The Forum


Isabel Vergara is an associate professor of Spanish. Her main research areas include the life, work and influence of Gabriel García Márquez.

Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist whose “One Hundred Years of Solitude” made him a titan of 20th-century literature, died last Thursday. García Márquez, who received the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote novels, novellas, short stories and journalistic pieces.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at the age of 87. Photo used under the Wikimedia Commons License.

Gabriel García Márquez died Thursday at the age of 87. Photo used under the Wikimedia Commons License.

Although much of García Márquez’s work is rooted in Latin America, its appeal is universal and his books have been translated into many languages.

Much of his work focused on the daily life and struggles of common people, often told through the voice of a sympathetic narrator. For this reason, García Márquez is widely read throughout the world and celebrated for his strong and enduring influence.

García Márquez was a master of the literary genre known as magical realism, in which the miraculous and the real unite. For him, magical realism was intrinsic to Latin America’s reality and history of colonialism and violence.

His literary work was a marriage of the artistic and the political. García Márquez was politically active throughout his entire life, and was considered a socialist and anti-imperialist. Though he supported Fidel Castro in Cuba, he also used his influence to help release political prisoners on the island.

In a New York Times essay responding to García Márquez’s passing, Salman Rushdie wrote the following: “No writer in the world has had a comparable impact in the last half-century.”

García Márquez also deeply explored the power of the dictator, especially through his later novels. In “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” considered his most difficult novel, and “The General in His Labyrinth,” he combined imagination with historical fact to probe the causes and effects of political power in Latin America.

In 1967 he published “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” a complex novel that chronicles at once the history of a family, a town and a country, as a metaphor for the history of Latin America. It is crafted with masterful sophistication.

The work, which earned him the Nobel Prize, helped disseminate the magical realism genre and provided inspiration for authors such as Salman Rushdie, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.

“I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters,” García Márquez said at the time. “A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths.”

Latin America and the world have learned a great deal from García Márquez. Both his literary and political work will continue to be influential for many years to come.

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Sara Rosenbaum is the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy at the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

With the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the post mortems have flowed like water.

Commentators opposed to health reform, always searching for any fresh angle in their unending campaign against the Affordable Care Act, have proclaimed that Sebelius should have been shown the door months ago. Progressive voices have praised Sebelius for her commitment to health reform and her leadership during high-profile public health crises such as the pandemic influenza threat.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Throughout the implementation odyssey, Sebelius stood on the front lines, endlessly pressing forward as the nation took a profound step toward greater fairness. Those who don’t recognize the enormity of her achievements might suppose that a malfunctioning website and disparagement on late-night television are her legacy, but in reality, she should be remembered for pushing through one of the most important pieces of legislation in this new millenium.

In a ceremony marking her departure, President Barack Obama reminded us all of the brilliance of her time at the helm of the nation’s largest federal agency.

Beyond her tireless work to reduce health disparities and improve health care for children, women, and those with mental illness, the president noted that the Secretary “will go down in history … as the Secretary of Health and Human Services when the United States of America finally declared that quality, affordable health care is not a privilege, but it is a right for every single citizen of these United States of America.”

Despite the rocky beginning of the Affordable Care Act’s first-ever open enrollment period, Sebelius successfully breathed life into the law. The act that was signed into law in 2010 was the nation’s biggest step in a half-century toward greater health care equity. Over the time between passage and the first enrollments of what grew to be millions of people, Sebelius was tireless in her mission to turn an abstract piece of legislation into actual coverage.

The voices of opposition to the ACA were loud, and opponents were quick to point out the flaws in the website’s rollout. But those of us who understand the enormity of the social change she helped bring about will remember this success as her legacy.

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Updated: Apr. 15, 1:23 p.m. 

Walter Reich is the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Professor of international affairs, ethics and human behavior, and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. He is the former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

A man opens fire at two Jewish centers near Kansas City and kills three. Should we – Jews and non-Jews in D.C. and elsewhere – worry?

Of course. All of us – everywhere in America and the rest of the world – should worry. Based on what has been reported, this appears to have been an anti-Semitic act. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, the apprehended suspect, Frazier Glenn Miller, is a former “grand dragon” of the Ku Klux Klan, who has repeatedly advocated murderous violence against blacks and Jews. After he was arrested, he yelled, “Heil Hitler!”

