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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.

Thumbs up:

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.

Thumbs down:

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.

Thumbs up:
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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Monday, July 20, 2015 5:41 p.m.

Put your half-eaten food to good use

Kendrick Baker, a sophomore studying political science and economics, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

I’m used to other students rolling their eyes at me when I harp on about being eco-friendly. I came to GW after living in the liberal San Francisco Bay area, where it’s normal to be conscious of our footprint on the world.

My friends still sometimes leave the shower running or keep the lights on, but now I have a new sustainable solution to bug them about: A new compost system was recently installed at the student-run community GroW Garden on H street between 23rd and 24th streets.

The new system is an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with the compost process before the University implements a larger-scale compost system, part of its 10-year sustainability strategic plan. It’s also a chance for students to show officials that these are the types of campus improvements they care about, and will keep officials committed to their long-term sustainability goals.

Composting is an important step toward reaching the University’s long-term goal of becoming a “zero-waste” campus, something many schools are looking to achieve as sustainability becomes increasingly popular.

Of course, the new system is just a small step, but we should still applaud the efforts of the Food Justice Alliance, the student group that manages the GroW Garden. Composting won’t solve everything, but it will help the community garden thrive while reducing the amount of food that goes to the landfill.

While many students have largely ignored past initiatives like the eco-challenge, students should treat the compost program expansion differently.

By composting, students can make a political statement and remind University officials that campus-wide composting should be a priority. If students use the system heavily, it’s entirely possible that GW will prioritize expanding the compost system, speeding up campus-wide adoption. Students have already showed that composting is something they care about. Last winter, two students started a small-scale composting effort on the Mount Vernon campus.

It’s not often we have such a clear-cut opportunity to prove to the University that we care about an issue. But if we stand up for sustainability, it’s likely that administrators will notice — since eco-friendly practices are already on their radar.

For students, it may seem like a pain to trek across campus with their half-eaten food when it would be much easier just to dump it in the trash. But we can’t lose sight of how important this small composting effort might be for GW’s long-term sustainability plans.

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Friday, July 17, 2015 3:05 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.

Thumbs up:
Next semester, one Greek life chapter on campus will start the year with a blank slate.

Delta Sigma Phi fraternity will become GW’s 16th fraternity when it comes to campus for the first time this fall. Its arrival is part of a plan for students to find a fraternity that’s a better fit after half of the those who participated in last year’s formal rush did not join a chapter.

This new fraternity will give Greek leaders and the chapter’s members the chance to set a standard of behavior in the community, something that has been inconsistent over the last several years.

Alpha Epsilon Pi was kicked off campus in 2014 for hazing and drug violations, and Tau Kappa Epsilon was shut down after a GW investigation this past January. A sexual assault was reported at Phi Sigma Kappa in September. Eighteen Greek-letter organizations have been put on some sort of disciplinary probation by the University. Adding a new fraternity gives the Interfraternity Council another chance to set a high bar for how members should behave.

We know this is possible, because the Greek community has already been making strides. After the sexual assault at Phi Sigma Kappa was reported last fall, Greek leaders met with administrators and made it clear within their community that the behavior was unacceptable. A Greek life task force made up of officials and members of the Greek community last winter will continue to set standards for the community and focus on ways to improve, building off of University President Steven Knapp’s charge to make GW “the best Greek system in the country.” Over the last academic year, we’ve also seen Greek leaders work with officials to reform the disciplinary process.

As staff from Delta Sigma Phi’s national organization lay the groundwork for the chapter on campus this fall, they should also make clear disciplinary standards for members. This new fraternity is another chance for Greek leaders to show that they care about the reputation of their community – and they should not let that opportunity go to waste.

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When making the decision between Baja Fresh and a metal detector, you’d be hard pressed to find someone picking the latter.

And people can apparently make that choice on their way to city government buildings at One Judiciary Square, where a report released this week found visitors skipping security and entering through the Mexican restaurant Baja Fresh.

The news, which comes after a false report of an active gunman last month at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and another at Navy Yard earlier this month, also found other issues like security guards without the training needed to use their weapons.

The Office of the Inspector General reported in 2010 that the security force wasn’t in compliance with more than half of the 24 recommendations in their annual report.

Safety for employees and visitors should be a top priority in all buildings across the city, not just buildings for government officials. It’s time to enforce the proper safety procedures, and save your taco for later.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015 1:06 p.m.

Student loan lottery plan is not a winner

Updated: July 16,2015 at 10:40 a.m.

Irene Ly, a sophomore studying psychology, is a Hatchet opinions writer. 

John Burzichelli, a Democrat assemblyman from New Jersey, proposed legislation last week that would establish a lottery for people burdened by college debt.

The lucky winner of the proposed lottery would have the funds go directly to the institution where the money is owed. For just the price of a $3 ticket, it seems like a great deal for students from New Jersey, who make up a significant part of GW’s student body.

As the cost of college is a flash point nationwide, proposing this lottery make sense, and it’s encouraging to see legislators interested in helping people pay off their student loans. But time and effort would be better spent on a long-term solution to help more people – not just one lucky winner.

In his plan, Burzichelli states that a second or third winning ticket would be drawn if there are enough funds available to cover more than one person. However, the lottery would be run by an outside vendor that would receive roughly 25 percent of the pot. If the winner had the national average student debt load of $28,400, then the lottery would need to bring in $35,000 in revenue to fully cover just one person.

