Diversity of cultures and perspectives is of the utmost importance to the University. Efforts to boost campus diversity, overseen by the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, have led to a 3 percent rise in minority faculty.
But despite this effort, one important voice is missing: the local one. Less than 1 percent of the student body is comprised of students who grew up in and come from D.C. itself.
The University will vastly improve if it has more students who hail from the District of Columbia.
GW loves to boast that it draws students from all over the country. And yet, it can hardly say that it has students from a few blocks away. The University’s culture is not one that is appealing to local residents and it is both the University’s and the student body’s job to integrate with, not separate from and put itself above, the city.
The Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholarship has attracted some of the best and brightest from the D.C. public school system, a laudable effort to bring more city residents to GW despite tuition costs. College preparatory programs such as Upward Bound bring D.C. public and charter schools to campus for summer instruction, but few of those students consider GW an option for college down the road.
Some of the problem lies in the socioeconomic break that has isolated GW since its expansion. An underprivileged child from east of the Anacostia River will likely never walk around Foggy Bottom, or any part of downtown D.C. for that matter.
But the flip side of that coin is that a student might graduate knowing little about D.C. urban culture.
The Foggy Bottom campus is just blocks away from the home of Backyard Band, TCB and Tru Expressionz, bands who play go-go music, a genre that originated in the District. And yet students are more excited about Sean Kingston and Girl Talk coming to Fall Fest than the local art in and around D.C.
And then there are the stereotypes that students acclimate themselves to almost upon arrival at GW. Certain parts of D.C. quickly gain a reputation for being dangerous places that should never be visited by outsiders. These sorts of quick judgments make learning about the District beyond Foggy Bottom’s comfortable confines very difficult.
No matter how aggressively the University tries to engage with D.C. public school students, local adolescents still know the elitist attitude students hold about pockets of the District. This mindset deters locals from applying, and it might even stop the University from being able to realize its goal to serving as an asset to the community.
The University has programs in place to try to attract District residents to campus. But making GW’s culture more than just a Foggy Bottom culture is one of the most important ways the University can truly draw the local students who will add another layer of diversity and vibrance to GW’s varied student body. Giving more D.C. residents a world class education does a lot more to connect the University with the city than what meets the eye.
Sam Collins is a master’s student in The Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and