The Forum


Saturday, May 23, 2015 3:04 p.m.

This week’s best and worst

Sarah Blugis, a senior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

In case you missed it, here’s the best and worst news from around campus and the District this week.

Thumbs up:
Jon Stewart will return to campus in the fall to headline Colonials Weekend, adding yet another name to the list of impressive speakers and performers GW has hosted over the past few years.

For many students, this will be their first opportunity to see Stewart on campus, since he hasn’t been to GW since 2012. And for students who have been loyal fans of Stewart’s witty political commentary, his performance might help to ease the pain of his upcoming departure from “The Daily Show” in August.

Colonials Weekend has been a great opportunity for the University to showcase its power to secure impressive performers. One quick Google search shows that in the past, our campus has treated parents and students to acts like Seth Meyers, Train, Robin Williams, The Fray, Jimmy Fallon, Seinfeld and Bill Maher.

GW clearly has its finger on the pulse of student interest, and has perfected the art of finding performers that appeal to both students and parents. For some students, Stewart was likely a large part of their political education, and his humor is mild enough for parents, too. Although bringing celebrities to campus likely comes with a substantial price tag, it doesn’t seem like most students mind the cost.

Thumbs down:
For safety on campus, it wasn’t a quiet week. On Thursday, students received two back-to-back alerts: one for an attempted armed robbery, and one for an armed and disorderly man outside Whole Foods.

Sometimes, Foggy Bottom really does feel like it’s in a bubble. That can make it easy to forget that our campus is a part of the city. These incidents should serve as a reminder to students that GW isn’t immune to outside security threats.

Many students have left for the summer, but that doesn’t mean security is any less important. Campus safety has been a hot topic this past academic year: Candidates for student association president or executive vice president highlighted safety concerns, and students were involved in the search for a new chief of the University Police Department.

A new chief has been selected and will start next month, meaning these most recent incidents were not hers to address. However, as she takes on her new position, it’s important for students to keep an eye on UPD and evaluate how the department deals with high-profile events under her leadership.

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Darrell Smith is a Foggy Bottom resident.

On a Saturday morning long ago, in the mid-80’s, I remember waking up one morning, still wearing my white, dress military college uniform that was quite mysteriously covered in green grass stains.

I didn’t remember most of the evening so I asked one of my classmates about the unsightly discolorations. He told me that the last time he saw me, I had been rolling around in a graveyard.

I feel that there are others among the “adult” crowd in Foggy Bottom that can recall similar transgressions from their college days. Are any of us really worthy of casting the first stone?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe colleges like GW should have rules and that lesson-providing punishment should be handed out. That, however, is the end of the story.

I’ve lived in Snows Court between 24th and 25th streets for close to 10 years, and I don’t think the community needs to be at war with the leaders of tomorrow. Reading the headlines in the local papers one would believe GW students have run amuck, and all my neighbors are holed up in barricaded homes and apartments.

Personally, I just don’t see it. In Foggy Bottom, we’re lucky to have GW as a neighbor, and we’re lucky to have these beautiful young hearts beating among us.

Most GW students have left for the summer, and with them they will take their happy smiles and joyous laughter. The streets will be more empty and the nights will be dimmer. I for one, will miss them.

I love seeing a skateboarder flying down the street, I love hearing two roommates in Whole Foods negotiating a grocery list, I love seeing a student studying on a park bench on a Friday night. And God help me, I love seeing them blow off some steam in the front yard of a rented home in the safe embrace of the Foggy Bottom neighborhood (as opposed to being somewhere else without adults to rein them in when they get carried away).

I didn’t receive my education at GW, but I feel like a Colonial after living here for so long. I love the students, and I love this neighborhood.

We should all really try kindness first. And after all, I have yet to see a GW student rolling around in a graveyard, so maybe the neighborhood can chill just a little bit and remember that we are blessed with a wonderful treasure in the students that live among us.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015 10:02 p.m.

This summer, remember what you love about GW

Melissa Holzberg, a freshman majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

For the first time since I enrolled in GW last August, I am an outcast. Well, I’m not actually an outcast. I just feel like one.

