Jacob Garber: Students critical of Commencement speaker and dorm name aren’t whining for the sake of it

I’ve heard it called the “trifecta of disappointment.”

Within one week, the University announced that José Andrés will serve as Commencement speaker, Jay Sean will headline Spring Fling and the “superdorm” was named District House.

Really? Those are the best we can do?

Students have voiced their dissatisfaction over these choices, saying that they expect and deserve better. Some are dismissing those first students as entitled. Are these complaints just a display of snobbery purchased for $60,000 in yearly tuition? Not quite.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jacob Garber

It’s wrong to see these dissenters as only spoiled brats who take to Twitter when things don’t go their way. These complaints are not only legitimate, but they reveal a concern for GW’s culture. And they represent missed opportunities.

These are some of the University’s most public decisions, even if they don’t seem as substantive as a billion-dollar fundraising campaign or a strategic plan. They help to shape the student body’s collective opinion of the place they call home for four years. The warm – or not so warm – memories students have of GW traditions like Spring Fling and Commencement on the National Mall could affect whether students choose to donate once they become professionals.

In the same way that GW focuses on student-related issues like Greek life and student services – on which it spends far more than our competitors – administrators should realize that these kinds of choices impact spirit in a direct way.

Last year’s Spring Fling brought the wildly popular duo of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and lyrics openly advocating for gay rights and general tolerance. The choice reflected most students’ political views and transformed University Yard into a place where community spirit was pervasive.

Jay Sean, on the other hand, lacks any relevant connection to GW culture. His hit song “Down” is a protracted request for sex, featuring Lil’ Wayne (I think). This is surely disappointing, but even more so when compared to another top candidate, Angel Haze. Her music carries some of the same advocacy as Macklemore’s – one of her most famous songs is actually a cover of his “Same Love” – but she was nixed because the University reportedly made the absurd request for her not to curse in her music.

The Commencement speaker, an even more high-profile decision, is supposed to encapsulate the GW spirit. You might think GW got it right with José Andrés, who is an international philanthropist and founded World Central Kitchen, which works to alleviate malnutrition and food scarcity in developing countries.

But Andrés is already connected to GW though his position as an adjunct professor, making the decision seem lazy. We’ve already been exposed to him in classrooms and in Kogan Plaza, where he dished out plates of his famous paella last spring.

Regardless of his philanthropic efforts, it seems as though the culminating speaker for the class of 2014 was simply the easiest to access, and this isn’t the way to cap off thousands of students’ college experiences. A celebrity chef doesn’t seem like the best administrators could do.

As for the “superdorm,” the University seemed like it was making the right move when it asked students to pick a new name for the $130 million residence hall.

After administrators asked students to submit possible names, they narrowed down the choices to four that sounded like generic names from movies about college.

Naming the “superdorm” something bland seems like a strategic choice by the University, as they can easily rename it when a wealthy donor decides to open his or her pocketbook. Instead, the residence hall could have held the name of any number of admirable alumni.

“J. Edgar Hoover House,” for example, would immortalize a notable alumnus and his groundbreaking accomplishments. “District House” is superficial, leaving students to hope a donor’s name is tacked on the building sooner rather than later.

Sure, there are many reasons why someone may hate the new “superdorm” name, or why a student may want a different Commencement speaker or Spring Fling act. Feelings of self-entitlement could be part of it.

But by and large, there’s more depth to these complaints than you think.

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

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