The Forum


Felipe Chiriboga, a junior majoring in economics and philosophy, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

This summer I was backpacking around Southeast Asia with my three best friends from high school. One day, we were sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, when a skinny boy approached us and began asking questions in faulty English: “Where are you from?” and “How old are you?”

Maybe I should have reciprocated his kindness. But as an Ecuadorian brought up by an overprotective mother, instead I was distressed. We wondered what this boy wanted. Maybe he was trying to sell us something, or maybe even rob us. Meanwhile, he just stared at us and smiled.

Soon, a second boy joined in and sat next to one of my friends. The group around us kept growing, and soon included over 15 university students. As it turns out, they wanted to talk to tourists and improve their English, making us feel embarrassed for judging them so quickly.

I was shocked by the gathering of strangers and how outgoing they were, and I realized that things like this never happen to me at GW. We live tucked into our personal space, shielded by some headphones or a smartphone screen and barely aware of the people who surround us.

In Vietnam, I learned that a true community is formed by people coexisting in a space where they’re encouraged to talk to each other – whether that means discussing the day’s news, or their problems and achievements. After misjudging those students in Vietnam, I realized how wrong I was not to notice people’s kindness.

We tend to judge hard, and we tend to judge wrong, which only stops us from opening our personal space and thoughts to those around us. GW students, staff and faculty should try to be more friendly, open and helpful to strangers.

Leave your phone in your pocket and your judgments aside, and be open to talking to the Starbucks employees about the weather. Be ready to say hi to another student when you cross paths. Talk to someone on the Metro. Being more open and friendly allows us all to have more positive, engaging experiences.

And don’t wait for the idyllic opportunity to act kindly to hit you in the face in order to do so: Force yourself to become more attentive. Not only could you help someone in distress, but you will also meet new and interesting people.

That night in Vietnam, we walked back to our hotel unhurriedly, mystified by the event. When we stopped merely sightseeing and instead began experiencing, it was pure magic.

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Friday, Aug. 21, 2015 3:00 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.

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This week, students in the School of Media and Public Affairs picked up some bragging rights. Alumna Dana Bash was named CNN’s chief political correspondent on Monday, after working as the network’s Congressional correspondent for nine years.

It’s always great to see GW alumni doing well out in the world, because it reminds us that we can do it, too.

Of course, we can’t all expect to rise to the levels of fame that some alumni – like Kerry Washington, Colin Powell or Bash – have reached. But in the daily whirlwind of college life packed with classes, activities and clubs, it’s nice to be reminded that those who have made names for themselves were once in our shoes.

Hopefully, Bash will soon return to campus to impart some wisdom and pose for a few selfies with current students. But in the meantime, her success can serve as a reminder to SMPA students that eventually, paying attention during “Introduction to Political Communication” will pay off.

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For some students in D.C., access to a better school is just out of reach.

A federal program allows students assigned to failing schools the right to transfer to better-performing schools. But this week, the parents of some students taking advantage of this program found out their children don’t have access to the buses that would take them to their new schools.

The District cited cost as the main reason for cutting off bus services. Instead, children are being encouraged to use public transportation. But in some cases, students’ schools are just too far away for them to travel alone safely, which will likely leave some of them stuck in failing schools nearby.

It’s disheartening that students have the chance to receive a better education, but are hindered by the city’s budget cuts.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like a problem that GW or its students could do much to change. But students aren’t powerless when it comes to helping the D.C. public school system. There are plenty of opportunities through community service, or programs like Jumpstart, which organizes students to serve at preschools in low-income neighborhoods.

We can hope that the District will change its mind, and reinstate transportation for students. But for now, all we can do is our part to help the school system – even if it’s just by getting out of bed to participate in the Freshman Day of Service.

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Friday, Aug. 14, 2015 3:07 p.m.

This week’s best and worst

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

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

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Chicago may be “the windy city,” but the District may give it a run for its money. A wind farm will now power 35 percent of D.C. government buildings, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday.

