President Knapp addresses ‘complex legacy’ of University’s namesake

Students roast marshmallows over an open flame in University Yard as the University celebrated George Washington's birthday with a bonfire Wednesday evening. Avra Bossov | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Kulsoom Jafri

Dozens of students crowded Wednesday night around a roaring bonfire at University Yard to celebrate the 280th birthday of GW’s namesake.

GW’s mascot George led the marching band, which was dressed in traditional colonial-gear, as it sounded out “Yankee Doodle.”

University President Steven Knapp lauded George Washington as the “first real international hero of freedom and democracy,” while acknowledging that the leader left behind a “complex history” of slave ownership.

Knapp defended the founding father for freeing the 316 slaves in his will and keeping the families of his slaves together on his estate.

“There is that complex legacy, and what it points to is a contradiction at the heart of American history, when we are the embodiment of a dream of freedom,” Knapp said. “We need to be cognizant of both sides of the issue.”

The president also announced the winners of GW’s three-month long GW+Phones=Hope challenge, which urged student organizations to collect used cell phones, iPods and other electronic devices to donate to the national nonprofit Hope Phones.

AIESEC, a leadership development group for students, took home the $3,000 first prize for collecting the most electronic devices.  Alpha Phi Omega, community service fraternity, earned $2,000  for second place and Camp Kesem took home $1,000 for third place.

The efforts are part of the University’s “commitment to action” for the Clinton Global Initiative University program, which will kick off at GW on March 30. The phone drive was launched at a rally that featured Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of  former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The University hopes to collect 20,000 phones in time for the conference this March.

Sophomore and member of Alpha Phi Omega, Paul Organ,  said the group’s canvassing efforts across campus helped them collect more than 200 phones for the cause.

This post was updated on Feb. 23, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly spelled the name of AIESEC and said it was an organization primarily for graduate students. It is also has undergraduate members.

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