Officials hope freshmen bond over free events in the District

Media Credit: Shane Bahn | Hatchet Photographer

First-year students will receive weekly emails with notices about free events, like a “moonlight walk” to the Martin Luther King Jr. and Lincoln memorials.

Officials are trying to connect freshmen by sending them to free group activities around the District.

Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty announced District Connections, a program that will host free weekly “cultural and intellectual” activities around D.C. for first-year students, in an email to freshmen last week. Petty said the program will give freshmen a “gateway” to the District through activities led by faculty, staff and student leaders.

“We know that many of our students chose to come to GW because of our location,” she said in an email. “For some students, once they stepped foot on campus, perhaps they jumped right into their studies and didn’t venture out to explore the city the way they originally intended.”

First-year students will receive weekly notices listing free events, like a National Symphony Orchestra Pops concert at the Kennedy Center, a discussion with the CEO of Starbucks or a “moonlight walk” to the Martin Luther King Jr. and Lincoln memorials, according to the email. Students can register for events on the District Connections website.

Student Association President Ashley Le said the Center for Student Engagement partnered with the SA, Class Council, Program Board and the Residence Hall Association to plan activities for first-year students during the initiative’s pilot semester. She said the SA will plan an activity for freshmen in March but the organization has not yet determined what the event will be.

Le said the program is a way for first-year students to look beyond campus and become more integrated with the D.C. community.

“It reaffirms and it prioritizes the first-year experience,” she said. “It helps everyone in the community – faculty, student groups, student leaders – to come together and welcome our first-year students.”

RHA President SJ Matthews said District Connections will allow first-year students to connect with their peers and attend events around D.C. without worrying about costs. She said members of RHA met with Stewart Robinette, the assistant dean of residential engagement, at a general body meeting, and he explained the program before it launched.

“Administrators saw a need for more community-building events to help the first-year students connect,” she said in an email. “District Connections allows students to connect with different communities and events outside of GW and Foggy Bottom with little to no cost for the students, which is amazing.”

University President Thomas LeBlanc has made the student experience a tenet of his first two years at GW and opened the Office of Enrollment and the Student Experience over the summer to make the University more student-centered.

In interviews, more than 10 first-year students said the program could help them acclimate to life outside campus without spending money out of pocket.

Luke Michel, a freshman majoring in international affairs, said the program was likely offered to first-year students because they might not want to spend money on events that GWorld does not cover.

“There are a lot of free events and really cool things and freshmen don’t realize it,” he said. “By giving freshmen access to this program, it could open them up to what GW has to offer.”

Eva White, a freshman with an undeclared major, said the program will give first-year students an opportunity to take advantage of the “nice city we get to live in.” White said she will likely attend a “Star Wars” screening at the Kennedy Center, an event listed in the email sent to students about District Connections.

“It’s probably to maintain some of their student body to make sure their student body is happy – it makes sense,” she said. “One of the best things GW has to offer is its location.”

Jaspal Singh, a freshman majoring in biology, said he would use the program to stay up to date on free concerts or sports games in the area. He said the program could benefit first-year students whose transition to GW was difficult by giving them a resource to explore activities off campus.

“It’s kind of difficult for some people to find their group of people and really get out there and be social,” Singh said. “It’s a great resource for someone who is struggling to make friends.”

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