Instead of staying in D.C. this summer to nail an internship on the Hill or work for a news station, I chose to return home to suburban Long Island. I wanted to have one more summer living five minutes away from a beach and being surrounded by my family. However, just because I’m not going to be at GW this summer, doesn’t mean that D.C. shouldn’t be on my mind. Those of us who chose to go home for the summer should use this time away from the city to remember all of the reasons we came to GW in the first place.

We all easily voice our sarcastic #OnlyAtGW moments. Hardly a day went by this past year when I didn’t complain about where my tuition money was going when I had to wait 15 minutes for the elevator in my residence hall. I spent my whole second semester groaning about taking a science course that would have nothing to do with my future career goals, just to complete my general requirements.

Being at GW for a year jaded me. Somewhere around March, the Lincoln Memorial lost a little bit of its shimmer and just turned into a study spot. The School of Media and Public Affairs building lost a bit of its sparkle and J Street turned into a bad fast food restaurant when it was once a place where I would hang out and get my morning coffee.

But, the same science class I complained about was the only reason I finally got myself to a Smithsonian Museum and to the national zoo for lab assignments. I may have been “forced” to take my biological anthropology course for GPAC, yet the class gave me the motivation I needed to leave the Foggy Bottom bubble and explore new parts of D.C.

I’ve only been home in suburbia a few short days and I already miss those things I took for granted – like contemplating every life choice I ever made while in the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial, having my friends live at most three blocks away from me and how living away from home made me a more independent person. For the first time, I was given the opportunity to take classes in the subjects I was interested in and decide how I was going to tackle my work load.

Coming home for the summer doesn’t mean returning as the same person I was last August.

These next four months are a time to get motivated and excited for all we have to look forward to when we return to Foggy Bottom. I’m striving to spend fewer Sundays in bed watching Netflix next year and visit more farmer’s’ markets. Rather than find reasons to stay on campus, I’m going to attend at least one concert and D.C. sporting event next year. My first semester of my sophomore year will be full of journalism classes and dance classes that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to take at a different school. I get to come back from my D.C. hiatus in the fall reinvigorated by the reason I wanted to go to school in the nation’s capital: to learn.

GW has its faults, just as every other school. But take this escape from the D.C. humidity to remind why you chose to be a Colonial, because honestly, if an elevator takes too long to get somewhere, stairs are still an option.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015 10:45 a.m.

What I learned as a student leader

Ari Massefski, the former president of the Residence Hall Association and former chief of staff of the Student Association, is a senior in the School of Media and Public Affairs.

Despite the amazing experience I’ve had here, I didn’t have the best start to my GW career. Prior to matriculating here, I studied abroad for a year at the University of Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies with a promise from GW’s Office of Admissions that it would count as my freshman year.

But when I arrived in D.C. after an incredible year abroad, I was told that the University had determined my classes had not occurred at a “regionally accredited institution” and I would not receive credit for my time abroad.

To my freshman-year self, the University’s rationale for denying credit was illogical, and I saw their decision solely aimed at getting an extra year’s worth of tuition out of my family’s pocket. I decided to get involved with student advocacy because I didn’t want other students to feel like the University was treating them like customers instead of like members of a welcoming community.

Student advocacy has defined my time at GW. Working on projects like the proposal to move Student Health Service and the University Counseling Center to campus and the push to build a kitchen in Thurston Hall made me see the potential for positive change when the community rallies behind it.

The chance to get to know incredible student leaders – from former SA presidents Ashwin Narla and Julia Susuni to RHA president Mike Massaroli and current SA president Andie Dowd – taught me how to speak on behalf of others, and the opportunity to work with administrators like Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller and Seth Weinshel, executive director of GW Housing, showed me that humility is the most important quality in a leader.

Above all, I learned that officials’ first priority should be to ensure that students never feel like customers, but rather like important members of our community. Future student leaders have progress to build upon, but their jobs will be made easier if the upper levels of the GW administration continue to prioritize the basics of college life – like housing and residential life – in the midst of GW’s highly publicized budget cuts.

Last year, officials committed to a seven-year renovation cycle of all residence halls across both campuses. During the summer of 2014, renovations to Dakota, International House and City Hall marked the first year of this cycle, and their impact was immediately felt by students moving into those buildings in the fall.