The District purchased a wind farm in southwestern Pennsylvania in a deal that will provide 125,000 MW hours of electricity each year, making this deal the largest wind power energy deal any U.S. city has ever entered.

At a press conference on Wednesday, city officials estimated the city will save $45 million over the next two decades. The deal will also remove about 100,000 tons of carbon pollution from the year – a step towards D.C.’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2032.

Luckily, GW is in line with D.C.’s goals to be the greenest city in the U.S. Campus-wide sustainability efforts include GW’s target to be “waste-free” by 2020, as well as their goal of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent before 2040. And last summer GW entered into a 20-year pledge to derive half of its energy from solar power.

It’s encouraging that the GW community isn’t alone in its efforts to go green. With the help and commitment of the city, too, D.C. is well on its way to becoming a more eco-friendly place.

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The derailment of a Metro train on Aug. 6 between the Smithsonian and Federal Triangle Stops could have been avoided, Metro officials revealed this week.

Routine testing in early July found a track flaw that could have that section to be immediately shut down, Metro officials said. The repair was never made, and the train derailment last week occurred at the exact location of the flaw.

Problems with the Metro have been nonstop this summer, and have likely left some D.C. residents and students reluctant to rely on it.

In June, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that Metro had failed to correctly repair protective sleeves over cables. This repair was supposed to stop another fatal smoke error, like the one on Jan. 12 at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro stop. Metro also had toremove 280 cars that were found to have asbestos late last month.

Metrorail is the second largest rail system in the country, with 91 stations and covering 118 miles. As a system that services both residents, commuters and students, officials must prioritize the safety of passengers above all else.

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Claude Khalife, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Two weeks after completing my freshman year at GW, I received news that a high school friend had overdosed on heroin.

The news about my friend hit me like a freight train. My brain quickly traveled through all the normal pit stops of anger, confusion and grief. At the end, I was left with one question: How could such a brilliant person, from what was by all accounts a well-educated, financially comfortable family, end up dying like this?

It’s a question that my peers, as well as GW and all universities, should be asking.

Although my friend’s passing made this issue personal for me, his memory should be more than just a statistic, or an example of the pitfalls of drug use. He was a kind, intelligent, gentle person. He made me laugh. And in many ways, his qualities reminded me of many of my friends at GW.

Heroin is no longer confined to the ill-educated and the impoverished. Heroin deaths nationwide nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Heroin has also become more plentiful than ever, especially following a federal crackdown on drugs like Oxycontin, the Washington Post reported. Many addicts start off with a prescription of legal painkillers and may move to heroin once their prescription runs out. And there has been a significant increase in the number of adults prescribed painkillers during emergency room visits, according to a study done last year by researchers in the School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

Although research at GW has clearly pointed to the risks that come with opioid prescriptions, it took some work to find a one-page fact sheet on GW’s drug prevention web site about the effects of heroin.

“GW’s Health Promotion and Prevention Services works to educate students about a wide variety of substances so that they may make informed and responsible decisions for their health and wellbeing,” Associate Director Alexis Janda said in an email. She also noted that students learn about drugs “through online resources, programs and in-person discussions.”

Meanwhile, the University’s official drug policy was given a “C” grade by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, in part for a focus on punitive measures in lieu of treatment options for those struggling with addiction.

In the midst of this scary trend, let us strive to do more, educate more and learn more. GW can and should lead the way.

Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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Friday, Aug. 7, 2015 7:52 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.

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Finally, someone is talking about D.C. statehood again. And for once, it isn’t Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

This week, comedian John Oliver shed light on the issue during his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” Through both a history lesson and a song, Oliver successfully turned D.C. statehood into a national conversation that has even sparked real, tangible activism. The video currently has more than 1 million views on YouTube.

Though Oliver’s segment was lighthearted, the fight for equal rights in the District is not. As “Last Week Tonight” emphasized, the city’s lack of autonomy allows Congress to ignore or block D.C. initiatives — even those that would benefit the health and well-being of residents.

In the past, some have encouraged students to get involved in the activism surrounding D.C. statehood, but it doesn’t appear to be a pressing issue for the majority of GW students, since come from other cities. Oliver’s endorsement likely won’t be enough to bring most students into the fight, but it’s a start.