On its website, the SPLC offers numerous quotes by Miller: “America is no longer ours,” he declared in a 2010 radio ad. “America,” he continued, “belongs to the Jews who rule it and to the mud people who multiply in it.” “America’s politicians,” he told Howard Stern that same year, are “all a bunch of whores for Israel.” According to the New York Times, he believes that Jews deserve extermination.

Does Miller’s anti-Semitic history and rhetoric, and the murders for which he was arrested, reflect a growth in anti-Semitism in America?

Overall, probably not. Last year saw a significant decline in “incidents of assault, vandalism and harassment targeting Jews and Jewish property and institutions” from the year before, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

However, anti-Semitic opinion among the general public has grown alarmingly in Europe and the Middle East in recent years, and anti-Semitic speech and incidents have become increasingly common and vitriolic.

Some of this anti-Semitism has been expressed under the guise of anti-Zionism. Some of it has been old-style, simple anti-Semitism.

For example, just last month in Sweden, anti-Semitic demonstrators tried to break into a Jewish community center. In Hungary, Jewish tombstones were defaced with such slogans as “Stinking Jews” and “There was no Holocaust but there will be!”

And last week, a Jewish teenage girl who jumped a lunch queue was told by a teacher in an exclusive London school, “Don’t do that or I’ll have to send you to the back of the queue or to one of your gas chambers.”

In America, the killings in Jewish community centers near Kansas City have prompted precautionary warnings in Jewish centers elsewhere. Very soon after the shootings I received an urgent email from the D.C. Jewish Community Center informing me that its officials had been “in touch with our local police department contacts and per their input we are taking appropriate precautions that will allow our programing to continue as scheduled.”

It seems unlikely that the Kansas City killings will provoke more violent incidents against Jews and Jewish institutions either in D.C. or elsewhere in the U.S. Compared to other countries, the U.S. remains a zone of safety, tolerance and acceptance for the Jewish people.

But the Kansas City killings should remind us all that, even in our home country, safety isn’t guaranteed for any minorities, including Jews. And in the rest of the world, especially regarding Jews, there’s increased cause for worry.

It turns out that, despite the obvious anti-Semitic intent of the gunman who chose to shoot people at the Jewish centers, the three who were murdered there were Christian.  Perhaps that disappoints him.  But it certainly reminds us that, once expressed, anti-Semitism becomes a threat, even a murderous one, for all of us.  Ask the family of the Christian guard who was murdered five years ago by an anti-Semitic gunman at Washington’s Holocaust Museum.

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Muriel Bowser earned the Democratic nomination for D.C. mayor last week. Hatchet File Photo by Katie Causey

Muriel Bowser earned the Democratic nomination for D.C. mayor last week. Hatchet File Photo by Katie Causey

Cynthia Deitch is an associate professor of women’s studies, sociology and public policy.

Is the recent D.C. Democratic mayoral primary defeat of incumbent Vincent Gray by Muriel Bowser a gain for women? Maybe.

To address this question, we have to look deeper into interactions among race and class and gender in the context of D.C. politics.

Progress for women is not only about more women at the top, but also improving opportunities for women of all backgrounds at all levels. The District has a high concentration of educated professional women but also one of highest levels of income inequality and of single mothers living in poverty.

Because women earn less than men on average, policies that affect economic inequality such as affordable housing, child care, health care, a living wage and paid sick leave help women, especially low-income single mothers.

This means that any economic and social welfare policies enacted under the next mayor may have deeper ramifications for the District’s women. Hopefully Bowser will seize the opportunity to make real, long-lasting change.

The power of the mayor is limited, especially given Congressional veto power over D.C. local legislation. To improve the lives of women, Bowser would need to pay greater attention to the needs of residents in the least affluent, predominantly black sectors of the city despite the fact that her primary election results were weakest in those areas.

If Bowser goes on to win the general election, she will double the number of African American women who are sitting mayors in the 100 largest U.S. cities. Women of all races were only 7 percent of the mayors in large cities as of 2010, according to the Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. With numbers that small, every additional woman in office is at least a symbolic gain for women.

Symbols do matter, but women in D.C. also need substantive policies that will reduce economic disparities and improve their lives.

