Best and worst of this week’s headlines

Despite the transition to summer classes, there’s still plenty going on at GW and across D.C. Amid administrative shakeups and business arrangements on campus, the Capital Pride parade is a reason to celebrate.

In other news, the defeat of a former GW student’s lawsuit alleging racism and discrimination in the University’s athletic department raises the question of just how seriously the University takes its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

And all the while, an uptick of COVID-19 cases is a cause for concern for students still in the District and those looking to come back after the summer.

Here’s the best and worst of this week’s headlines:

Thumbs Up:

While changes within the University administration may be the last thing on students’ minds right now, Dean of Students Cissy Petty and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Mark Diaz are preparing to depart the University at the end of the month. Since joining GW in 2018, Petty has established herself as a member of the community by reaching out to students and their families, even moving into District House with her dog, Jazz, last fall. Diaz, who also joined the University in 2018, steered the University’s finances through the COVID-19 pandemic and spearheaded initiatives like U-Pass. But faculty senators criticized Diaz earlier this year for his alleged involvement in a University project that surveilled the movement of students, staff and faculty through their WiFi. And that pandemic-era leadership also resulted in mass layoffs of staff that the University is still recovering from.

While Petty established herself as a familiar face on campus, Diaz’s legacy is a mixed bag of major initiatives that, for better or worse, will shape GW in the years to come. Their departures will give the Board of Trustees an opportunity to outline GW’s future – let’s hope they take it.

Meanwhile, officials are also saying goodbye to The Aston, hiring an outside property firm to help market the off-campus residence hall most recently home to juniors and seniors displaced during renovations to Thurston Hall.

My take? Good riddance – given the poor state of The Aston, I doubt student residents will miss the building’s persistent maintenance issues, like burst pipes and leaking laundry machines, much. The residence hall seems to have been genuinely uninhabitable this year. Selling The Aston should relieve GW of a financial burden, allow it to invest in other residence halls and remove a major housing-related headache for students.

Turning to events outside GW, are you still in D.C. and looking for something to do? Check out Capital Pride, a series of events spanning the month of June offering fun, food and festivities in support of LGBTQ+ equality. D.C.’s Pride Parade will begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 11. The parade route starts at 14th and T Streets and ends in Dupont Circle.

Thumbs Down:

The District Court of D.C. ultimately ruled in favor of the University after student Jabari Stafford sued the University in 2018, alleging tennis coaches and fellow players discriminated against him. Stafford claims that the University failed to investigate his claims or reprimand his coaches. Those claims include reports of blatantly discriminatory conduct, like his fellow teammates’ alleged use of racial slurs, as well as targeted harassment campaigns that culminated in what Stafford has said was his “unlawful” suspension from the team.

But the court’s ruling isn’t exactly a slam dunk for GW – finding that Stafford’s claims fall outside the statute of limitations dealing with federal anti-discrimination and education law isn’t the same as saying Stafford didn’t suffer racist abuse at the hands of his peers and coaches. In other words, it’s a bad look, and it underscores that GW’s public-facing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is different from its stance behind closed doors – especially when those doors are in a courtroom. Worse still, it might discourage other students from reporting racist and other discriminatory behavior on campus.

In COVID-19 news, officials announced in an email last week that the University’s mask mandate would remain in place until further notice due to an increased number of COVID-19 cases. Between June 1 and June 7, the University had a 3.65 percent seven-day case positivity rate, or 134 positive tests out of 3,668 total tests. For comparison, the University reinstated its mask mandate after lifting it in April when the case positivity rate reached 2 percent.

It’s worth noting that these positive tests are coming from fewer weekly tests – the University administered around 5,000 tests for that same one-week period in June compared to around 10,000 tests a week during the academic year. A quieter campus as the University transitions to virtual or part-time summer classes could mean that the GW community is contracting COVID-19 elsewhere rather than a more direct form of community spread. Either way, while it’s too early to make a call about a transition to virtual classes this fall, it’s worth keeping an eye on the pandemic and continuing to take steps to protect your health.

Ethan Benn, a rising junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is the opinions editor.

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