Hopefully, this conversation will have some staying power, because the residents of the District deserve much better. And like Holmes Norton, they should refuse to yield.

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So far in 2015, you may have noticed more gun violence in the local news than in years past. That’s because gun crimes have increased 20 percent this year – and it’s only August.

GW students shouldn’t be worried, though. Foggy Bottom is actually one of 17 neighborhoods that either saw a decrease or little change in crime. And levels of violent crime in D.C. have actually reached historically low levels, according to a report by the Urban Institute.

It’s unclear why gun violence has increased so much this summer, making it a difficult problem to address. In the meantime, it’s important for students to be careful while off-campus, especially in high-crime neighborhoods like the areas around Union Station, Petworth and Capitol Hill.

Of course, this is something that top officials are taking seriously. The chief of the Metropolitan Police Department has held press conferences about gun violence and a possible connection to an uptick in synthetic drug use.

There’s no reason to avoid exploring D.C. But we can all do our best to keep an eye out for ourselves, and for everyone around us.

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Friday, July 31, 2015 10:00 a.m.

This week’s best and worst

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

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

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One year after launching its largest-ever capital campaign, GW had its most successful fundraising year in history.

The University’s fundraising arm brought in $230 million in donations this past fiscal year – a 21 percent increase from the prior fiscal year. That progress means GW has $230 million left to raise for its $1 billion campaign, with three years remaining.

This past fiscal year’s success may help to turn the corner on a  history of lackluster fundraising and donations. For example, GW raised $84 million in 2009, one of the smallest amounts for a school its size.

Officials have said they expect the campaign to reach its $1 billion goal well before its end date.

But to keep up this momentum, officials must ensure a cohesive and productive atmosphere in the fundraising office. Three high-level members of the office left over the past academic year and 10 positions opened in the office in one month this summer. If the campaign is going to reach $1 billion, officials must ensure continuity.

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Asbestos was found behind heater boxes in nearly 300 Metro cars, according to a contractor proposal by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority last week. The proposal calls for the removal of the asbestos material, as well as phasing out 280 of the 1000-series railcars, the oldest type of Metro car in use today.

Asbestos carries cancer-causing toxins. But Metro officials have said the cars are still safe because the asbestos cannot be crumbled, and the toxic fibers cannot be exposed until the affected areas are sawed or drilled through.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended the removal of all 1000-series cars from the rails. This move has already begun, according to Metro officials, and will continue as the asbestos is removed and as more 7000-series cars are available to replace the older cars. To determine what series car you’re boarding, you can look at the top exterior of each car where the 1000-series trains have their number printed.


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Friday, July 31, 2015 9:58 a.m.

No one is immune to online threats

Jaggar DeMarco, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

Imagine your life without the Internet.

Actually don’t do that: It’s way too scary. That’s because like no generation before us, we rely heavily on technology — particularly the Internet and apps we use on our tablets or smartphones.

We can access anything, anytime. Most of us have our email services connected to our smartphones. We upload our entire lives to social media with a few quick taps of our fingers. Apps like Uber and Venmo allow users to quickly use credit cards and banking information to transfer money.

I’ve realized that as college students, this all feels harmless. But it’s time that we exercise more caution when it comes to the information we put out into the world — especially when there are people out there who know how to find it.

Recently, I’ve begun to think how easily all of our personal information can be stolen. Especially scary is a phenomenon called doxing, in which someone posts another person’s personal information — like their phone number or home address — online. That way, others can find them and potentially harm or threaten them.

Though it’s been around for a while, doxing has increased in popularity over the past year or so. While I haven’t personally been affected by this phenomenon, it has made me increasingly more aware of the dangers of the Internet.

Your first thought might be, “That would never happen to me.” But recently, I had an enlightening moment that changed my mind and made me realize that we’re all vulnerable online.