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Kellianne King is a senior majoring in history.

One night during my first semester at GW, I sat alone in my Somers Hall room holding a bottle of pills.

I’ll never forget how alone I felt listening to someone laugh while passing in the hall. Or how cold and sterile the walls looked. Or how the silence seemed to buzz in my ears.

I sat and cried quietly for the life I wanted but thought I would never have. I was sure it was impossible for me to live life the way others could.

That night, a friend happened to come by and knock on my door. When she found me in obvious distress, she notified my house proctor, and I spent the next hour or so on a suicide hotline. From there, I began sessions at the University Counseling Center.

The deaths of Sean Keefer, Benjamin Asma and Lynley Redwood have rocked our University community. Keefer’s death was ruled a suicide by the D.C medical examiner, while Asma’s was an apparent suicide, but is still unconfirmed. Redwood’s cause of death has not been confirmed.

When we lost Keefer in January, it felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. It pulled me back into those memories of severe depression and anxiety of my freshman year – of feeling trapped in my thoughts and alone in my Vern dorm room.

That’s why in the wake of Asma and Redwood’s deaths, I am not just overcome with grief. I am indignant for action.

The UCC has undergone major reforms, and I applaud the University’s efforts to bring in new staff and make services more accessible. Director Silvio Weisner has called for more space to bring in more clinicians and accommodate growing demand, and GW has tried to meet these requests by moving the center closer to campus.

But there is much more work to be done. Mental health problems do not patiently wait for resources to open up or task forces to convene. Goals to improve counseling shouldn’t be long-term ones – they should be immediate ones.

Here are some specifics. Information about the UCC should be posted and available in every administrative, academic and residential building on both campuses. Along with a fire escape plan attached to their door, students should find steps to handle a mental health crisis.

And perhaps most importantly, counseling services cannot be a Foggy Bottom-exclusive privilege. On my worst days on the Vern my freshman year, I could hardly get out of bed, never mind ride the Vern Express and walk to K Street. It is not enough for the University to provide a few temporary counselors to West Hall residents as students cope with these most recent tragedies. Full-time counselors are needed.

I’m going to graduate in May, and in my time since freshman year I’ve starred in plays, landed internships, attended conferences and had the time of my life.

I know I am one of the lucky ones. I survived.

While I hesitated to write this, knowing I would be forced to remember a time when I didn’t think life was possible, I’m doing it for Keefer, Asma, Redwood and every Colonial struggling in silence.

We can’t turn back time. But we can promise now to speak up and to make sure every GW student gets to do what I soon will: beam with pride and love as I turn my tassel.

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Friday, April 4, 2014 3:51 a.m.

Op-Ed: Don’t roll your eyes at #OnlyatGW

Carly Abenstein is a sophomore majoring in political communication.

In my first class of spring semester, as usual, my professor had us introduce ourselves. He wanted us to go over the basics: our name, our major, our year in school and where we were interning this semester.

The steps of the Marvin Center are lined with promotional messages about GW's location. Hatchet File Photo

The steps of the Marvin Center are lined with promotional messages about GW’s location. Hatchet File Photo

That’s right, my professor did not ask if anyone had an internship this semester, but where we were interning. Up and down the aisle, each student presented his or her information without missing a beat.

This is the “Only at GW” kind of thing that the University loves to hype up, and it’s become the butt of plenty of jokes. Like many others, I admit that the frequent hashtags and shameless promotion can become tiresome and repetitive.

But without that reality, I would not have chosen GW over other universities across the country. There is no other university that combines location, work, play and education so seamlessly.

I applaud the University for highlighting one of the key reasons I, like many others, chose to spend four years here. In fact, as a new batch of students is accepted and determines whether to come here next fall, it’s a marketing strategy GW should continue to play up.

Next time you walk past the old entrance to Gelman Library, take another look at the pictures branded with the #OnlyatGW and #HistoryHappensHere hashtags on the side of the building.

If you look closely, you’ll see my “selfie” with President Barack Obama front and center. No, GW didn’t personally hand me the tickets to go and meet the president, but GW has helped my interest in politics flourish.

