The Forum


Robert Eisen is a professor of religion and Judaic studies, and chair of the religion department.

There is no shortage of opinion on the recent hostilities between Israel and Gaza. Consult any article on the conflict in a major news outlet online, and you will find it accompanied by an endless string of comments from readers voicing strong views.

Yet, these comments exhibit a disturbing pattern one always sees in discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The vast majority of opinions are firmly on one side or the other. They tend to focus on the atrocities that the other side has committed, and they usually deal with recent events to prove their point.

Thus, in response to the latest flare-up, those who support the Palestinian side will talk only about the loss of civilian life in Gaza from Israeli air-strikes, while those on the Israeli side will focus only on what it’s like to live under incessant rocket fire.

What is true about these armchair critics is true about the protagonists themselves. The debates between Israelis and Palestinians are much the same.

What is lost in these bitter exchanges is what the conflict is really about. It’s about two peoples who claim the same land on the basis of two very different national narratives. These narratives cannot be easily summarized here, but suffice it to say that each one is complex, makes selective use of history and leaves no room for the narrative of the other side.

The discussion should really be about these narratives. There will never be peace unless both sides make a genuine attempt to educate themselves about and understand each other’s story – and that is hard work. One must study the history of the conflict, how religion has played a role in it and the social psychology that underlies it, to name just a few issues.

What I’m saying may seem painfully obvious. But, remarkably, it’s not. The arguments online are proof of that. Ignorance abounds. Few seem interested in learning about the complex narratives that lie behind the conflict, but only in pointing fingers about the latest atrocity that the other side has committed.

And amazingly enough, the politicians attempting to make peace have made the same error. In my mind, one of the major reasons that the Oslo Accords failed in the 1990s is that both sides agreed the negotiations would not include discussion of historical issues. Hence, no attempt was made to grapple with the two narratives. A similar attitude has characterized negotiations between the two sides ever since.

Students at GW have an opportunity to do better. If you really want to understand the conflict, study the two narratives in all their facets. You will discover just how complex the conflict is, that it is very difficult to assign blame solely to one side and that much is being missed not just by the commentators but by the politicians who are supposed to be making peace.

And armed with this knowledge, you may even get your own chance to solve the conflict. It is likely to be with us for years to come.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014 2:20 p.m.

Op-ed: Why GW needs an agriculture department

University Yard offers some of the few patches of green on the Foggy Bottom Campus. File Photo by Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer

University Yard offers some of the few patches of green on the Foggy Bottom Campus. File Photo by Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Joseph Nelson, a junior majoring in economics, is the founder of Cultiviral LLC, a web-based platform for professionals in agriculture.

Given that the Foggy Bottom Campus “quad” consists of bricks imprinted with the names of alumni instead of an expanse of grass, agriculture is likely not a pressing issue in the minds of many GW students.

Although the University has an urban campus, and is proud of it, it needs to make a more substantial investment in educating students about the factors and implications of agricultural trends. That effort should come in the form of specialized classes that give students the tools they need to solve the world’s agriculture-related problems.

Often, people dismiss food production, distribution, and farming as antiquated and even irrelevant, yet agriculture is intrinsically tied to every facet of our lives.

The challenges that come with a growing world population are grave. By 2050, the global population is estimated to reach 9.6 billion, requiring a 50 percent increase in agricultural output, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Furthermore, at least 40 percent of that growth will take place in places where food scarcity is already pervasive: developing Africa and Southeast Asia.

It’s easy for those in the U.S. – consuming an average of almost 2,700 calories per day – to overlook the importance of increasing agricultural output. But as we dispose one-third of our excess food, 842 million people around the world are undernourished.

These issues directly affect the subjects that many of us are studying. The Elliott School of International Affairs is proud to tout a nationally competitive master’s program in international development, yet it offers few courses that focus on the intersection of food security and economic growth.

Similarly, GW’s economics department has important courses like environmental economics but not agricultural economics. Economic development is a multifaceted issue, which means its solutions should be as well.

University President Steven Knapp has committed to long-term food sustainability. Hatchet File Photo

University President Steven Knapp has committed to long-term food sustainability. Hatchet File Photo

Fortunately, GW is taking steps in the right direction. It recently introduced a sustainability minor, which addresses issues at local, regional and global levels. The University Honors Program offers a course that features lectures by chef José Andrés and, at the very least, offers an introduction to agricultural problems.

GW’s Planet Forward hosts an annual convention focused on sustainable growth, which last year included a panel with agricultural scientists discussing how genetically modified foods can feed a growing world.