But as student leaders and administrators discussed which buildings should be renovated this summer, the funds allocated to upgrades only covered a fraction of the work that other University staff said should be completed in Mitchell Hall and Strong Hall. With so many basic amenities in need of repair and such a limited budget, those buildings will receive some – but not all – of the repairs that would allow them to be the most welcoming to incoming freshmen and sorority women in the fall.

In addition, a lack of funding caused JBKO Hall to be eliminated from the renovation list and postponed until summer 2016 or later. This is a precedent-setting problem: with 27 residence halls across both campuses, three to four buildings need to renovated each summer in order to fulfill the promise that all residence halls will be renovated in seven years. With only two buildings under renovation this summer, it is likely that the seven-year cycle could become an eight- or nine-year cycle, and that is before we factor in the major renovations that will need to be done in Thurston Hall and Madison Hall when their turns come.

Residence halls are students’ first homes away from home and are the backbone of a college experience. Necessary repairs to our on-campus homes should never be delayed because of a lack of funds. Student leaders must continue to push for improvements to student life, and the onus is on officials to prioritize the funding of projects that will keep the student experience strong.

Last month, I met with University President Steven Knapp to encourage him to be more engaged in students’ lives. By making even the simplest of motions – for example, stopping by Madison Hall with pizza to hang out with freshmen for 15 minutes – I believe he would see how important residential communities are to students and would work with his team to ensure that funding for housing renovations and student life remains a priority.

Student happiness isn’t easy to measure, but the average student will tell you that it’s often the simplest things that matter the most.

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Talia Balakirsky, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

The riots that have broken out over the last few days in Baltimore over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray have quickly spiraled out of control.

These protests have become so violent that Larry Hogan, Maryland’s governor, has established a 10 p.m. curfew for all residents of Maryland, declared a state of emergency and brought in thousands of National Guard troops.

But for me, this isn’t a new story. Throughout the time that I lived in Baltimore, there were always problems and conflicts – whether it was the high crime rate or the growing number of people living in poverty. From all of the issues that have been piling up over the past years, a riot of this magnitude was perhaps inevitable.

For years there has been a clear tension between the Baltimore police and the community. With so many similar situations occurring nationwide that are connected to alleged police brutality, it would almost be odd if something similar didn’t happen in Baltimore.

As a native Baltimorean, these riots have broken my heart. With finals starting and the semester coming to an end, I couldn’t find the time to go back to Baltimore to help. Having to watch these protests from afar and being unable to help restore peace to the city has truly been tough. If I were in Baltimore, I would likely be helping clean up from the riots or ensuring that my family is safe.

Baltimore has always reminded me of such an active, lively place. The Inner Harbor is usually packed with tourists or locals looking at ships anchored nearby or enjoying the restaurants. Living in Baltimore also gave me the opportunity to experience the diversity that the city has to offer.

It’s upsetting, though, that violent protests have become the norm. As a result, many residents of Baltimore and the surrounding area have to work around the rules put in place thanks to the riot.

For example, my grandmother lives about four miles outside of the city and told me that she had to completely alter her schedule. She works as a teacher at a local college and has to run all of her errands either before she begins teaching for the day or quickly after she’s done because many stores have been closing at 7 p.m. so all employees can get home before curfew. It hasn’t been easy for her.

But despite all the violence, I’ve noticed that my family and friends who have witnessed the riots are standing together in solidarity. Many have taken to Facebook and Twitter to express their anger about the violence but, more overwhelmingly, have expressed the pride they feel in being able to call themselves Baltimoreans – even during this tough time. Many have uploaded pictures to social media that read, “Baltimore: the greatest city in America.”

Yesterday, hundreds of Baltimoreans participated in peaceful demonstrations throughout the city and hundreds more worked to clean up the streets – and I’m so proud of that. And today, the Baltimore Police Department announced that no arrests or injuries were reported during the latest protests.

Riots like the ones we’ve seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. can give a city and its people a bad reputation. We often forget that while the people who have participated in the riots may shed a negative light on Baltimore, their actions are not a reflection of the entire community.