And as a point of comparison, the average debt load of GW graduates was more than $30,000 in 2013, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Because college is so expensive, many students may see any effort to help with debt as a good idea. But unfortunately, this is much more of a jackpot for the outside vendor running the lottery than the debt-ridden ticket buyers, since only two or three will get lucky.

After President Barack Obama proposed in January the idea of free community college, free or debt-free college has become a key campaign plank for the Democratic party. Last week former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley unveiled a plan for debt-free college, and revealed he and his wife are shouldering a $339,000 student debt load for their daughters. Sen. Bernard Sanders, D-Vt., has also laid out a plan for free college at four-year schools. Republican lawmakers have so far been unwilling to back similar plans, which could cost as much as $90 billion.

With the 2016 presidential election just around the corner, this issue will come up again and again, and hopefully we’ll find an attainable solution that is both bigger and better.

Is Burzichelli’s proposal a small step in the right direction? Definitely. But a lottery is most certainly not the solution we’ve all been waiting for.

This post was updated to reflect the following clarification:
John Burzichelli is a representative in the New Jersey state assembly.

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Sasha Kobliha, a junior majoring in anthropology, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Imagine walking into your first class of freshman year. In a bold gesture, you pretend you aren’t terrified. Instead, you smile and introduce yourself to your professor before class begins.

The professor starts by asking where you’re from. Your hometown is somewhere small and not well-known, you explain. He asks what activities you did in high school. A little of this a little of that, you say. He asks about your SAT scores. You only took the ACT, but your results were well in the top tier, you assure him. Then the professor asks about your sexual orientation and gender identity.

Freeze: Which one of these is not like the others? If your gut reaction is that the last question infringes on a student’s privacy with no educational purpose or justification, you aren’t alone.

Outside of this hypothetical situation, some universities have started asking students about their sexual orientation and gender identity. This select but growing group of colleges – most recently the entire University of California System – are adding the option to their undergraduate application for prospective students to voluntarily self identify their gender identity and sexual orientation.

The conversation has also come up closer to home. GW considered adding the question for law school applicants, and a gender neutral option on all University forms was proposed in the Student Association last year.

Expanding resources for LGBT students is a step in the right direction toward a more inclusive environment on campus, but there’s no need for a census-like process of identifying those students. Resources for LGBT students should be available and abundant without exact numbers, so students shouldn’t be singled out or made to feel like a statistic that a university can boast.

The UC System has defended their decision as an effort to “understand and meet the diverse needs of its students.” But it’s possible to accommodate students without numbers: the SA for example, has pushed for increased transgender rights in recent years.

The debate to universally include the question on college applications has been contested since 2011, when the board of the Common Application overturned a proposal to introduce a sexual orientation question to their forms. This verdict – affecting the 488 colleges who use the Common Application, including GW – was the result of many institutions finding the question inappropriate.

Schools shouldn’t be delving into the sensitive subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity at all, let alone prompting students to provide such personal information. Looking at the pool of applicants, these are mostly 17 to 18 year-old students asked to divulge private information they may later regret sharing.

The pressure to respond to the voluntary question could also cause anxiety – especially for those who aren’t yet comfortable with their gender or sexual orientation. Closeted students, for example, might be wary of identifying themselves, and those who aren’t sure of their identities yet could feel uneasy.

But gender and sexual orientation are both fluid. The way a student identifies as a prospective student could fluctuate throughout their college years. This type of diversity happens organically, and isn’t something that schools should try to manufacture.

Instead of worrying about statistics, schools should focus on the real problems facing the LGBT students already on campus, and make sure resources are always available.

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Friday, July 10, 2015 7:53 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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All anyone can talk about this week is recently declared presidential candidate Donald Trump.

No, that isn’t the good news. The good news is that celebrity chef José Andrés – who is closely affiliated with GW as an adjunct professor, former Commencement speaker and through his new restaurant on campus – dropped his plans to collaborate with the real estate mogul.

Andrés was planning on opening a restaurant in Trump’s future D.C. hotel, but after pressure and a petition from the local community following a string of racist remarks from Trump, those plans are now off the table.

The D.C. and GW communities can count this as a big victory. In a city where everything is hidden behind red tape and leaders may ignore what D.C. residents want, accomplishing something through a petition is surprising.

But it also shows that Andrés is listening. He has become a prominent figure on campus over the past few years, and its clear he cares about where his name is attached. It’s great to see him supporting the interests of GW students, and hopefully he’ll continue to do so.

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Fittingly, D.C. ranks No. 6 on the list of sweatiest cities in the country. For anyone spending the summer in the city, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

This summer, in particular, has been a tough one. According to Capital Weather Gang’s Heat Tracker, the District has suffered 22 days with at least a 90 degree temperature so far this year. For anyone who has to leave their dorm or apartment at any point during the day – which, is probably all of us – it hasn’t been easy.

But, of course, it could be worse. In a city with a substantial homeless population, having our button-down shirts stick to our backs during a morning commute isn’t important.

If you’re here for the summer, remember that there are people out there who don’t have an air-conditioned apartment to go home to. The Department of Human Services helps homeless individuals during extreme temperatures, and even provides a phone number you can call if you see someone who needs shelter.

Of course, it’s fine to complain when it’s hot outside. We all do it. But for some people, the heat is more than just an inconvenience, so we can all do our part to help.

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