Staff Editorial: Graduates, remember D.C.’s complicated past

Right now, this year’s graduating seniors are making a decision: They will either stay in D.C., or move on to opportunities elsewhere. For those who decide to stay, it’s likely they’ll be moving outside the Foggy Bottom “bubble” for the first time since coming to GW.

During our time as undergraduates, the University’s marketing can make it difficult to see beyond the most familiar parts of the city, like the monuments and the White House. Students come here to live in D.C., but in many cases, they may only be exposed to the small part of the city pictured on glossy brochures in the admissions office. And yet, when they graduate from GW, many students will end up in the exact neighborhoods they rarely set foot in as undergraduates.

Students who choose to stay in D.C. will probably be moving into up-and-coming neighborhoods — those that are currently in the process of gentrification.

For many students, neighborhoods outside of Foggy Bottom are their only feasible option. Townhouses and apartments in places like the U Street Corridor and Columbia Heights are often the most affordable for recent graduates. Those areas make the most sense for students who have grown to love D.C., but can’t afford the high cost of living in the Foggy Bottom area.

Of course, we can’t necessarily blame GW for pushing GW’s proximity to the White House and the World Bank. Officials must market the school in the most appealing way possible, and they aren’t alone: Schools like our peer New York University also emphasize their proximity to hotspots like Greenwich Village, Brooklyn and Washington Square Park.

However, it’s important to look past the marketing and be mindful of the underlying racial and economic issues in other parts of D.C. neighborhoods that develop rapidly are extremely complex, a fact that may be lost on students who move into an area with no knowledge of its history. It’s hard to understand the nuances of a community without being involved in it through things like service, activism and political engagement — three things GW students already care about.

University officials can facilitate opportunities for current undergraduates, graduating seniors and even alumni to learn more about the areas where students will likely settle. There’s already an infrastructure in place, since GW holds its Freshman Day of Service each year: GW could recreate this during the week of events for graduating seniors, which already includes activities like a Nationals Game and a trip to Six Flags. By focusing service on neighborhoods popular with recent graduates, the University can help prepare interested students for their lives in those otherwise unfamiliar areas.

GW should also reach out to alumni to do service, since many reside in the city. They can connect with students who are looking to network and maintain their relationship with the University — all while giving back.

Sure, our students do plenty of community service as undergraduates. But some of our biggest events, like the Dance Marathon and Relay for Life, happen on our campus. And while GW does its part to promote service, for many students there’s still an air of mystery when it comes to the places in the city that need the most help.

Part of the problem seems to be that undergraduates at GW often don’t feel like residents of the city, and therefore don’t feel connected to certain communities. D.C. is a very transient place, and for some, the city and GW are just a temporary part of life.

But recent graduates making a home in D.C. should think of themselves as residents, and should consider if they have a moral obligation to support the communities into which they’re moving. Often, minority populations in up-and-coming neighborhoods have been pushed out. And as the local economy has taken a turn for the worse, it’s an especially difficult time for low-income communities.

There are also personal benefits to service and activism. Many students at GW have a clear interest in politics, history and social justice, and will find D.C.’s neighborhoods interesting to learn about. Plus, in a city where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, taking an interest in the complexities of a community can help students gain a sense of attachment.

After learning about a neighborhood, students can also become more engaged in issues that affect the area. Recently, Baltimore has gained national attention for its citizens’ protests against police brutality — a tension to which D.C. is not immune. Protests have spread to D.C., and some GW students have participated. But others should consider getting involved not only to show support, but also to learn about the complexity of race relations in this city.

D.C. has a long history along with a laundry list of problems, many of which students are unaware during their time at GW. But as many of us prepare to move on, but not necessarily move out of the city, it’s important to take off those blinders.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions with managing director Rachel Smilan-Goldstein, sports editor Nora Princiotti, design assistant Samantha LaFrance, copy editor Brandon Lee and assistant sports editor Mark Eisenhauer.

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