The residents who have cleaned up behind their fellow Baltimoreans, offered water to the National Guard troops who were working to keep order in the city or joined a peaceful protest are the residents who represent the true Baltimore.

Yes, these riots may leave the city and its people scarred and yes, we will have to work together to rebuild. But I doubt anyone will end up feeling any less proud to call themselves a Baltimorean.

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Devon Fitzgerald, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

The battle for transgender visibility and inclusion has been a difficult one – especially when it comes to representation in the media. But there has been some progress.

A 14-year-old transgender girl named Jazz Jennings is the new face of Clean & Clear’s “See the Real Me” campaign. As one of the most prominent examples of a transgender person representing a company, she’s received a lot of attention on the Internet. Her campaign has been covered by CNN, the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, and she will also star in her own reality show that premieres this summer.

It’s exciting that we’re moving toward seeing transgender visibility in the media, and I’m encouraged that so many media outlets are interested in Jennings.

While there’s a possibility this was nothing but a publicity stunt for Johnson & Johnson – the parent company of Clean & Clear – it’s still good news that a transgender teen is at the center of a national ad campaign. Hopefully, someday, my children won’t understand why this was a such big deal because transgender individuals will be comfortable and feel fully accepted.

As students, we can’t control what happens in the media. But we do have some say over LGBT rights and representation at GW. Thankfully, those issues are important on our campus. But advocates for transgender rights shouldn’t slow down: Instead, they should start looking to other schools for innovative ideas we can put in place at GW.

Last month, our campus hosted renowned transgender rights activist Laverne Cox. The Student Association recently approved four bills expanding resources for transgender students. And this week is Gender Inclusive Bathroom Week – an effort to educate students about gender inclusion through initiatives like Toilet Trainers and a Square 80 “Shit In.”

It’s encouraging to see these initiatives happening on campus. When it comes to gender and sexuality, it’s critical that as a forward-thinking school, we make sure everyone on our campus feels included and has equal opportunities.

That’s why we can’t stop now. There’s still more we can do to advocate for LGBT students in our community. Even though GW is a liberal campus that aims to be inclusive, other schools are being more creative in their support of transgender rights.

For example, Emory University, one of GW’s peer schools, has a database of faculty, staff, alumni and students who are out. Not only does this provide LGBT individuals with the opportunity to connect with one another, but it also increases their visibility on campus and by extension, normalizes the LGBT community at Emory.

Another peer, New York University, hosts its own Transgender Awareness Week. GW should try something like this to show that transgender issues are important to everyone in our community. The NYU LGBTQ Student Center also offers to host workshops or training sessions to student organizations that request them.

We have no control over what happens in the media, but we can make our own change here at GW by strengthening current policies, putting new and innovative programs in place, and overall making sure our University is a place where minority groups aren’t exploited or disadvantaged.

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Sarah Blugis, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

I love making cheesy Spotify playlists – for parties, breakups, road trips and countless other events in my life. I’ve started working on my newest playlist for my very first summer in D.C. Obviously, the leading song will be a classic: “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful.

I’m excited to spend my first summer here. I’ll intern, pick up a second job and sign the lease for my first apartment. I don’t just feel like I’m pretending to be an adult anymore – I pretty much am one.

Though I don’t have personal experience with D.C. summers, I expect they’re just like the city during the school year: busy, crowded and stressful – as well as far more humid.

Each summer, D.C. makes a spectacle with the “running of the interns,” where interns sprint to the Supreme Court to get rulings. It’s a tradition that exemplifies the stereotypical political internship, but a summer in the District doesn’t have to be quite so fast-paced. Just because you’re interning here doesn’t mean your summer can’t also have some of the relaxations and comforts of home.

I refuse to let my summer be taken over by stress. It was a long year for me, filled with increased responsibility and tough classes. I’m going to work hard during the summer months and give my best at my internship, but I’m also going to take advantage of the season.

For me, this will include lazy Saturday afternoons at the pool on the Mount Vernon Campus, nights spent at 9:30 Club concerts and meeting some of this spring’s graduating seniors for drinks after work.