While no one was knocking on my door in Thurston Hall last year handing out internships at the same rate that my R.A. was handing out free cookies or condoms, the opportunities to seek out internships are right at our fingertips. GW prides themselves on the hundreds of “Hill-terns” they send to Capitol Hill each semester, but who wouldn’t take advantage of interning in one of the highest government offices when it is just a 15-minute metro ride away?

Listen, I am not letting the University get all the praise for my hard work and determination that led me to incredible internships and learning experiences over the past two years. I am, however, giving credit where credit is due.

I didn’t pick GW for their sports. I didn’t pick GW for their dining halls – we all know Whole Foods is better than J Street. But I did pick GW for its ideal location in D.C., its one-of-a-kind political communication program and for the opportunity to make those “Only At GW” moments I dreamed about in high school come true.

So instead of sitting around and whining about GW’s publicity stunts, go out there and prove them right.

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Charles A. Garris, Jr. is a professor of mechanical & aerospace engineering.

“Flight ‘ended’ in Indian Ocean.” That was Tuesday’s Washington Post headline. The Malaysian Prime Minister announced that Malaysia Flight 370, which has been missing for 16 days, went down in a remote corner of the Indian Ocean and that there is no hope for any survivors among the 239 persons on board the plane.

It’s no wonder that the news has been covering it. The thirst for closure on everyone’s part is excruciating and unbearable, and it is rooted in natural human behavior.

As a child, I recall my grandmother telling me the story about the terrible loss of her two uncles who were ship’s carpenters in the 1890s. They sailed on a voyage to deliver a cargo that never arrived, and they never returned home. They were “lost at sea.” My grandmother recounted the family’s grief, but there was no closure. There always was the hope that the two brothers would return some day, but they never did.

Far before then, in Homer’s Odyssey, which takes place at the time of the Trojan War, 1300 BC, Odysseus leaves home with the Greek army to fight in Troy. Not returning after many years, he was assumed to be dead. His wife, Penelope, was faced with suitors who sought to marry her thinking that her husband was dead. Penelope refused the suitors believing that Odysseus would some day return. Indeed, he did – after 20 years.

In the age of Homer until modern times, thousands of vessels attempted to cross the seas, and never returned for reasons that remain a mystery. Amelia Earhart’s flight over the Pacific is but one example. Today, theories still abound on what happened to Amelia Earhart in her flight over the Pacific.

Throughout the ages, people have sought explanations for the vessels lost and have devised ingenious models of a flat earth with monsters lurking at the periphery, eager to gobble up a wayward vessel.

However, in our time of advanced technology, we should hold a new hope that the loved ones on Malaysia Flight 370 might return home, just as Odysseus did.

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Meghan Xanthos, a freshman majoring in English, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Board of Trustees chair Nelson Carbonell stood up for a big topic last week: academic freedom.

Taking to the floor of the Faculty Senate, Carbonell stressed that freedom to publish research and teach controversial topics need to be protected for both tenured and non-tenured faculty at GW – regardless of whether their work offends donors.

It may seem like academic freedom is impenetrable at universities, but it can be punctured in even the smallest ways, like the right to voice political beliefs in the classroom.

That’s what we saw at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse last year, where assistant geography professor Rachel Slocum found herself at the center of the free speech debate. During the government shutdown last fall, she sent out an email to her students stating that part of an assignment could not be completed until “the Republican/Tea Party controlled House of Representatives agrees to fund the government.”

Now, you’ve probably heard similarly snarky remarks in your own classrooms at GW. Depending on your political affiliations, you’ve likely either rolled your eyes or nodded in agreement. Either way, it’s unlikely that you would send in complaints and negative comments, eventually resulting in a dean forcing the professor to write an apology.

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is generally pegged as a liberal campus with liberal professors – and the same can be said of GW. Conservative students have said that the sometimes feel like they’re under attack.

But GW hosts independent, open minded students, and the politically-charged opinion of one professor in one passive aggressive email is not going to indoctrinate students. Whether a professor is a liberal or a conservative, expressing their views can bring perspective to a debate in a classroom setting, or add depth to mere facts.

Granted, professors can cross a line. Professors’ opinions should never directly target a student’s beliefs or identity in a negative way. That’s harassment, and professors who do that should be forced to do more than just apologize.

But at Wisconsin, the professor was making a broad political statement in an email, not tearing down a specific student in class for a question they had or a comment they made.