Additionally, GW’s Institute of Sustainability just appointed former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, as its director. University President Steven Knapp even made a commitment to the Real Food Challenge, an effort aimed at long-term food sustainability. His wife, Diane Knapp, is the chair of the GW Urban Food Task Force.

But in the long run, these gains are insufficient. While we should applaud extracurricular opportunities and University-wide initiatives, true devotion to teaching students how to solve the world’s agricultural problems needs to manifest itself in the classroom. We should contribute to educating a generation of students in agriculture.

To quote my friend Dan Reed, director of Planet Forward, “Just because we’re not a land-grant agricultural university doesn’t mean we can’t have the opportunities of one.”

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David Meni, a senior majoring in political science, is the president of the GW Roosevelt Institute.

Football fans or not, it was a surprise to many Wednesday morning when the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled a handful of trademarks associated with the Washington Redskins.

The decision is a major boost to a growing group of voices – including President Barack Obama, half the Senate and GW students – that are calling for a different name for the team.

Without a doubt, the football team’s offensive name warrants a change. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the real issues within the Native American population.

This is a common pitfall of politically correct English: The U.S. will not have a fair society simply because we stop using words historically associated with unfairness. We must not misconstrue a “victory” – such as the decision over the Redskins’ trademarks – as actual social change.

While we debate the name of a sports team, the poverty rate on American Indian reservations is three times the national average. Less than half of Native American students graduate from high school. Health problems are rampant – including the world’s highest rate of Type 2 diabetes – and reservations are at risk of serious environmental harm. Little is being done, even among those who care so much about the Redskins’ name change.

Of the 50 senators who signed a letter demanding the team change its mascot, next to none have introduced or co-sponsored legislation to help those living on reservations. For example, the Native Adult Education and Literacy Act of 2014 would expand GED and literacy programs, which have operated on a shoestring budget for years, at no cost to the government.

The trademark decision is good news, as is the growing opposition to a clearly insensitive name. I can only hope that a mascot change for our D.C. team will also bring about increased awareness of the many problems still confronting the Native American population, and not just remain empty words.

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Christopher Kayes is the interim dean of the GW School of Business.

I’m writing in response to the article, “Dean to enter business school with accreditation in question,” by Mary Ellen McIntire (June 10, p. 1).

I want to provide some perspective regarding the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation and the recent story that incorrectly casts doubt on our school’s status.

We are currently undergoing the Continuous Improvement Review 2 process, which is not uncommon for the AACSB. This is the first of many steps designed and intended to support a school in maintaining accreditation. It is, in no way, a move toward losing our status.

While we progress through this standard continuous review process, know that we are well positioned to continue to implement a culture of continuous improvement, which is the cornerstone of accreditation.

The GW School of Business’ accreditation is not in question – far from it. GWSB has maintained its business accreditation by AACSB, which is the hallmark of excellence in business education. Accreditation has been earned by less than 5 percent of the world’s business programs.

When a school earns AACSB accreditation, a clear message is sent to all its stakeholders – students, parents, employers, faculty and staff and other schools – that the entire organization has made a long-term commitment to providing the best in business education.

It takes a great deal of commitment and determination to earn and maintain AACSB accreditation. Schools must not only meet specific standards of excellence, but their deans, faculty and professional staff must make a commitment to ongoing continuous improvement to ensure that the institution will continue to deliver the highest quality of education to students.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014 3:30 p.m.

An ode to Thurston

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

I rarely feel deep sympathy for inanimate objects – but the whitewashed wooden door that separates Thurston Room 503 from the fifth floor hallway is one of those exceptions.

If the door could speak, I imagine it would recount tales of its trials through the raspy voice of a grizzled Vietnam War veteran describing dark, terrifying nights in the jungle.

It may not have survived gunfire or grenade attacks, of course, but my former door has definitely been through hell. It’s been splattered with food (in various states of decomposition), liquor (a tragedy) and even certain malodorous bodily fluids (use your imagination with that one).

For the entirety of my freshman year, that door served as a bridge between my relatively peaceful room and the chaos that descended on the hallway at least three nights of out seven.

Thurston Hall, which houses more than 1,000 freshmen, is located at 1900 F St. Hatchet File Photo

Thurston Hall, which houses more than 1,000 freshmen, is located at 1900 F St. Hatchet File Photo

Thurston Hall has never been known for tranquility, but even armed with knowledge of its reputation, my first few weeks living there were still a shock. I was, after all, a kid from a small, quiet home tucked into a small, quiet cul-de-sac of a small, quiet suburb of Boston.

