Patrick Rochelle: GW must promote the humanities

I’m not generally a jealous person. But as an English major, I’ve gotten used to feeling left out when it comes to the way the University allocates its priorities.

It’s no secret that GW emphasizes its programs in international affairs and political science. Consider for a moment the list of hallmark speakers brought to campus in the past few years. The names include: President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Howard Dean, Newt Gingrich, Michael Bloomberg and, this past week, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

While it is true that the University brings non-political figures to campus, they are certainly not touted nearly as much as the speakers the political science department, the School of Media of Public Affairs or the Elliott School of International Affairs bring in.

The University must promote and emphasize the wide range of humanities programs that this institution has to offer. The backbone and foundation of every university is the liberal arts education it provides its students.

So while I watched the parking garage at 22 and H streets being torn down this week, making room for the new Science and Engineering Complex, I couldn’t help but ask, “We haven’t forgotten about the humanities, right?”

But the school took a step in the right direction Wednesday with the installation of Toni Morrison’s bench by the road in front of Lisner Auditorium.

After the ceremony, Morrison had dinner with students (including yours truly) from the English and Africana Studies departments as well as the Women’s Leadership Program. The conversation over dinner gave students a chance to interact with a Nobel laureate in an intimate setting. In particular, Morrison talked in detail about the writing process – both her obstacles and successes – and gave advice and encouragement to the stream of budding poets and fiction writers that surrounded her.

For a school that sometimes feels like it doesn’t look twice at liberal arts, it was reassuring to see the community celebrating something else for a change: one of America’s most important living authors.

See, a university is an amalgam of interests and passions, where thoughts are shared, exchanged and debated among many distinct disciplines and people. It makes no sense to only emphasize a few departments, because in the end, that allows a handful of disciplines to flourish while the rest are left to flounder.

But perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Morrison’s visit was the overwhelming turn-out of students, faculty and members of the greater Washington area who displayed a profound interest and admiration for both literature and art.

“People should read anything and everything,” Morrison said Wednesday night to a packed Lisner Auditorium. This University should be no different.

So while I’m still waiting for GW to build a castle in the sky dedicated to the humanities, for the time being, I can settle for a bench by the road. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all.

Patrick Rochelle is a junior majoring in English.

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