GW’s culture of ambition and forward-thinking dictates that we start staying here year-round as soon as possible to boost our resumes with internships, and most of my friends have already done it at least once.

It might seem strange that as a rising senior, I’m only just now spending a summer away from home, but I held out for so long because going back home has been important to me.

The summer after my freshman year at GW was the best I’ve ever had. I interned in my state senator’s office in the Pennsylvania state legislature all day, and nights were spent sitting by the lake or playing miniature golf with friends from high school. I made money and added something useful to my resume, but I also enjoyed the summertime the way you’re supposed to enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong – internships are the reason many of us came here and will put us ahead of students who have little experience by graduation. I recognize that the opportunity to intern in D.C. over the summer is one that students shouldn’t miss out on if it’s financially feasible for them.

But we already spend too much of our time being stressed, and each and every one of us deserves to give ourselves a little bit of slack now and then.

This summer, I can’t go tanning by Lake Wynonah in my hometown with my best friends. My dad can’t come home early from work to take my brother and me to Knoebel’s, our local amusement park. I can’t drive on back roads with the windows down listening to my cheesy summer playlist.

But I can let myself have a little bit of past summers, and you can, too.

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Michael Cornfield is an associate professor of political management.

Hillary Clinton, who just released a new video last week after launching her campaign, could be two adjectives away from becoming the next president of the United States.

The last time someone of the same party succeeded a two-term incumbent was 1988, when George H.W. Bush kept the White House in Republican hands after Ronald Reagan. You have to go back another 40 years for the preceding occurrence, when Democrat Harry Truman won election outright after finishing Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth term. Eight years with the same president generates a strong impulse for change among the American electorate.

Bush sold himself as a “kinder, gentler” version of Ronald Reagan – though he didn’t put it that baldly. Instead, he spoke about “a kinder and gentler America.” The phrase reportedly elicited this acidic comment from Nancy Reagan: “Kinder and gentler than whom?” But Bush won.

Hillary Clinton has to project her leadership qualities as a change from President Barack Obama’s and from President Bill Clinton’s to boot, while still maintaining a sense of continuity with both of them. Such a persona, along with a strong economy and a non-imploding campaign organization, would put her in a strong position to win.

Her key rollout phrase – a first stab at a campaign slogan – expresses her desire and intent to be the “champion” of “everyday Americans.” The biography on her campaign web site, “Hillary’s Story,” affixes the adjective “forceful” to “champion.”

“Forceful champion” does not meet her need to partially differentiate herself from Bill Clinton and Obama.

The biography falls flat on emotional engagement as well. Here at the Graduate School of Political Management, we teach GW students to construct campaign narratives with story arcs. Audiences respond favorably to stories that entice them to identify with characters who seek something worthwhile and struggle to get it.

But “Hillary’s Story” doesn’t show her valiantly and successfully applying force to the causes of women, children and “everyday Americans” – which she has championed throughout her public life.

There remains ample time for Clinton and her team to find, test and plug in the right adjectives. Some of her many supporters in the GW community may help in this important campaign operation.

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Melissa Holzberg, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

There comes a time during every student’s freshman year when he or she either thinks, “I picked the right school” or “I’ve made a mistake.”

Over the course of this week, I attended two formals – my boyfriend’s fraternity formal last weekend at the University of Virginia, and my sorority’s formal on Thursday. From the very beginning, I’ve felt pretty sure that going Greek at GW was the right decision. But this week, I learned a few things: I was not meant to go to a Southern school, I would not have been a Chi Omega at UVA and I was meant to be Greek at GW.

Being a “sorority girl” and “being Greek” have completely different meanings depending on where you are. I’d be lying if I said that GW was always my dream school. My three “dream” schools all gave me a swift “no,” and one of those was UVA.

At UVA, we drove to a vineyard where a big white tent was set up on a hill. White tablecloths, white napkins and accents of red decorated the venue. First was the picture-taking portion of the evening. Girls from the same sororities took pictures, and the different pledge classes of my boyfriend’s fraternity posed likewise. Then came dinner and dancing on a built-in dance floor in the middle of the tent. We made our way home on the bus at 11:45 p.m.