Quickly, I grew used to what I liked to call the “soundtrack” of Thurston: a mix of drunken male bellows and female shrieks – the mating calls of young, newly independent Millennials – mixed with thundering bass, constant beeps from the ancient elevators and doors slamming ceaselessly at all hours.

For freshmen already bragging to hometown friends about how Playboy named Thurston the Most Sexually Active Dorm in the nation (dubious), you’re in for a wild ride.

But you’re also incredibly lucky, because after 85 years of memories being made (and obliterated by the next morning), there is a strange sort of sacredness imbued in Thurston.

Certainly, the dorm lags behind other residence halls in terms of appearance, but it manages to make up for its moldy bathrooms and cramped quarters with spirit.

Living in Thurston is often called the “quintessential freshman experience.” But that’s not just because the majority of the freshman class lives there – it’s because of the history of the place.

You’re able to feel the presence of the thousands and thousands who lived, ate, studied and engaged in various forms of hedonism between those walls before you were even alive.

You can open your desk and see the etchings left by past residents (my personal favorite: “Tupac never forget West Coast ’96”).

Some former tenants can’t resist making a visit years later – from alumni couples who initially met in these halls and are now happily married to inebriated upperclassmen who like to tell old war stories to whoever will listen.

For those in other dorms, you’ll surely still have an incredible freshman year. Yet for you brave souls who are following in my footsteps and committing to a full nine months in Thurston Hall, a few quick words of advice: cherish every moment, even the ones you don’t think you should, because you’re not just living in a dorm. You’re writing the newest chapters of this building’s history.

And last but not least, be kind to your doors. God knows they deserve it.

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Lisa Page is the acting director of the creative writing department.

Over her 86-year lifespan, Maya Angelou did much more than put pen to paper.

She was an activist who rallied for civil rights, refusing to celebrate her own birthday because it was the day her friend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. She was a rape survivor whose mother’s boyfriend attacked her when she was only eight years old. She was a single mother who gave birth to her only son while still a teenager.

And she was a working woman, finding employment as a fry cook, streetcar conductor, shake dancer, pimp, calypso singer, journalist, thespian, director and film producer, to name just a few of her various occupations.

Maya Angelou in 2013. Photo used under the Wikimedia Commons License

Maya Angelou in 2013. Photo used under the Wikimedia Commons License.

But it was her writing that made her famous.

Her iconic memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” was published in 1969. The book was groundbreaking because of its subject matter: A young black girl comes of age in the era of segregation and finds her voice – literally – after a traumatic attack. She then goes on to have a successful career, working as a journalist in Egypt and Ghana at a time when few American women even dreamed of such a thing.

The book was illuminating because of her voice. Angelou was candid, even blunt, about racism, violence, the Midwest, the Deep South, the Middle East and men and women.

“I realized I was following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass – the slave narrative – speaking in the first person singular, talking about the first person plural, always saying ‘I’ and meaning ‘we.’ And what a responsibility,” she told the Paris Review in 1990.

That single observation explains so much about who she was.

Angelou was telling her own story. Yet she was always aware of the collective experience – even as she delivered an original voice. Yes, she was an important writer. And she was so much more.

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Spencer Tait, a freshman in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

As a student who’s just completed his first year at GW, taking an interest in University-wide Commencement is only natural. I think back to past ceremonies on the National Mall. How genuine – and how scripted – were those speeches from household names?

Some of our greatest hits so far, people like Michelle Obama and Michael Bloomberg, surely receive countless invitations every year from schools across the country. But it’s not unreasonable to wonder if sometimes these personalities use commencement speeches to advance a political goal or promote themselves.

But this year, instead of a beltway-beloved public figure, chef and former GW professor José Andrés will send off the graduating class.

Hatchet File Photo

Hatchet File Photo

This announcement, unfortunately, was less-than-well-received on campus. With a Facebook protest demanding Kevin Spacey instead and an endless swath of bitter posts on Twitter about the announcement, it seemed as if almost no one was impressed with the decision to have the Spanish-American entrepreneur speak to the Class of 2014.

Once his life story is told, however, Andrés should be recognized as nothing less than ideal as our Commencement speaker.

He might not be the CEO of a successful software company, an A-list actor or a political giant. Rather, he is a chef – and one of the best in the world. He has the ability to talk about achieving mastery in a skill and give a glimpse at what it’s like to be one of the most respected leaders in an industry.

