The Forum


Georgia Lawson, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Our parents shape us in profound ways as we grow up. We often keep their morals, convictions and prejudices with us long after we leave home.

As much as we’d all like to believe our decisions are completely and wholly our own, the truth is environmental factors are powerful in shaping our beliefs and assumptions. This is important to keep in mind during the next few weeks – so crucial, in fact, that our democracy depends on it.

Nov. 4 marks an important milestone in the lives of many Colonials: Election Day. While a politically active reputation is a key point of pride for GW, the upcoming election will be the first opportunity for many younger students to actually take to the polls.

With all the excitement this entails, it’s easy to cling to the party or set of political ideals on which we’ve been raised. But this natural tendency adds to mounting frustration toward the government. If we don’t understand why we vote for certain politicians, we won’t understand why they make their choices and we’ll likely grow dissatisfied with their actions.

Voters should recognize the vulnerability of their own beliefs to powerful environmental factors, primarily our families, who have pruned our conceptions of the world since birth. This process of political socialization is a leading predictor of how one will vote or adhere to a specific party, which means independent thought is being eclipsed by a years of influence. While aligning to a party is not a bad thing, doing so blindly is dangerous.

Maybe if we all took a step back to reconsider our country’s political options on our own, we wouldn’t be stuck with a Congress of such high reelection rates and low popularity. We can blame the government all we want for not getting things done, but in the end, we’re the ones who continue to vote them in – or, worse yet, don’t vote at all.

It’s about time we start reexamining our choices before we hit the polls, rather than two years later. As Election Day approaches, be sure to exercise caution and keep in mind the critical balance between beliefs and knowledge, or rather what our biases lead us to believe and what the reality of the situation actually is. Don’t rely on inherited beliefs.

Society is constantly changing, so educate yourself and be judicious. Then maybe we can start to clean up the mess in politics for good.

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Greg Gaffney-Bills, a sophomore double-majoring in economics and political science, is the policy and legislative affairs director for GW Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Election Day is just five days away. Local and state campaigns across the country are in the final push to get out their messages. Here in D.C., one ballot measure capturing much of the attention is Initiative 71, which would legalize marijuana in the city.

Unfortunately, some voters are apathetic toward, or at least feeling less than passionate about, the measure because it doesn’t follow the example set by Colorado or Washington. They rightly point out that the initiative does not allow for dispensaries or the sale of marijuana, and that Congress maintains the authority to reject any bill the city passes.

What they fail to understand is the drug reform movement isn’t about taxes, regulation or the number of dispensaries. It is about changing the nation’s concerning narrative about drug users, and ensuring every American has access to high-quality public health services.

For far too long, the U.S. has fought an unwinnable war on drugs – marginalizing, disenfranchising and incarcerating a staggering number of citizens. While nothing can reverse these decades of pain and loss, Initiative 71 is a step in the right direction. After all, as Americans, we have always strived to better our local communities, our nation, our world and ourselves.

As D.C. voters, we have the opportunity this November to affect change on all levels. With the eyes of the world upon us, we can stand up and reject the notion that blacks and whites are unequal, that police resources are better spent pursuing non-violent drug users than murderers and rapists, and that prohibition works.

Vote yes on 71.

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Kirby Dzurny, a sophomore double-majoring in international affairs and creative writing, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but there are better ways to relax than binge-watching Netflix.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of days when crawling into my bed to watch episode after episode seems like the perfect way to treat the blues following hours of classes and a shift at work.

In our high-tech world, I find it far too easy to spend a harmful amount of time inside. During times of high stress – like midterms season – students spend even more time at desks under fluorescent lights.

While academics are the reason we’re here, staying active is crucial to a positive college experience. At GW, we often overwork and overload ourselves, which is understandable for such a driven student body. But it’s important we make an effort to get outdoors once in a while.

As the days turn colder and rainier, I’m far less likely to be outside all that much. Less exposure to sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, which can sometimes trigger feelings of depression: It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it’s not uncommon during these months. Taking advantage of as much sunlight as possible this season while we still have it can sometimes help ward off inclinations to just stay in bed.

“As GW students, it is easy to forget to take the time to tend to our physical and mental health as we get caught up in our internships, extracurricular activities and academics,” Student Association President Nick Gumas, who has put student health at the top of his agenda, told me. “I’d encourage students to take time for themselves and stay healthy.”

Luckily, we don’t live just anywhere. We live in one of the most exciting cities in the world, filled with festivals, monuments, sporting events and free parks. And this year, D.C. was named the most walkable city in the country. For all these reasons, it’s no surprise we’re the fittest metropolitan area in the country.

