Phillip Ensler: Will the real D.C. please stand up?

As I prepared to return to D.C. for the semester, I noticed that the premiere of the highly anticipated Real Housewives of D.C. coincided very nicely with my return to the city. I incredulously tuned into the show, yet doing so had a very unexpected effect on me. Rather than just letting the show’s drama soak in and entertain, it caused me to reflect on what role I, as a college student, serve in the city’s social and cultural fabric.

The lavish lifestyles of the Housewives contrast vastly with the city I have come to know. In contemplating the difference between the real Housewives and the real lives of most Washingtonians, I can’t help but think of the famous mid-century photos of impoverished minority children dwelling in the slums of D.C., with the opulent Capitol Building in the background. Those images embodied the harsh disparities that existed between the haves and the have-nots in Washington.

The depiction of the Housewives sashaying around from one socialite event to another-in comparison to the daily rigors most Washingtonians face-is the modern day equivalent.

Today, too many D.C. residents are suffering from unemployment and pay cuts. Large numbers of students in the D.C. school system continue to fall short of achieving proficiency in math and English. An unconscionable number of people go hungry each day and sleep on the city’s streets.

This is where you and I, as college students in D.C., come into the picture.

As students and young adults living in this city, we can contribute our skills, intellect and compassion to bettering the conditions of D.C.’s communities. GW students are renowned for their commitment to public service, as we displayed last year by completing an aggregated total of over 120,000 community service hours.

As many students have experienced, volunteering brings tangible benefits to the community. Colonials serve meals at Miriam’s Kitchen, clean parks for the Freshman Day of Service and paint classrooms in D.C. public schools. GW students have an impact on the city in which we live.

As we prepare for the new school year, the call to service is one we must passionately adhere to again. Unlike last year, we do not have the incentive of having the first lady speak at our University-wide Commencement. We must inspire ourselves.

The University strengthened its commitment to volunteerism by creating The Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, but the mere existence of such an office will not automatically translate into another successful year of community service. Yes, the University will promote such events as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, but ultimately, it is on us to display our dedication to serving the community throughout the year.

So enjoy this season of the Housewives, watch it with your roommates and who knows, maybe you’ll bump into the cast while out on the town one night. But let us not forget that while the real Housewives are having fun, many of the real residents of D.C. are working tirelessly to make ends meet and are dealing with adversity on a daily basis. We as students can make a big difference in improving the quality of life for those in Washington who really should be the focus of our attention and our service.

– The writer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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