His expertise goes beyond cooking, too: In his class at GW, he taught students to understand the socio-economic implications of food in places across the globe. He owns some of the most coveted restaurants in the District and is credited with introducing tapas dining to the U.S. largely on his own.

The James Beard award-winner is also known for his philanthropic efforts, a quality that the GW community strongly emphasizes among Greek organizations and other student groups. Andrés has smartly articulated his thoughts on important civic issues like immigration – a process he himself has had to wade through over the last several years.

For all these reasons – not necessarily his ability to cook an absurdly large paella – it is no wonder Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of 2012.

Andrés has said he arrived in the U.S. with just $50 and a set of cooking knives. He’s the quintessential self-made man, the perfect example of an entrepreneur who paved his own way doing something he loved. His hard work and creativity has allowed him to reap all of his success, and also gives him the mandate to speak to seniors on Sunday.

This post was updated May 14, 2014 to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that José Andrés was a Michelin star winner. He is actually a James Beard award-winner. We regret the error.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014 5:29 p.m.

Four years through my lens

Elise Apelian is a senior staff photographer who joined The Hatchet her freshman year and will graduate in May.

If someone told me freshman year I would leave GW as a photojournalist, I would have laughed. That wasn’t the plan. The plan was to be a very serious, no nonsense, hard news reporter.

Maybe my GW experience would have been easier if I had stuck to my plan – but photojournalism pushes you to struggle and figure out who you are and what you want. At a university with a single photojournalism class, that frustration is compounded. I realized I wasn’t going to learn everything I needed to learn in a classroom.

I filled out half a dozen transfer applications sophomore year, but I didn’t send them. Something held me back. Something told me to stay. That something was The Hatchet. Everything I learned about photojournalism I learned from The Hatchet.

Well, the future of photojournalism at GW is about to enter a new phase as I’m about to depart. I’ll graduate from the University and from The Hatchet this month, just before dozens of photojournalism students at the Corcoran College of Art + Design become members of the GW community.

As that new phase begins, I wanted to lay out what I’ve learned in my four years as a photojournalist:

Silvia Zenteno, who was raped on campus as a sophomore, testified at a D.C. Council hearing last December, advocating for a sweeping bill to overhaul the city's response to sexual assault.

Silvia Zenteno, who was raped on campus as a sophomore, testified at a D.C. Council hearing last December, advocating for a sweeping bill to overhaul the city’s response to sexual assault.

Senior Katie Duman stands in front of her mirror, which is covered in motivational quotes and positive messages. After fighting anorexia since age 13, Duman helped start a group called SPEAK GW that acts as a support network for students with eating disorders.

After fighting anorexia since age 13, senior Katie Duman helped start a group called SPEAK GW that acts as a support network for students with eating disorders.

Photo No. 1 (Silvia Zenteno portrait) and photo No. 2 (Katie Duman portrait):

The technical components of ISO, shutter speed and aperture are much easier concepts to teach than how to photograph those who have experienced trauma. Sensitivity and demeanor are more complex than depth of field.

Sometimes our lens gets in the way of us being people. Sometimes we come off as voyeurs. And maybe to a certain extent we are, but we look and shoot to explain. If we forget why we look, we are no longer photojournalists.

A member of Occupy D.C. looks up as the statue of Major General James B. McPherson is covered with a tarp in McPherson Square.

A member of Occupy D.C. looks up as the statue of James McPherson is covered with a tarp in the square named after the Civil War general.

Photo No. 3 (Occupy protestor):

Movements like Occupy Wall Street can be challenging for young photojournalists. Occupy was extremely fractured and constantly in a state of flux. In order to explain Occupy, you had to understand Occupy.

This is why shooting is actually a very small part of what it means to be a photojournalist. I spent most of my time at Occupy talking to people, not shooting. Conceptualizing the movement and then conceptualizing an image to explain that movement became much more important. I learned to be conscious of what I was choosing to include or exclude in the frame and why.

Muslim Student Association president Aabid Mohiuddin reads the Quran in a Marvin Center prayer room.

Muslim Student Association president Aabid Mohiuddin reads the Quran in a Marvin Center prayer room.

Photo No. 4 (Aabid Mohiuddin portrait):

No matter where or for whom you work, you will find yourself in a situation where the lighting sucks and the only thing you can do is deal with it. We must be able to adapt and use our eye to make even the most hideous fluorescent light aesthetically pleasing in some way. All of these challenges simply help you become a better photojournalist. You will also have days when the photo gods bless you with better lighting than anything you could have imagined.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014 1:16 p.m.