If you aren’t a nature lover, you can still find an outdoor activity that interests you. You could go on a trip with the student organization GW TRAiLS, which organizes hikes, bike rides and even takes students on seasonal outings, like pumpkin picking in October.

“Getting outside for even a few minutes can make a difference in my day,” Tim Miller, the director of the Center for Student Engagement, told me. “I have attended a number of TRAiLS trips over the years and they always help me feel more relaxed and connected to the outdoors.”

There are options even if you’re too busy to venture outside of D.C. Simply taking your exercise outside can be better than working out in a gym. Running or cycling outdoors tends to be more challenging, and those who walk outdoors report lower levels of tension and depression – leaving them in a healthier mental state.

Just going for a walk on the National Mall or around campus is a way to decompress and take a moment to breathe. Many of us GW students are hardwired to always be working on something, but every once in a while, it’s best to take some time to relax.

So as midterms season rages on, don’t forget about your health.

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Michael Shanahan is the School of Media and Public Affairs’ assistant director for student affairs and an assistant professor of journalism.

Last week, in a parody of Ebola news coverage, Jon Stewart aired clips of hysterical TV stories that all suggested large numbers of Americans were threatened with the deadly disease.

“We can’t rely on the news media to take a reasoned approach,” the political comedian said, going on to ridicule politicians who had called for a ban on air travel to the United States from Liberia and other affected West African nations.

While much of the coverage of this epidemic has been accurate and restrained, many of the stories have done more to frighten than enlighten.

On Fox News, commentator Andrea Tantaros said people coming from West Africa with Ebola symptoms might choose not to seek treatment at an American hospital.

“They don’t believe in traditional medical care,” Tantaros said in a comment sure to be interpreted as racist. “Some could get off a flight and seek treatment from a witch doctor.”

Unfortunately, the Ebola story didn’t gain nearly as much national attention until a handful of American medical providers were infected with the virus. Not until a Liberian man was diagnosed with and treated for Ebola in a Dallas hospital did the frenzy of headlines begin. Then one nurse was infected, and another with the disease was permitted to fly from Dallas to Cleveland, which kept the coverage constant.

That created an echo chamber for politicians, especially those running for election next month, who demanded that West Africans be prohibited from flying to the United States. Every cable news channel has put Republican critics of President Barack Obama on the air, despite overwhelming evidence that such a policy would be counterproductive.

Additionally, many Republicans have condemned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and claimed that the Ebola cases in the U.S. prove the Obama administration is incapable of running the government.

So is all of this coverage scaring Americans to death? Not really. Instead, they seem to be absorbing the overheated coverage and waiting to see how the government handles the country’s relatively small number of cases.

A Pew Research Center poll found that well over half – 58 percent – of those questioned had confidence in the government’s ability to prevent a major outbreak of Ebola, while 30 percent said they weren’t afraid at all.

Overall, the fear level is well below what Americans felt during the Bird Flu epidemic, according to the Pew Center poll. And while many Americans seem to know little about how Ebola is transmitted (only through contact with bodily fluids), at least they are not panicking over frenzied news coverage, which would have them running for the hills.

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Elizabeth McClellan, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Cartoon by Juliana Kogan

Cartoon by Juliana Kogan

I was raised watching Disney princesses – and if you grew up in the 90′s, you may have been, too.

So when as a young woman I finally learned about the underlying sexism in Disney’s animated films, I felt disillusioned and betrayed. But the revelation opened my eyes to the fact that strong sexist themes are prevalent in all movies.

The filmmaking industry is in dire need of a greater number and variety of female characters, along with better representation of complex women.

As college students, we can get the ball rolling. Most of us at GW are in the 18-to-25 age bracket, and our demographic is crucial to the film industry’s financial success. That means we have consumer power, so it’s important that we use it by going to see movies that feature strong, intelligent female characters.

And everyone knows we’re the most politically active school in the country, with multiple salient issues on our radar. Feminist activism, too, has been brewing on campus lately in light of both national and University-focused discussions about sexual assault, so it seems natural for us to add this issue to our agenda.

You might already head to the movies regularly. But by being selective in your movie choices and picking films that empower women, you can effect change.

Films that come out this fall meet the eligibility deadline for spring awards season. They’re Oscar bait: high-quality and released at this time in an attempt to win acclaim. The same movies that gain popularity (say, those that bring out young people) grab the Academy’s attention.

