Op-ed – Peter Konwerski: Learning to live with neighbors

As I read the recent comments on Hatchet articles and in social media about a renewed emphasis on off-campus student life, I have been thinking about the broader topic of civility. Few better embody those traits than our own namesake George Washington, and while there certainly were some flaws in Washington’s character, we can still draw important lessons from his legacy.

Washington’s “Rules of Civility,” which were maxims that guided his early life, still apply today. His first rule said, “In every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.” I challenge all Colonials to connect your character to the best values Washington inspires, and live lives that honor our namesake as you choose your core values.

In academics, all GW students can demonstrate integrity in the way they conduct their scholarship, particularly with regard to cheating and plagiarism. In personal activities, GW students can make responsible choices around drug and alcohol use, ensure consent as they enter into any sexual relationship, and behave in ways consistent with how they would want others to treat them.

While some have suggested the University is attacking GW Greek Life, I actually believe members of fraternal organizations are some of the best examples of how students demonstrate leading lives of integrity. Most members of Greek organizations embrace a common set of core values and strive to lead lives of honor, particularly around academic excellence, leadership, philanthropy, and service, every day.

Off campus, we have the same high expectations that Colonials living in the community serve as good citizens in neighborhoods surrounding our campuses. We must learn to co-exist in a residential community, where weekends don’t start on Thursday night and working professionals, families, and senior citizens may be your neighbors. Let’s learn to live together, side-by-side, here in the District.

As we do our part to ‘raise high’ the expectations of academic, personal, and community responsibility, I encourage you to not only understand the choices inherent in your actions, but also the consequences that come with the decisions you will make, especially as they relate to your interactions with Foggy Bottom residents who are not members of the GW community.

In closing, keep George Washington’s final rule #110; “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” top of mind as you make ethical decisions in and out of the classroom, as representatives of the University that bears his name. Please continue to join me and other administrators in this civility conversation, as you continue to express your voice to the University.

Peter Konwerski is the senior associate provost and dean of student affairs.

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