama speak at Commencement.
The University also could improve its financial support of at least part of its service community. The Alternative Breaks Program, an organization run largely out of the Office of Community Service, is arguably the most successful and high profile of all service programs at GW, and both the Post article and GW Today cited alternative spring break programs as examples of GW’s community service projects.
Yet according to multiple individuals highly involved with the program interviewed by The Hatchet’s editorial board, the organization is in debt. They explained that aside from a bit of funding from GW’s Public Service Grant Commission, the breaks program receives little money from the University that does not have to be eventually paid back. We interpret this as a lack of support from the same school that touts these students’ accomplishments. GW should be more serious about supporting these groups, and provide direct subsidies to alleviate the financial burden these students face. Full disclosure: Three members of The Hatchet’s editorial board are involved with the program.
These concerns echo those from earlier in the year surrounding the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Some participants complained that much of the day was scheduled around speeches, when time could have been better spent doing service. Though this claim was contested in a letter to the editor, it is disheartening to feel that the University has at times focused on creating the image of an emphasis on community service, rather than working to effectively execute the service.
Of course, the work the GW community did to achieve the goal of 100,000 hours of community service is not to be overshadowed by these issues. We congratulate the University on reaching Obama’s goal, and hope that in the future, additional support – both financial and otherwise – will be shown to those performing service.
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