This summer, I began an internship with the federal government. The first meeting I attended was on the massive data breach of the Office of Personnel Management that affected all current and past federal employees of the last three decades — a total of 21.5 million people. This meant that their Social Security numbers and banking information were stolen and probably sold around the black market.

This was definitely a sobering first meeting and not really anything I was expecting. I thought that the federal government could prevent such cyber attacks but instead, those employees are just as vulnerable as everyone else.

Continuing to use the Internet is not only a risk that everyone is going to take, it’s is a risk that everyone has to take in order to function efficiently in society. Most of us probably have a larger presence online now than ever before, allowing others to find photos and contact information through a quick Google search.

There are ways to lessen that risk. Some online resources, like the Crash Override Network, provide useful tips for preventing doxing. And there are ways to practice good smartphone security, too — like turning off GPS tracking, or blocking certain phone numbers.

GW already warns students and faculty of threats to their cybersecurity through Infomail messages. Doxing and other trends in crime that could affect our safety online should be included in these warnings.

Unfortunately, I’m not an expert when it comes to protecting personal information. All I learned in that meeting was to keep a close eye on my bank account and look for unauthorized spending. But if you’re anything like me, you could stand to learn a thing or two about cyber security.

Don’t be afraid to use the Internet to its fullest potential, but just beware that you have to be smart when using it.

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Varun Joshi, a senior majoring in economics and math, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Ask me whether I consider myself to be more Indian or American, and I would have a difficult time answering. My dual identity has influenced my perspective on life, and for first-generation Americans like myself, this perspective is often split.

I was brought up in an individualistic American culture that values independence, but my family emphasized the importance of family and parental involvement, more typical of the “collectivist” Indian culture. When I left for college, those conflicting ideas meant my parents and I had to find a balance.

As we prepare for yet another academic year — during which freshmen will have both positive and negative experiences with their families — I’ve been reflecting on the way my family has handled my time at school thus far.

I’m glad my parents weren’t “helicopter parents,” and I’m thankful they didn’t leave me completely on my own, either. Personally, I’ve found that it’s best when families give their children space while still offering advice and guidance.

Coming from Virginia and living near a Metro station, I probably would have commuted and stayed with my family had I not been required to live on campus my freshman year. In retrospect, that was one of the best things to possibly happen to me.

I was relatively sheltered in high school. But living on campus allowed me to manage my own spending, dining habits, time and laundry. Such a stark change from life at home was an amazing experience.

But that doesn’t mean everything was easy. Leaving home to live independently at 18 was unprecedented in my family. In India, my parents and cousins lived with extended family up to or even through college. Naturally, while I was away at school I received a daily diet of my family’s concerns, probing questions and unsolicited advice.

Some of their fears were natural, like their anxiety over whether I was binge drinking or being influenced by students whose parents were uninvolved. There were also arguments about unanswered phone calls or too few phone calls. On top of that, my parents asked that I return to my residence hall at a reasonable hour each night and to notify them promptly upon doing so.

Since my family lives close by, they often asked me to spend weekends at home. Of course I missed them, but I also wanted to use my days off to explore GW and meet new people.

I was stuck between an American-influenced desire to grow as an individual and my family’s Indian-influenced desire to participate in my life. This was where the importance of balance came in.

Eventually, my family got used to my absence and realized I was handling myself responsibly. Gradually, they became more comfortable with me living on my own and gave me increasing space to grow as an individual.

But despite my happiness with my newfound independence then, I also encountered moments of anxiety and self-doubt when I needed my family. Having a support system to vent to about my life and my future during those moments was truly invaluable. Being alone at such times of stress would have been almost as bad as being completely crowded out.

It’s a truism that two logs will burn well when separate, but will be extinguished when too close. From personal experience, I can argue for a middle ground.

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Friday, July 24, 2015 4:28 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.

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Although sexual assault has become a prominent issue on college campuses across the country over the last year — including our own — students aren’t the only ones who need resources and protection.

Thankfully, people throughout the city have access to a free app called ASK DC, meant to connect survivors with resources and assistance immediately. It prompts the user with four options: “talk to someone,” “get an advocate,” “get medical aid” and “alert friends.”

