Op-Ed: Creating a culture of civility starts at Colonial Inauguration

Peter Konwerski is the Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs.

Welcome to GW! As you embark on orientation, or Colonial Inauguration as we call it, know that we’re excited to have such an incredible group of students join our community. You’re special to us not only because of your academic accomplishments that brought you to our campus, but also because you are our bicentennial anniversary class. Your arrival this summer helps us kick off GW’s 200th anniversary that we will celebrate in four years.

Being a special, historic class comes with additional opportunities. You may see a little more “pomp and circumstance” during your time at GW. There also may be some perks along the way, like your own class logo and a few extra components to ceremonies – starting with your Freshman Convocation and Day of Service Sept. 9 and culminating at your Commencement in four years, on May 16, 2021.

You’ll soon understand that traditions are very important in University life. We use CI to get you oriented to many of the things that make GW unique, which includes educating you about your responsibilities as a citizen in our community. This includes an expectation that you engage in the academic experience as both a scholar and a contributing member of our community.

College is about new experiences, different opinions, discussion and debate. And it’s also about sometimes feeling uncomfortable so you can grow through that discomfort. While we will always strive to ensure that our students feel safe in our community, we believe that safety and comfort are two very different things. We also believe that learning and growth happen when we get uncomfortable by experiencing new and challenging things.

Challenging yourself requires you to allow other people to share their stories, perspectives or opinions, especially if they are different than your own. There is a lot of diversity in our community and we’re committed to helping everyone find their place. We welcome the intellectual diversity that flourishes at GW. Be willing to engage in discourse and, at times, be willing to “agree to disagree” with each other. At GW, disagreement is OK. It’s part of the learning process and it’s how we create a thriving culture that encourages respectful, civil debate. It’s particularly appropriate at the most politically active university in America and especially at this time in our culture and society.

We also expect you to conduct yourself with the highest levels of integrity. Our Code of Academic Integrity and our Code of Student Conduct help hold our community accountable in and out of the classroom, on and off campus. We use these tools to help inculcate a culture of “Colonials Helping Colonials.” You demonstrate caring when you refer a friend to the CARE Network, when you are a good Samaritan and help someone in a challenging situation involving alcohol or drugs or when your bystander intervention prevents a physical or sexual assault. No matter the situation, I encourage you to strive to always live a life of integrity and honor, and step in and stand up for your fellow classmates any time someone needs a hand.

As we prepare our future citizen leaders for success starting at CI, I know that when we embody respect for others, when we help one another, when we engage civilly in our discourse and debate and when we conduct ourselves with the highest levels of integrity, we Colonials can accomplish anything.

Welcome Class of 2021! I look forward to meeting you and to empowering you to learn and thrive at GW and beyond.

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