Staff Editorial: Semester in Review: From high-profile vacancies to Greek life

This week, The Hatchet’s editorial board reviewed this semester to look for trends, point out the most significant events of the last few months and determine what will be important heading into 2016.

Administrative departures leave open positions
Right now, it isn’t clear who will be running some of the University’s most high-priority offices in the spring. In just the past few months Provost Steven Lerman, Mental Health Services Director Silvio Weisner, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed and Victims’ Services Coordinator Suzanne Combs have all vacated their positions.

As the University looks to fill in these gaps, officials should give students the option to get involved – much like they did during the search for a new chief of the University Police Department last semester. Then, students helped to interview candidates and had the chance to offer their input.

The positions that are currently empty are important ones. Leaders of these offices come directly into contact with students, and undoubtedly have an effect on student life. Without student input, it’s less likely the University will choose new administrators who connect well with the student body.

Whether through town hall-style discussions or through a student presence on the search committees, students and officials should be able to work together to fill these positions. And it shouldn’t just be student leaders like the Student Association President or student group executive boards participating in these searches. Instead, GW should look for ways to include a broader variety of students – like students from each year, various majors and all types of student groups.

But finding the right candidate is a two-way street. If the University decides student input is important, the student body should take advantage of that opportunity. Rather than being apathetic about administrative positions that feel far away from student life, it’s important to realize how much they affect students – from the implementation of sexual assault prevention training to the creation of new academic programs. If students are apathetic, GW will have no motivation to include them in these processes again.

Greek life’s identity crisis
For years, Greek life has been under a microscope – both nationally and on individual college campuses. Every semester, there are new stories from around the country about intense party culture, hazing incidents and sexual assault within Greek chapters. Those storylines have played out to an extent on our campus, too.

National pushback against these negative stereotypes has left Greek life at GW in an identity crisis. Chapters on campus are stuck between building a fun, interesting culture of their own and taking enough precaution to keep their chapters alive. Members may be left with constant worry that one mistake could ruin Greek life at GW, which is understandably unnerving. Already this year we’ve seen Delta Gamma shut down for its “high-risk culture,” and the majority of chapters on campus are sanctioned for things like alcohol and hazing violations.

Naturally, the Greek community is under a lot of pressure to be on good behavior. Their visibility and sheer numbers on campus mean the University has to keep an eye on them in order to avoid high-profile incidents and bad publicity.

But so far, they’ve been handling this pressure well. Greek leaders have done a lot of impressive things this semester, including implementing values-based recruitment for sororities, pushing back against harmful sexual assault legislation like the Safe Campus Act, and increasing the number of chapters that undergo sexual assault prevention training.

Now the challenge is for Greek students to both live up to the expectations they’ve set for themselves, and still enjoy the community and niche culture that Greek life provides. Hopefully, they can still thrive while living in a fishbowl.

Confusing communication from GW
This semester, it’s felt like national issues have been making their way onto GW’s agenda. For the first time in recent memory, we’ve seen the University commenting on these issues, ranging from ISIS to Bill Cosby’s honorary degree, even when it doesn’t have to. Sometimes it seems like officials release statements to prove they align with students – but other times statements have seemed to come out of nowhere.

In some cases, GW has fallen in line with many students’ opinions. Just last month, University President Steven Knapp publicly addressed protests against racism at the University of Missouri. Knapp’s statement followed similar releases from other schools across the country, encouraging an open dialogue on GW’s campus and reminding the community of its responsibility to make everyone feel welcome.

Also in November, GW’s Office of Safety and Security reassured students that they were safe in Foggy Bottom following terrorist attacks in Paris and an alleged video in which Islamic State militants threatened D.C. And when an outside group made a “GW white student union” page on Facebook, the University quickly condemned it with a Facebook status and asked for the page to be taken down – much like other universities that had been targeted.

But the University hasn’t always gotten it right. In October, GW released a statement about Cosby’s honorary degree. In the statement, the University came out strongly against revoking the degree, resulting in criticism from student leaders, since Cosby has admitted to drugging and sexually assaulting women. And so far, officials have failed to comment on the Safe Campus Act, a harmful sexual assault bill that some Greek life members on campus have already condemned.

It seems like there isn’t a clear-cut pattern when it comes to what GW chooses to respond to and how. When officials speak out, it usually seems to be a good thing. This semester, it’s felt like the University has largely been interested in reassuring and supporting the GW community. But despite the positive and proactive statements we’ve seen this year, there are still situations in which the University has failed to act, or has said the wrong thing.

GW wasn’t required, for example, to issue a statement about Cosby, and doing so unnecessarily angered some students. And though the University doesn’t have to speak out on the Safe Campus Act, either, it would be a good way for GW to better align itself with students.

Going forward, GW should continue to identify national issues that are important to or have an effect on students. But officials also need to recognize which issues students care about the most and address those, as well.

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 editor Samantha LaFrance and copy editor Brandon Lee.

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