Updates to the app were rolled out this week, and survivors can now use ASK DC to connect directly with emergency response and law enforcement through a “Call 911” button. Users also have the option to program specific contacts into the app so that in case of an emergency, they can get in touch with multiple people at the touch of a button

The city should be commended for creating the app and keeping it updated. City officials should continue making improvements to ASK DC, and should also consider asking survivors for their input.

It’s great that those in the city who can afford a smartphone can make use of such a user-friendly resource. It’s important to remember, though, that many women and men in D.C. have limited access to smartphones, and ASK DC certainly won’t help every sexual assault survivor in the city. Plus, sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes and many survivors may not want to immediately seek help, let alone call the police.

Though it’s extremely important to talk about sexual assault on college campuses, we can’t forget that sexual violence reaches much further than that. Survivors of all types and in all communities need just as much support.

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When former White House press secretary Jay Carney spoke on campus last year, a few friends and I noticed that the auditorium was freezing. An older woman sitting in front of us overheard our conversation and turned around to say, “Don’t you know why it’s cold? Men control the temperature, and they wear suits.”

This week, a columnist at the Washington Post made a similar observation. After interviewing men and women who work in D.C., she came to the same conclusion: Offices are kept cold because men get hot.

Of course, a few interviews don’t prove much of anything. There are exceptions, and many women wear suits during the summer, too. Even at my own internship with an organization staffed almost completely by women, I sometimes shiver at my desk.

But regardless of why offices are cold, the bottom line is that they’re just too cold. Any D.C. intern wearing a skirt and short sleeves will agree.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015 3:39 p.m.

The value of part-time work

Dan Grover, a senior majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist.

It’s time to come clean: I’ve been lying about what I’ve been doing all summer. Well, actually, it’s more of a lie by omission.

Every time someone asks me what I’ve been up to, I feel the need to hedge, hide and dodge the fact that I’m just working. I’m not doing anything spectacular for a company or internship — I’m a part-time cashier at a local grocery chain.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of whether or not a part-time job is “worth it,” since there’s constant pressure to make sure that everything we do is worth the investment. But the idea of “worth” is subjective, and internships and fellowships aren’t always attainable for everyone.

I’m hardly the first person to work a minimum-wage job. In fact, a lot of people end up “just working” if their original plan falls through or as they try to figure out a long-term career. But it’s unfortunate that sometimes “work” feels like a dirty word, since there’s a lot that students can gain valuable life lessons and skills from having a part-time job.

Let me give a more concrete example. If you’re working in retail, no one cares if you’re having a bad day when you come in to work. Customers are still going to demand excellent service, no matter what, and they won’t be shy about telling you so (Once, a customer told one of my coworkers, “Smile, it won’t kill you”). There’s no real web of authority or respect to protect you when you work in retail or food service, so you learn to check your problems at the door.

The result is that I’ve gotten very good at leaving behind my feelings about, well, almost everything. When I’m at work, I’m at work. Dissociating like that is a skill I’ve found enormously useful in getting things done.

Along that same vein, “just working” sharpens one’s interpersonal communication skills better than anything else. Every interaction you have with a customer or a coworker comes right back to you. It becomes your job to represent not only yourself the best that you can, but the company as well.

My friends will tell you that I’ve always been a talker, but after working at this job I have no problem starting a conversation with almost anyone. I’ve learned to find points of common ground, even if they may not be obvious, and it’s surprising what people will be willing to share in a grocery line.

Retail also teaches you how to make quick judgments — like “Could I be selling alcohol to someone underage?” or “What do I do about this person who’s belligerent because we don’t have their favorite butter?” And once you make a decision you learn to stick to it, and then defend it.

These are only a few of what I call “Cashiering Life Lessons.” Every part-time job has a unique set of skills and lessons to be learned.

It’s easy to spend a lot of time worrying about if something is “worth” your time, and if it’ll reflect well on you later. But even things that most would assume are useless — like working ingloriously as a cashier at a local grocery chain — can have a way of leaving an incredible mark.

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