In fact, a simple statement from a professor based upon an educated opinion can allow for students to view alternate perspectives. We might not like it now, but we’ll eventually come to appreciate the wisdom and ideas – agree or disagree – that professors can impart.

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Silvio Waisbord is a professor of media and public affairs and the director of graduate studies in the School of Media and Public Affairs.

Safe landings of thousands of airplanes every day do not make news. Occasional air crashes grab moderate news attention. Airplanes that disappear – like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 – suck up tremendous amount of news oxygen.

A Malaysia Airlines plane takes off in 2011. Photo used under Wikimedia Commons license

A Malaysia Airlines plane takes off in 2011. Photo used under Wikimedia Commons license

Since the plane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members vanished on March 8, news organizations have offered round-the-clock coverage. Ratings for CNN have soared. The topic has steadily trended on Twitter. Critics have pounded journalists for dishing out news filled with unverified assertions and latching onto a story that has pushed other issues out of the news cycle.

Why has the story consumed so much media attention? Human drama and tragedy make gripping stories. We all love a good mystery and the story has plenty. A plane with passengers from 15 countries and the participation of 26 countries in search operations make it a story with global resonance.

What makes the disappearance of Flight 370 an unusual news story is the lack of a simple, compelling narrative.

It has been a developing story for 12 days. Unlike most news, it is an open-ended story without a clear beginning, unfolding and closure. News stories are typically anchored by a straightforward storyline, with a cast of recognizable characters and well-known plots. Government officials and authoritative experts often steer coverage into preferred storylines. Once the official narrative sets in, news are embedded in stories featuring familiar plots (“technology gone awry,” “human failure,” “terrorism”) and stock characters (evildoers, heroes, victims).

When even the experts can’t offer substantive conclusions, what follows is a free-for-all debate filled with pet theories and conspiracies. Without credible official narratives that provide a master frame to interpret data, news coverage aimlessly swings from hypotheses to speculations to hunches. Social media and news clickbaits pile on with “you-won’t–believe-this” teasers and disparate observations.

Almost two weeks after the plane vanished, the story is about many potential stories. The narrative has unexpectedly swerved as new bits of information have trickled into the news stream. The torrent of facts – from fake passports to pilots’ spirituality and flight simulators to switched-off transponders – has fueled all kinds of speculation. Every news morsel is dissected and made fit into competing storylines.

Amidst 24/7 news coverage obsessed with digital clicks and ratings, waiting for all facts to report the news is a luxury. Speculations are easy material to fill out airtime. As long as basic facts are unclear and authoritative sources remain mystified, different storylines will drag on.

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Hatchet File Photo

Hatchet File Photo

Jacob Garber, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

As long as there has been reading, there has been the desire to read faster. Spritz, a new speed-reading technology that will soon debut on smartphones, is raising the bar to an unprecedented level.

The big tagline: You can read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in one hour.

As an English major, part of me wants to put on my smug hat and lament the death of reading. I wouldn’t be the first to point out that software like Spritz lets us sacrifice comprehension for expedience, as though the point of reading is simply to get it done.

Ian Bogost of The Atlantic voices these thoughts in his “Eulogy for Reading,” in which he calls Spritz the “apotheosis of speed reading: reading in which completion is the only goal.”

But as a college student, I see Spritz as a godsend – a response to a problem and conventional wisdom that is already too pervasive to halt.

It is true that reading is becoming more and more rooted in speed, as though the point of reading is to finish as quickly as possible, regardless of comprehension, as if a gold bronze star waits at the end.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and we are bombarded with reading content from all angles. As students, we read textbooks, literature and research papers. And even on top of that, we have texts, articles, tweets and whatever else is thrown at us throughout the day. The sheer volume of reading we are expected to intake makes it impossible to understand all of it – and as such, any technology that can help us out is much warranted.

As a bona fide snail reader, I have chosen to skip assigned textbook readings, skim literature or blatantly neglect to purchase a book, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to read it anyway. I don’t do this because I’m lazy – or at least I’ll keep telling myself that – but rather because I know there just aren’t enough hours in each day.

Yes, cognitive scientists have pointed out the diminished comprehension that comes with reading at 500 words per minute. However, in the end, anything that makes reading more accessible is a positive thing, one that sure beats never opening a book at all.

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