GW community celebrates Tapscott’s legacy as MSSC director at retirement ceremony

Media Credit: Rachel Schwartz | Assistant Photo Editor

During a retirement ceremony in the University Student Center Tuesday, GW community members celebrated Michael Tapscott’s legacy as the director of the Multicultural Student Services Center since 2003.

Students, alumni and administrators wiped away tears as they shared memories about Michael Tapscott’s deep imprint left upon the GW community at his retirement reception Tuesday.

More than 50 student leaders, alumni, faculty and staff gathered in the University Student Center’s Continental Ballroom last week to look back on Tapscott’s 19-year tenure at GW and his impact on the University community in celebration of his retirement, which he announced in June. Cultural heritage programming blossomed under Tapscott, who established the first annual Asian and Pacific Islander and Native American heritage celebrations in 2004 and the first annual South Asian Heritage Celebration in 2013 and broadened King Week programming to span two weeks.

But the former Multicultural Students Services Center director said he still views his “greatest badge of honor” to be his acquired title as the father figure of GW’s campus.

“I’ve always told people that I have the greatest job in the world because I have 1,000 sons and 1,000 daughters,” Tapscott said in an interview. 

After receiving more than five GW administrative and lifetime achievement awards and concluding nearly two decades of service at GW, students said Tapscott has left a legacy of inclusion and empathy at GW while in his father figure role.

“I don’t think there’s any word or compliment that’s any stronger or more rewarding than to be referred to as a parent,” Tapscott said. “I took it on as a part of the role that I played as director.”

He said the MSSC has grown over the years to embrace not just race and ethnicity, but also gender and sexuality with the addition of events like Trans Awareness Week in 2019 and the center’s expansion to include a LGBTQIA+ Resource Center in 2008. 

“What we tried to do was create a place where imagery, art, expression, names and faces on the wall, the colors, even the fonts of our productions will reflect underrepresented communities,” he said. “And what ends up happening is when people come in the door, they see themselves reflected on the walls and in the music and in the spirit of the place.”

Tapscott said he hopes people from GW carry on his “enthusiasm pledge,” with a raise of the right hand and an exclamation of a promise to be energetic, thankful and enthusiastic in everyday life as a way to encourage optimism and act as a “source of inspiration.” He said he takes the concept of enthusiasm “seriously” and would often connect with students he knew on campus and try to affirm them if they were having a tough day.

“Nothing more powerful than to see people waving and shouting out ‘enthusiasm,’” he said. “That’s how we’ve got to live life – otherwise, it’s not as much fun.”

Tapscott said his work establishing discussion series and diversity trainings to address racism on campus and encourage students to recognize privilege has stimulated “healthy conversation” as a mode to elicit change. He said he hopes administrators in the future work to de-escalate future acts of discrimination on campus through tighter community and educational discussion on the power words carry. 

“The most important thing you can ever do in a conflict is sit down and have a conversation about it,” Tapscott said. “And that conversation obviously has to be fair and often managed, but if you don’t talk, you don’t grow.”

Tapscott said he takes pride in knowing the comfort that the MSSC building on G Street offered students over the years, where he worked to foster an environment where they could feel comfortable taking long naps on the couches or stopping by his office to chat. 

“This amazing thing occurs – people breathe a sigh of relief because they know that they don’t have to look over their shoulder,” Tapscott said. “They know they won’t be questioned, they know they won’t suffer microaggressions, they know that they could go about their day, refuel, recharge and then go back to the business of being great.”

GW Police Department Chief James Tate spoke at Tuesday’s reception and presented Tapscott with a certificate and badge authenticating him as an honorary police officer. He said Tapscott has served as an inspiration within the GW community and alongside GWPD due to his “kind-hearted” personality and inclusive demeanor.

“Mike listens, he gives you the space and then somehow, someway, before you leave the room, he finds a way to lift you up,” Tate said.

Interim University President Mark Wrighton said at the reception that he realized after attending last year’s Black Heritage Celebration that Tapscott’s encouragement of campus development and genuine support for students made him “instrumental” to the University community. He said he first met Tapscott at last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, calling Tapscott a “master of ceremonies” through his role attracting high-profile speakers to the event, like D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine.

“I know that others will make an effort to live up to your very high expectations, and I have hope that you will be long remembered as a key contributor here,” Tate said to Tapscott at the event.

Senior Gianna Cook, the president of the Black Student Union, said Tapscott made GW’s campus feel like a home thanks to shared memories in the MSSC and Tapscott’s support at BSU events. She said his legacy would live on with BSU and the Black community at GW.

“Mr. Tapscott has always been a friendly, generous and committed leader, from letting us host events at the MSSC to having laughs with one another and to always leaving his door open to a student in need, Mr. T has always been a person you can rely on,” Cook said at the event.

Erika Filter contributed reporting.

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