This week’s headlines included announcements of several University-wide decisions that feel like steps in the right direction of creating a more sustainable and inclusive community on campus. But these decisions seem to create a facade of progress rather than actually solving the issues our campus faces.
Here’s the best and the worst from this week’s headlines:
As the world grapples with a changing climate, it’s time that the GW community acknowledge the effect we, as a wealthy institution, have on the climate crisis. Administrators plans to add bottle-filling stations, remove plastic water bottles from vending machines, and give reusable water bottles to the GW community signify that the University is beginning to do just that. This is a positive and heartening development that demonstrates officials finally seem to be listening to students’ calls to reduce and eventually eliminate the University’s plastic waste.
Secondly, University President Thomas LeBlanc declared Juneteeth an official University holiday. The announcement marks the overdue acknowledgement of June 19, 1865, the day when enslaved people were emancipated in Texas.
In other news, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Chris Bracey will serve as the interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. The next University president will choose the interim provost’s replacement, which is an optimistic reminder that LeBlanc’s time at GW and his influence on the institution is coming to an end.
This week also brought good news for the District as a whole. Now that 70 percent of D.C. is partially vaccinated, we can finally bask in the light at the end of the tunnel that we waited in for more than a year for. But we should celebrate cautiously as the Delta variant begins to take hold of unvaccinated parts of the country, scientists say that the variant poses little risk for fully vaccinated individuals.
Unfortunately, these feel-good headlines come with some negative undertones. Administrators left out a deadline by which they plan to eliminate single-use plastics, as Columnist Karina Ochoa-Berkley argued in favor of earlier this year. A deadline is crucial to holding GW accountable.
Perhaps more pressing, the University’s policy seems surface-level in terms of its goal of reducing waste and its impact on the environment. As Berkley argued in her column, single-use plastics are just one aspect of reducing consumption. Compostable single-use disposables, like compostable single-use straws, still require resource extraction to produce.
The single-use plastics policy isn’t the only potentially superficial announcement. Juneteenth should be recognized as a holiday, and it should have been recognized a long time ago. But LeBlanc and other GW administrators need to make sure that their commitment to “dismantle systemic racism,” as he said in the email, does not only translate to naming holidays and writing flowery emails. Hopefully, LeBlanc will attempt to reverse his contentious relationship with students of color on campus and use his last year to listen to the diverse communities that learn, teach, and work at GW.
This week, the thumbs down category is a reminder not to get too comfortable with the slow progress we are making in reducing waste and acknowledging history. The headlines from the thumbs up category are meant to be seen as positive, but they barely scratch the surface of deep, complicated issues like climate change and systemic racism. Hopefully, they are just positive enough to keep our spirits up so that we continue pushing for real change at GW.