Freshman Isha Rauf said she didn’t agree with much of what U.S. President Donald Trump stood for in his campaign, but with the ceremony taking place just blocks from campus, she couldn’t bring herself to miss inauguration.
“This is an important historic event,” Rauf said. “It is going to be in the textbooks.”
Students from GW, which is consistently ranked as the most politically active college in the country, were up close this weekend as throngs descended on the District for what many called an intense few days of celebration and protest surrounding Trump’s inauguration.
While Inauguration Day is usually the biggest draw of the weekend, this year many students – and visitors – came to D.C. for Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington, in which hundreds of thousands of demonstrators lined downtown streets to denounce Trump and support women’s rights.
Throughout the weekend, students mingled with crowds of red cap-wearing Trump supporters at events to mark the inauguration. Festivities began Thursday night with a concert at the Lincoln Memorial before Friday’s main event, Trump’s swearing-in followed by a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
On the Mall, where crowds were significantly smaller than in past years, some students said they didn’t support Trump but came to be a part of the pageantry of the transition to a new president.
Members of the College Republicans left the Foggy Bottom Campus at 5 a.m. Friday to take their spot in a ticketed section near the Capitol and took over the University’s official Snapchat account for the event, Allison Coukos, the group’s public relations chair, said.
The CRs opted not to take a position on Trump during the campaign, citing the divide the candidate caused within the GOP. Coukos said Trump’s victory took many members by surprise, but the inauguration had caused many members to embrace a Republican president.
Seeing the peaceful transition of power up close was a “moving experience” for many members, she said.
“It is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity since for most students it’s the first time they have ever voted in an election,” Coukos said.
Other students spent the day at a litany of rallies protesting Trump’s inauguration across the city. One protest on K Street turned unruly as a handful of demonstrators smashed windows and clashed with police, but other demonstrations largely remained peaceful.
Later that night, other students boarded shuttle buses to GW’s Inaugural Ball, which had been initially marked by students trying to sell their ball tickets they’d bought when they thought Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would win the presidency.
The College Democrats hosted a Trump resistance program Friday afternoon featuring Democratic policymakers who planned to organize against the new administration’s proposed policies on student debt, climate change and press freedom, Levi Debose, the group’s vice president of communications, said.
On Saturday, the District was dominated by the Women’s March, as roughly half a million demonstrators, according to some estimates, gathered to listen to celebrities, politicians and women’s rights activists speak and marched toward the White House.
Masses of marchers wore pink “pussyhats” and held signs advocating for female empowerment and abortion rights, as well as protections for minority, immigrant and LGBT communities. It was the largest of scores of rallies nationwide and around the world in defiance of Trump and one of the largest in D.C.’s long history of mass protest, according to Business Insider.
Campus student groups, including Students Against Sexual Assault and the CDs, had members attend the march.
Debose said about 110 CD members took part in the women’s march. The march was “absolutely astounding,” he said.
“To see thousands of people get out for something they believe in, marching for an issue no matter how cold it was or how long the march was, was not only historic but also unprecedented,” Debose said.
Jocelyn Jacoby, the co-president of SASA, a non-partisan organization, said the group didn’t have official plans to go, but many members did attend. She said the march was a way of “taking power back” for members of the group who are victims of sexual violence.
Many were inspired to rally specifically against Trump in light of comments he made about groping women in a leaked tape from 2005, Jacoby said.
“The new president is a perpetrator of sexual violence, and that is not something we can ignore,” she said.
Student Association Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno said students should keep their political passions alive and maintain an open dialogue about political issues on campus.
He said he attended both “historic” events over the weekend.
“The inauguration only happens once every four years and it is a really historic event, you have no guarantee you’ll be here in four years,” he said. “I think this was the largest march in U.S. history and I am not a woman, but I am very proud and it is something I think I will tell my kids one day.”
James Levinson, Leah Potter, Cayla Harris and Meredith Roaten contributed reporting.