Andrew Gibson is a junior majoring in geology. Sumi Suda is a senior majoring in geology.
Something extraordinary exists in the basement of the ever-charming and ever-aging Bell Hall. Students gather around icy-black lab tables with rock and mineral samples strewn about, communally deciphering the secrets they hold.
Geology students have dedicated countless hours to unraveling the arcane nature of our planet, and we speak for every geology student when we say there is nothing else we’d rather be doing. Geology is more than just dusty rocks in an old basement, the extravagance of a mineral display or deep time, the millions or billions of years it can take geological phenomena to unfold. GW geology is a strong community built from late nights scratching rocks and discussing river morphology. But the tight-knit community we geology students have fostered is now under threat from officials within the Columbian College of the Arts & Sciences.
Geology is a small program at GW, and instead of facing the cost of hiring a replacement for Professor Catherine Forster, the only tenured geology department faculty member and the program’s director, the University would rather kill the program and put an end to what it gives students — opportunities to lead independent research, become a lab instructor or connect to major institutions like the U.S. Geological Survey or the Environmental Protection Agency.
If CCAS succeeds, every geology student would lose their education and their community. As part of this community, we know that many of our peers in the geology program are feminine or queer — ending the program would take away a vital space for some members of the University. Even students outside the program would feel the weight of the decision. Other subjects taught at GW, especially in CCAS, build on or require students to take courses taught within the geology program for their majors and minors.
Eliminating the geology program would not just harm students. Professors within the program, many of whom are not full-time and lack tenure, have given their professional lives to teach geology and connect with passionate students. Forster has constantly encouraged and welcomed us geology students as an ambassador to the study of earth sciences. We cannot speak highly enough about what she’s done for the program. But Forster’s passion and enthusiasm is stretched far beyond just teaching — she now has to concern herself with the loss GW’s STEM community would suffer if officials axed the geology program.
Alumni and graduates from the program, many of whom still work and live in the D.C. area, would also feel the pain of this loss. Alumni and undergraduate students in the program have been working on setting up a networking forum to connect with each other this year, but this decision puts these efforts in danger. No student, past or present, wants to see their legacy washed away.
Interest in geology exists here at GW, and understanding earth systems is a priceless skill to have in today’s world. But the University hasn’t invested enough money to tap into that passion. We and our peers have created a tentative plan of action to propose to the decision-makers within CCAS. Our plan entails restructuring the major, adding field schools and cross-listing more classes. We’re also doing anything else we can to save the program, like planning on creating a student organization centered around the study of the earth sciences to drive interest and participation in the geology program.
Eliminating the geology program could set a dangerous precedent. Officials could wipe out whatever small department or niche program they see fit to save money in the short term rather than invest money into programs they claim to care about. It could one day be you fighting for the future of your department or program — and your community.
We should be studying for exams, spending time with friends and enjoying the “best years of our lives,” but we can’t. The University has forced our hand to fight the administration for the simple right to learn what we want to learn.
The impersonal goliath of the administration does not create communities at GW — passionate students who attend class each day do. We want to improve the geology program and have the willpower to do so. Our success depends on whether CCAS is willing to listen to its students.
This article appeared in the May 1, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.