Jacob Garber: GW’s overreach on sustaining student leaders

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Jacob Garber

Twenty years from now, we’ll look back on what we call our “college experience” – our internships, our organizations, our friends, our academics. These pieces come together naturally to make something holistic and meaningful.

But the University can’t keep its hands away from the Duct tape and Krazy glue, manufacturing connections and requirements that will just burden students.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jacob Garber

Top administrators may require that students showcase their leadership and citizenship skills before graduating, The Hatchet reported this week. This could include a portfolio of University-approved leadership experience, a compilation of blog posts, participation in discussions or something completely different. It’s all a bit hazy right now, but regardless of the angle, this is not GW’s territory.

This requirement would ask students to force connections between internships, student organizations, academic pursuits and a couple of elusive buzzwords – “citizenship” and “leadership.”

The University is shaping this proposal as though they are doing the students a service, when in reality it is a fruitless burden, placed on us when we’re completing courses, theses and job and graduate school applications.

It is great that the University makes efforts to promote citizenship and leadership, trying to imbue these ideas into the GW experience through days of service, student organizations and promotional departments such as the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. Rallying for these traits is admirable, but it is not GW’s place to require students to prove something arbitrary, and they are overstepping their bounds by requiring us to tie extracurricular experiences into our academic endeavors.

This idea is largely a result of the University’s strategic plan and efforts to integrate leadership and citizenship into the curriculum. And on paper, that cohesion sounds great, but facilitating it in such a rigid way isn’t productive, especially outside of the classroom.

As an educational institution, GW requires its students to fulfill curricular requirements and whatever associated skills they may take away from those courses. Students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences are already required to take a “Global or Cross-Cultural” course as well as one on “Local/Civic Engagement.” If GW makes service learning a part of assigned coursework, that’s great, but the work stops at the classroom.

And by making students justify their leadership experiences upon graduating, GW is appropriating a part of student experience that isn’t theirs to claim. They are simultaneously putting pressure on students to do something that they already do extremely well: hold leadership and citizenship roles. Over 90 percent of undergraduates hold internships, with 25 percent in Greek organizations and many more in its 400-plus student organizations – offering countless leadership experiences for students.

Gaining leadership experience is something that students already do. It’s why they come to GW. It serves them no good to have to prove it to the University.

Citizenship and leadership aren’t qualities that shouldn’t be checked off a list. They should be rooted in the institution.

The classroom is a place for a syllabus, for something regimented, a checklist of what a GW student will take away from GW. But extracurricular leadership experience is not the place for prescriptivism.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski asked, “How do we help students process, digest, reflect – whatever word you want – the experiences they have out of the class and link them to what they’re learning in class a lot around leadership theory, citizenship, being engaged?”

The answer: You don’t.

The writer, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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