If you haven’t taken a critical look at feature films like I have, you might not immediately see how much is at stake. The misrepresentation of women in movies is a rampant problem, but most people hardly notice it.

Women in movies are more than twice as likely as men to be sexualized, shown naked or dressed in risqué clothing, but often, the issue is masked. “Tomb Raider’s” Lara Croft, for example, is the film’s protagonist and a powerful female, but is ultimately sexualized for the benefit of male viewers.

Caroline Heldman, a political science professor at Occidental College, calls these characters “the fighting fuck toys.” At first glance they may seem powerful, but ultimately, they’re still objectified.

So what needs to be done? We definitely need more Katnisses and Hermiones – powerful, complex female characters. Between 2010 and 2013, only 14.8 percent of doctors, 13.9 percent of executives and 9.1 percent of lawyers depicted in movies were female, which is disheartening to say the least.

This is where we come in: by sending a message to Hollywood through our ticket purchases. To the untrained eye, it can be hard to spot a movie that pushes back against stereotypes and provides female role models.

But luckily, we have the Bechdel test – a set of criteria to consider when heading to the theater. A movie passes the test if it includes at least two female characters, they talk to each other at some point during the film and their conversation is about something other than a man. Only four of 2014’s nine Oscar nominated films passed the Bechdel test.

This year, some movies to look out for include “Camp X-Ray,” featuring Kristen Stewart as a soldier working at Guantanamo Bay, “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon as a hiker on a brave and dangerous adventure, and “Into the Woods,” Disney’s latest, starring the likes of Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep.

Media are part of an incredibly influential industry, and, right now, the gender gap in film is a reflection of the sexism prevalent in our society. Young girls are going to the theater only to discover that their archetypes include victim, romantic interest, sex object, sidekick and secretary.

As politically active college students, we can and should push Hollywood to close this gap.

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Ari Massefski and Mike Massaroli are the president and executive vice president, respectively, of the Residence Hall Association.

Nobody likes a lounge that doesn’t have any furniture. Across the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses, our residence halls have dozens of common spaces that we can use for studying, hanging out with friends or planning events, but sometimes these lounges are startlingly empty. In some buildings, a large common space only has one or two chairs, a couch and a small table.

As your advocate, the Residence Hall Association has spent the last several months working with staff in the Division of Student Affairs and the Division of Operations to point out lounges and lobbies that could use more furniture. And we have seen notable successes: A lounge in the basement of Thurston Hall recently opened and has become a popular study spot during midterms, and new furniture will soon grace a newly constructed student lounge in Amsterdam Hall.

But too often, furniture that is placed in residential common areas doesn’t remain there. The furniture “disappears” of its own accord – usually because a resident has decided that a couch from the lounge would make a nice addition to his or her room.

If you were at home, and you thought that the kitchen table would look better in your bedroom, would you just take it? No, because the kitchen table is for communal use, and dragging it into your bedroom would take it away from the rest of your family. Even when we’re not at home, the same principles should apply.

Campus resources are finite, and we all share the responsibility to maintain the condition of our communal lobbies and lounges. When furniture is removed from common spaces or when we abuse the lounge by breaking or mishandling furniture, it takes away from everyone’s opportunity to use those amenities. As residents of the buildings throughout campus, it’s important for all of us to contribute to ensuring these halls remain our homes away from home.

Last fall, several GW departments and student organizations like the RHA and the Student Association put together community standards to ensure the halls remain in good condition for current and future residents. But on paper, standards can only do so much – they need the effort and buy-in of the entire community to truly make a difference.

As we all hunker down with our Oreos and Red Bulls to study for midterms, students across campus are looking to use these common spaces for quiet studying or to work on group projects. Administrators are open and willing to work with students on refurbishing lobbies that need furniture. Please do your part by leaving the lounges the way you found them, and give your hall councils feedback about the furniture you would like to see in your lobbies and lounges.

If we all chip in, we can make sure these are spaces that the community can enjoy together.

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Ariella Neckritz, a junior double-majoring in human services and women’s studies, is the president of GW Students Against Sexual Assault.

For many, the Foggy Bottom Metro station is just a site of the everyday commute, a means to participate in internships, service activities and nightlife. But for me, it is a site of trauma. It is a reminder of pain, manipulation and hurt. It is a trigger that will never disappear.

Freshman year, I attended a party with students from neighboring universities. I was hit on by an upperclassman, totally flattered to have interested a student who I thought was mature, intelligent and attractive. We exchanged numbers and I was unsure if I would hear from him, but afterward, he texted me constantly, always checking in and wanting to know what I was doing.

