Op-ed: GW needs an urban studies minor

Senior Yannik Omictin and junior Andrea Martinez are members of the GW Urban Studies Initiative Steering Committee.

On GW’s website, big, cursive text exclaims students “will not just get an education in D.C., but from D.C.” 

But which D.C.?

We brag about congressional internships and fellowships at important think tanks. We visit embassies with our classes. Professors who work in government agencies and research facilities teach our courses. They all represent what most folks outside of our area might refer to, sometimes derisively, as “Washington.” The swamp.

But do we engage with a rapidly gentrifying D.C.? Do we learn from former Mayor Marion Barry and the legends that fought for home rule? What about the mostly Black tenants and families fighting for their rights to return to their homes at Brookland Manor, Barry Farms and Park Morton? And the residents of color suffering through preventable diseases and food deserts disproportionately? 

What does GW do with students who want to be in community with the real D.C., the one that remains when Hill staffers go home to the suburbs? These students might take the course on D.C. taught in the history and American studies departments, while many will satisfy their curiosity elsewhere. Some may get involved with community organizations fighting to build bike lanes or preserve public housing, generally without GW’s support. Some might transfer from GW if they don’t find what they’re looking for. One of the authors of this op-ed strongly considered doing so.

What we’re missing at GW isn’t just the study of D.C. It’s the study of cities, the processes that force their evolution and adaptation, the people and communities that dedicate their lives to building them. GW, the largest university in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, has no undergraduate urban studies program.

Currently, to receive any kind of undergraduate experience in urban studies at GW, a student has to carefully choose the right combination of majors and minors to allow them to take the most courses in urban studies. A geography major or minor might allow them to take Land Use and Urban Transportation, while a history program might let them take US Urban History. Courses on cities or adjacent to urban studies are scattered throughout over a dozen departments, with varying prerequisites. There is no culminating experience, no opportunity for community-engaged scholarship, leaving students to carve out their own opportunities with minimal support.

We have an incredible opportunity to fix this by creating an urban studies minor now, joining seven of our peer schools that already host an undergraduate urban studies program. The GW Urban Studies Initiative is working with a group of professors from across disciplines to propose the minor, but we need your voice to convince the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences that GW is ready for an urban studies minor.

Vote yes in the SA elections this Tuesday and Wednesday for an urban studies minor!

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