Phillip Ensler: One city, one campus

Now that Vincent Gray won the Washington, D.C., Democratic mayoral primary – making him the District’s presumptive mayor come January – the question or challenge is how will he turn his campaign promise of “One City” into a governing reality?

Gray, ever aware of the socioeconomic and racial tensions in D.C., made overcoming such divisions the focal point of the election. The election seemed to be a referendum on whether residents wanted to continue moving in the direction of gentrification and class warfare under the Fenty administration, or if they wanted the community-oriented progress and inclusion offered by Gray.

The election was by no means a landslide, but Gray’s vision resonated with D.C. citizens and prevailed on Election Day. In the coming months, many people will surely have advice for him, and I too have mine: There is no better place to look than your alma mater, The George Washington University, to help you turn D.C. into the unified city you envision.

With its diverse community, GW can serve as a microcosm for what Washington could look like. Like D.C., GW is uniquely diverse – it is composed of students from different religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Despite our clashing political beliefs and differing viewpoints, we peacefully coexist. While some of us come from big cities and others from small towns, we have learned to live side-by-side in the confines of our residence halls.

What makes Gray’s vision so attractive and achievable is that he knows firsthand what it takes to work toward unifying a population. He attended GW during a period in which racial integration was in its early stages. Confronted with racial prejudice, he committed himself to overcoming bigotry and exclusion. His resilience and commitment to an inclusive community is embodied by his admittance as one of the first African Americans into a fraternity at GW. And now, as a friend and visitor to GW, he has seen the virtues of the unity that exists on campus today.

Students have contributed to creating a community where knowledge of different cultures and friendships between races exists. As a whole, GW has aspired to form a cohesive, yet diverse, community.

Campus organizations cannot fix Washington’s social tensions, as they are deeper, more complex and encompass everything from economic factors to jobs to housing. However, the principle of creating forums similar to those in student orgs that seek to bring people together can be applied to D.C. Just as many of the student services and organizations at GW provide a platform for minority students, the Gray administration can emulate this ideal and allow for the voices of all residents, irrespective of their social status, to be heard.

This isn’t to say that GW is a utopia of unity. We all have friends who feel disrespected at times because of their identity, or who feel that an injustice was committed against them.

Students could argue that we are anything but unified. And while there is some truth to these stereotypes, they are far from being absolute. Students from all social spheres live, study and socialize together on campus.

GW has made enormous strides towards becoming “One Campus.” We have learned to reconcile differences, and we seek to collectively overcome problems and provide a campus that is tolerant and welcoming of all students. Gray served as a unifying force when he transcended racial intolerance as a student at GW. He can be a unifier once again by looking to the very place he received his education as a model of diversity. Only this time he will apply this vision to the entire city.

-Phillip Ensler, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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