At my GW formal, we started in Thurston Hall and met up with some of my sisters. We drove to a lounge in Adams Morgan and walked down the stairs of the venue to a dark basement. Flashes of some iPhone cameras went off, but mostly there was screaming as people greeted each other. Some platters of cocktail food were on the bar. The music started fast: couples were in their own world, and groups of sisters and their dates danced until 1 a.m.

It’s not that I felt out of place last weekend when I was surrounded my boyfriend’s fraternity brothers at a beautiful vineyard. I didn’t feel out of place because I knew that this could have been my world. But I chose the basement of a lounge in Adams Morgan because I wanted to be able to let loose with my friends without worrying about my surroundings.

I never thought I’d be a “sorority girl,” and I never thought I’d attend a fraternity or sorority formal. A part of me now thinks I never thought I’d be or attend those things because I imagined Greek life to be like the movies.

But I found a school that put Greek life in a different light for me. My idea of what a sorority is like didn’t match the opinions of those girls at UVA, nor did my idea of Greek life as a whole match my boyfriend’s. But that’s OK.

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James Levy is an adjunct professor of music.

The cuts to GW’s music department, and the jazz program in particular, provide the opportunity to make a few interesting comparisons – namely, to one of last year’s Oscar-nominated movies, “Whiplash,” which centers on a jazz band at a fictional music conservatory.

At GW, I have the job that actor J.K Simmons portrays: director of the jazz band. Our GW groups is known as King James and the Serfs of Swing.

While I enjoyed watching the movie, my entire jazz-band-director soul recoiled in horror at how the character, Terence Fletcher, ran his band rehearsals. He humiliated and screamed at his students – a fierce approach that I haven’t even come close to taking.

Instead, I motivate my students by exposing them to the recordings and videos of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Cab Calloway.

The only way I even come close to Terence Fletcher is that students do not talk for the entire two-hour rehearsal. I tell them that while I hope they practice hard and become better musicians, my primary focus is to get them to be the best that they can be right now. Performers often refer to this as “being in the zone.” With no talking, all those portions of the brain that are normally waiting in the wings to joke and crack up the class instead get on the task of listening and playing music. It is a great lesson to learn and helps them give their best performances.

But my band has apparently been eliminated, at least for the fall 2015 semester.

Not only has our band been a big part of my students’ lives, but it’s been a big part of mine, as well. I’ve been teaching at GW for 30 years, and have been running the Serfs since the early 1990s. I’ve spent time outside of rehearsal preparing music, emailing band members feedback from the last rehearsal – without yelling at them – and looking at YouTube to find relevant videos for the band to watch.

The Serfs is made up of about 12 members, give or take a few brass players. Our students are a mix of music majors, minors, and non-majors or minors who participate for credit. We practice all year leading up to our big shows at celebrations like International Jazz Day.

Once upon a time, I was paid for four hours a week, which reflected the time I actually spent on the job directing the band. Then in 2006, right before the union election, that time was cut down to three hours. Now, the amount I’m paid doesn’t reflect the work I do.

Over the last 10 years, I have still spent at least four hours each week doing prep. I do it because I love the music and I consider the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s to be the most important music to teach college students. It is the ancestor of all the popular music they listen to today.

I did make a few attempts to get my fourth hour back. Our hourly pay for giving music lessons is mandated in our union contracts. We get paid by the hour for other duties, like directing an ensemble. The department typically included extra time for responsibilities like preparing for rehearsal, but since those hours aren’t contractually defined, GW has been able to cut my pay. And bless their hearts, in the Southern sense: They’re doing it again.

Some of the jazz combos were originally funded for three hours a week, and then were cut down to two hours in 2006. Now, directors are paid for an hour and a half of rehearsal each week. Who rehearses for just 90 minutes? Not Terence Fletcher, I bet.

In contrast to the action portrayed in “Whiplash,” I can assure you my own drummer won’t attack me on stage. And my brass section will also act friendly, but sadly, I’m not sure I can say the same for GW’s top brass.

Next week, you can come support the Serfs and hear us perform as part of Jazz Appreciation Month, either Tuesday, April 21 at 5 p.m. in Pershing Park or Sunday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre. We’ll be swinging as best we can.

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