As college students, we’re made to feel like our voices don’t have value.
Whether we feel emboldened to speak up in class, ask a question of a famous guest speaker or ink some thoughts in the school newspaper, we’re told too often that we’re kids and we don’t understand. Or that our comments are immature.
Or worst of all, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to share our opinions and they’re met with a blink, blink, stare.
But no community survives and thrives without someone asking “why?” Or “how?” Or “can we do that better?” “Can I be better?”
That’s why joining the conversation is terribly important, even if it feels like no one is listening.
It’s easy to feel like the University is too large or our personal issues are too inconsequential to merit affecting change. But honest advocacy from a range of students has led to some incredible change on campus.
In 2010 and 2011, groups across campus pushed for the University to make some real changes to Gelman Library. Student Association leaders lobbied Board of Trustees members, The Hatchet published multiple editorials about it and campus groups appealed to administrators about the truly pathetic state of this campus nucleus. The University announced in 2011 that $16 million would be allocated to Gelman improvements, and construction is underway.
Over the last few years, students across campus, particularly those involved in student organizations like Active Minds, have demonstrated to the University the immense importance of affordable counseling on campus. Whether the lobbying started the conversation, sped it along or sealed the deal, the University Counseling Center now offers six free sessions for students.
But what’s crucial is that you don’t have to be an SA senator or a Hatchet writer to push for change. This community will grow when everyone feels invested enough to improve it.
And that’s where you come in.
See, our time on campus can either happen to us, or we can experience it deliberately. We can make do with the resources given to us, or we can stretch our minds and energies to realize a new, more efficient way to do things. We can be silent receivers, or we can stand in the foreground of our own college experiences.
First off, that means being open to critique and willing to accept criticism.
The world looks a little bit different when you realize there’s always room for improvement. And if you love GW, you should feel particularly compelled to find ways to make this place better. Because if you love GW, you realize the responsibility to have a memorable time in college is shared, and it can be work.
Now, too often, we criticize to make ourselves feel better. We find fault with others because it makes our own flaws seem smaller, or less grave. We pick apart superficial facets mercilessly, all the while hoping that we’ve said something to make ourselves seem smarter.
Whether that’s productive or not – I don’t think it is – we should seek to have our criticism be part of a greater dialogue, and one that engages more than just the most vocal students on campus.
And that’s where the University comes in.
Town halls prove to be generally ineffective ways to gather student input. Surveys only say so much. An hour of office hours with President Steven Knapp, divided among many students, is hardly a forum for dynamic conversation. Students will feel more engaged, more invested and more interested if they feel like a true participant in improving the campus experience.
For four years, I’ve been writing columns for The Hatchet. For four years, I’ve been trying to make sense of the University and myself, and share those realizations with my readers. And for four years, I’ve sought, through writing, to improve my small world.
As I began writing more and more for The Hatchet – maturing from columns calling for undie runs to columns dissecting University policies – I learned that there’s more to criticism than empty arguments. But more than anything, this gave me my chance to be a part of the conversation.
Whether or not I’ve made change at GW, learning to keep a vigilant, questioning eye on the community I love so much made me a more present player throughout these four years. Status quo exists because we become comfortable. But daring to want more than that makes our lives have meaning.
It’s our job to make the most of these four years. And if we find fault, with ourselves or with the University, we only hurt ourselves when we are passive about it.
I hope that from here more students feel like they can speak up and that the University is listening.
And I hope that as the dialogue grows and becomes more dynamic, our community improves as a result. The University should treat student input as its true north, but it can’t unless we give administrators honest, active and frequent feedback.
So please speak up. The community, and you, will be better for it.
Annu Subramanian, a senior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet senior columnist.