I saw all these actions as part of a caring effort to learn about my life, but soon, what I began to experience was abusive behavior. His attempts to constantly monitor me, control my actions and isolate me from my circle of support were tactics of power.

As we started dating, the abusive behavior escalated with threats, insults, intimidation, manipulation and false accusations. Since his abuse was spun in among compliments, promises and profuse apologies, I continued to overlook his disrespect of my feelings, mental well-being and boundaries. But eventually, after friends voiced their concerns, I decided to break it off.

On Jan. 18, 2013, standing next to the Foggy Bottom Metro, I told him that I felt our relationship was unhealthy and that we needed to break up. He responded by threatening to commit suicide if I ended it, describing in detail all the ways he could kill himself. Although a few hours later he messaged me to clarify he never actually intended to harm himself, the threat and its emotional impact still haunts me.

Now, two years later, and as the president of GW Students Against Sexual Assault, I have come to identify as a survivor of dating violence. Although the terminology most commonly used to describe relationship violence is domestic violence, abuse can happen to people in all relationship configurations – not just to those who live together.

Some terms that survivors also use to describe their experiences are relationship abuse, intimate partner violence, dating abuse and domestic abuse. While, historically, much emphasis has been placed on physical abuse and finding visible marks like bruises to identify survivors, the ways in which people experience dynamics of power and control and abusive behavior are varied.

Dating violence can include sexual, emotional, psychological, spiritual, economic, verbal and digital abuse. Twenty-one percent of college students report they have experienced dating violence by a current partner, and 32 percent report dating violence by a previous partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

This issue is pervasive across college campuses, and we need to acknowledge its existence in the GW community: There were 18 reports of domestic violence at GW in 2013.

This October, to correspond with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, GW Students Against Sexual Assault is focusing its annual campus-wide education campaign on dating violence. In light of the media’s recent attention to domestic violence, we feel it’s important to discuss abusive relationships in the campus context. We see this as an opportunity to raise awareness and provide education and resources.

For the campus community, this is an invitation to join a movement to create a culture of respect. I urge students to respect boundaries, be active bystanders, listen to and believe friends when they disclose, submit CARE reports and engage with the campaign on social media.

Thanks to campaigns like this, I learned there was terminology to describe my experiences. Thanks to campaigns like this, I learned how to identify abusive behavior. I learned there were support structures to offer help and resources for healing. Although my pain and triggers are still there, let’s work to stop abusive relationships.

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Jason Lifton, an alumnus, is the chief of staff to the associate provost for military and veterans affairs.

I’ve spent seven whole years at GW, and I’m only 25 years old.

As first an undergraduate student and leader of the Student Association, then a grad student, and then a staff member in both the Student Affairs and Military and Veteran Affairs offices, it’s been an incredible seven years. After earning an MBA with a focus in real estate from GW, I’m heading to a real estate development firm called Urban Investment Partners here in D.C. – truly my dream job. With my last day on Thursday, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my time here.

When I first arrived as a freshman in 2007, South Hall was a tennis court, Potomac House was brand new, Whole Foods was a big empty lot, George W. Bush was president and Thurston Hall … well, Thurston was the same.

But while the face of the campus has seen countless changes over the past seven years, the incredible type of people who live and work here has remained constant. I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most phenomenal people you’ll ever come across. They say that it’s the people who make organizations great, and GW is no exception.

So much of my love for GW stems from the students we attract. As first a student and now as a staff member, I’ve been given the opportunity to work with some of the most remarkable students on some incredible projects.

Most memorably, I was given the opportunity to accompany numerous Alternative Breaks trips to various cities across the country, and I watched as GW students gave up their vacations to serve people whom they’d never met before, and would likely never see again. Reflecting on trips like these remind me of why I’m proud of my alma mater.

In my most recent job within Military and Veteran Affairs, I have had the opportunity to meet the non-traditional students who come to GW as global leaders before they even step foot on campus. If you haven’t had a chance to sit down with one of our GW student veterans, you have not yet begun to understand the full breadth of our student body. A 29-year-old freshman who has done multiple combat tours through the Middle East and then chooses to come to GW to enroll in college – this is the type of student that makes our campus so diverse and so amazing.

From students, to faculty, to staff, I can truly say that there have been so many colleagues who have had an impact on me and who have made my experience here at GW meaningful, and for that I am grateful.

I will close by saying that, as Colonials, we are given an opportunity to engage with the world from our residence halls, our classrooms and our sidewalks. Take advantage of it. Go out, explore the city and make the most of your time! “Networking” is a cheesy term, but go meet interesting people who make you smarter and who make you better, and that will help you find the true value to your GW education. My GW experience has prepared me to embark on my next step in life, and yours will, too.