This week’s best and worst

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

Thumbs Up:
President Barack Obama was abroad in Asia the past few days, giving Vice President Joe Biden a week to shine in D.C.

He spoke to a crowded room of lottery-winning students in the Marvin Center on Monday as a kick-off to a White House campaign to push the Democratic economic agenda as the November midterm elections approach. After the rally cry, Biden insisted on “walking the line,” shaking hands and making small talk with earnest, politically active students in their pencil skirts and button downs.

Biden followed up his blockbuster speech at GW – televised on C-SPAN – with remarks at the White House on Tuesday detailing recommendations for how colleges can improve their sexual assault policies.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke about the congressional budget on campus Monday. File Photo by Katie Causey | Hatchet Photographer

Vice President Joe Biden spoke about the congressional budget on campus Monday. File Photo by Katie Causey | Hatchet Photographer

Given that sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes – especially on university campuses, where one fifth of college-aged women are survivors of completed or attempted assault, according to national reports – it is reassuring to see the federal government taking a harder line on the issue.

Hopefully, the government’s checklist for drafting sexual assault policies and their new website listing available resources will be used by GW’s incoming Title IX coordinator to be hired this spring.

The University revamped its sexual assault policy last year and conducted a survey about the issue this month. Hopefully these results – coupled with assistance from the White House – will pave the way for some substantive improvements in responding to sexual assault on campus.

Thumbs Down:
Greek leaders rallied behind administrators earlier in the semester after they announced plans to create a website to report sanctions brought against student organizations.

This move makes sense: By increasing transparency about infractions made by fraternities, sororities and other organizations, students are less likely to break rules by, for example, hazing their new members.

But in the interim, as students wait for this website to launch, it is frustrating that the administration is remaining tight-lipped on which campus groups are out of line and how.

The bottom line: Students gossip and rumors spread. The University has a responsibility to alleviate concerns and give more details about which Greek chapters are under sanctions. The record should be set straight – even before the more comprehensive website is finally launched.

Keeping quiet doesn’t do anyone any good.

Justin Peligri, a junior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet senior columnist and former opinions editor.

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Zachary Wolfe is an assistant professor in the University Writing Program who specializes in law and social justice.

Universities play a critical role in making possible a more racially equal and just society. There is a wealth of evidence that all students have a better educational experience in a diverse classroom.

Some universities were dealt a blow in advancing that mission last week when the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan law banning the use of racial preferences in university admissions decisions.

We must contend with the embarrassing reality of persistent racial inequality. A majority of Americans agree that affirmative action policies are necessary to respond to it. A recent Pew Research Center study confirmed that 63 percent of Americans support affirmative action in university admissions.

The Supreme Court. Photo used under Wikimedia Commons license.

The Supreme Court. Photo used under Wikimedia Commons license.

Of course, support for affirmative action is not universal or evenly distributed. Since the Court has never held that universities are required to adopt affirmative action programs, we are confronted with a de facto segregated society and the responsibility to decide how to respond.

Under our system, bodies like city councils, school boards and university boards of trustees are free to adopt policies for their area of responsibility – even if the vote likely would have gone differently in a state legislature, for example. Advocates, therefore, pick their audiences and battles accordingly.

Consider the unfolding struggle to gain equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Cities are adopting policies that could not pass state’s legislatures, and some states enacted marriage equality before it had majority support on the national scale.

In the case of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, university trustees and officials responded to their constituents – professors, students and alumni – and decided on a range of affirmative action programs, some that were challenged but upheld by the Supreme Court. Opponents of affirmative action then changed the rules for how such decisions can be made, removing the board’s authority to adopt affirmative action policies.

Several earlier cases had struck down similar changes to the political process. When desegregation activists succeeded in lobbying officials to adopt new policies, opponents could not, constitutionally, respond by changing which officials were empowered to approve such policies. This “political process doctrine” holds that a majority cannot make it harder for minority groups to achieve the policies they favor by closing off venues where those issues are decided.

But unlike past cases, the Court ruled last week that Michigan could “change the rules” to prohibit state universities from adopting affirmative action, even if supporters made compelling arguments and organized political support to convince the trustees and usual policymakers.

Importantly, this decision did not change the constitutionality of affirmative action. Neither public universities in states without a similar law nor private universities like GW are restricted under this decision. We can still adopt policies that advance responsible education and a more equal society.

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