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Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 8:01 p.m.

This fall, ban ‘basic’

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

If you are a college-aged woman, you’re basic.

You can’t escape that classification. In fact, none of us can. According to Urban Dictionary – as well as countless, useless Buzzfeed listicles – if you’ve ever had Starbucks, taken a selfie, worn leggings or Uggs, or even owned an iPhone, you’re basic. End of discussion. Nothing else about your life is significant enough to change that fact.

The “basic bitch” phenomenon is one that has invaded millennial culture over the past few years. A College Humor video on the subject gained popularity in March, and even prominent media outlets like New York Magazine have started talking about and analyzing “basic girls.”

Now that it’s fall, the unofficial season of all basic bitches, the term is being thrown around more than ever.

Though we used to use “basic” to describe girls who participate in popular trends, now the word applies to nearly every female student on this campus and every college across the country. Sometimes I even find myself concealing my pumpkin spice latte or resisting posting a photo on Instagram for fear of acquiring this label, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

It might seem innocent, but placing women into a broad category for such insignificant reasons is offensive. Calling someone “basic” diminishes everything else about her and assumes that she’s nothing special. If a woman has something in common with the rest of her gender, she isn’t an individual in any way – she’s “just another girl.” And that’s unfair.

We don’t automatically assume that a man is bland and ordinary just because he happens to like something that’s popular. But ladies, the moment you take a sip from a decorative mug or even put on Essie nail polish, according to sites like Buzzfeed, you’re boring.

Though we do make generalizations about men, for example by referring to some as “bros,” they have autonomy over the categories in which they’re placed. College men own the term “bro” and can use it however they want, meaning it doesn’t always carry a negative connotation. Oppositely, “basic” is derogatory no matter who says it, and it isn’t a term that women have chosen for themselves.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard both men and women use “basic” to describe girls on this campus, and even I’m guilty of letting the term slip on occasion. And it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

So ladies, ignore it. Don’t label others as basic and don’t be afraid to participate in what’s now known as “basic culture.”

You want to wear leggings to class today? They’re comfortable. Go for it. Have you been itching to post an Instagram of the red and orange leaves on the Vern? It’s a pretty picture. Do it. You want to dress up like a cat for Halloween? It can be an easy, cute costume. You do you.

It’s possible to be a unique, interesting person and still do what you want. Forget about what men think, and forget about what society’s expectations are.

That photo of you in a pumpkin patch makes a great profile picture, and that doesn’t make you basic.

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Irene Ly, a freshman majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Have you ever dropped off family members or friends at the airport and then envied them as they post pictures of their travels on Facebook and Instagram?

Now, imagine those people had been fooling you all along, without having ever left home. That’s exactly what 25-year-old Dutch student Zilla van den Born did this summer.

For 42 days, van den Born hid in her apartment and convinced her loved ones she was having the time of her life traveling through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos by photoshopping images of exotic food and tourist attractions. She even Skyped with her parents from her living room under Christmas lights and a Thai umbrella and sent texts in the middle of the night.

Sound like a twisted joke by someone with too much time on her hands? Actually, van den Born, who studies graphic design, conjured up the whole ruse as her university graduation project. Her goal was to “prove how common and easy it is to distort reality,” and did it to “show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media.”

It’s a bold and extreme way of communicating a very true message: If there’s one thing social media is good at, it’s filtering out the bad and only showing the glamorous.

College students are some of the most active on social media, and GW students are particularly prone to bragging about their unique experiences. As a freshman, I’ve only been on campus a few weeks and am already inundated with social media posts ending in #OnlyatGW. It’s a central part of the University’s marketing campaign, too.

While using this hashtag is certainly trendy, it doesn’t paint a full picture of GW. Just as van den Born was able to manipulate reality and fool everyone using nothing but Photoshop and some creativity, #OnlyatGW paints a picture that is one-sided, has been removed of all its flaws and seems too good to be true.

I’m not trying to bash the pride students have for our school, but rather emphasize just how easy it is for us to use social media to twist reality.

By only showing our lives in a positive light, we fail to reveal the whole truth. Life at GW is occasionally thrilling, sure, but that doesn’t mean the rest of our time here is not still pretty darn ordinary or unexciting at times.

Reality may not be as exciting as social media makes it seem, but it can still be pretty great, and can sometimes give us enjoyment social media simply cannot capture.

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