The Forum

Commentary

David J. Silverman is a professor of history.

More than 200 indigenous communities have lent their support to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s opposition to the extension of the Dakota Access pipeline, which would carry an estimated 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day through historic burial grounds, other sacred spaces and sources of drinking water just outside the tribe’s reservation. The visuals of this movement are a striking testimony to the modernity and diversity of Native America. Flags from dozens of tribes line the encampment demonstrators have erected alongside the pipeline construction site. There are people from every walk of life, of all kinds of dress, complexions and hairstyles, just like the Indian country itself. Cars and trucks arrive to deliver supporters from hundreds, even thousands of miles away, while Lakota men circle the camp on horses and Tlingits and Haidas from the Alaskan panhandle canoe in the adjacent Cannonball River. This is a mobilization of modern indigenous people unlike any we’ve seen since at least the Red Power protests of the early 1970s. It might very well be unprecedented.

There is an opportune moment here for GW students and the greater public to confront one of the most stubborn, sinister and widely held prejudices in American life: the insistence that North American Indians are relics of the past. This perspective insists that the only “authentic” Natives are those stuck in some mythical, static Stone Age existence. A double bind results in which indigenous people are destined to disappear either out of refusal to adjust to their circumstances or by losing their Native identity as they change with their times. How then should we understand modern indigenous people defending their particular rights as Indians, not as a means of clinging to the past, but in pursuit of a better future?

For all their diversity, two common causes bind together the indigenous demonstrators. For one, they are committed to tribal sovereignty and the sanctity of their nation to nation relationships with the United States and Canada. Native peoples and their governments have rights recognized by treaty. Though indigenous people living in reservation communities vote in state and national elections, pay federal and some state taxes, are subject to federal law and, it must be emphasized, serve in the American military at a greater rate than any other segment of the population, the tribe is the primary government on the reservation. As the National Congress of American Indians explains, “The essence of tribal sovereignty is the ability to govern and to protect and enhance the health, safety and welfare of tribal citizens within tribal territory.” That is precisely what the leaders of the Standing Rock reservation are doing in opposing the pipeline. Their support from so much of the rest of Native America extends from that principle.

Combatting environmental racism also binds the people together. Ever since the beginning of the reservation period, Indian people have seen white Americans strip their reservations of their most valuable, often sacred, resources, only to be replaced with toxic waste from off-reservation places that has poisoned the land, the water and the people. One can see a similar pattern in American cities too, where oil refineries and superfund sites cluster in communities of poor people of color. This dark legacy is all the more painful because many indigenous people claim a special, sanctified role to care for mother earth and teach the rest of the world to do the same. The people supporting Standing Rock call themselves protectors, not protestors, because they are fighting for their basic rights to clean drinking water, a world free of the pollution of fossil fuels and indigenous self-determination.

Indigenous people have united behind Standing Rock because they recognize that their collective future, as modern Native Americans, depends on their strident defense of tribal sovereignty, natural resources and cultural heritage. In taking a stand for basic human dignity and environmental justice against the forces of corporate greed and racism, they fight for us all.

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Bonnie Morris is a senior fellow at the Global Women’s Institute.

Five years ago, in a special ceremony commemorating the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, University President Steven Knapp invited me to share notes from my Sept. 11, 2001 experience on campus, and I read aloud from my journal to the crowd. What can’t be shared too often is the sense of obligation to my community that I felt during the crisis.

After 22 wonderful years teaching women’s history here at GW, I had my position abruptly terminated last year as part of steep cuts to the humanities. But that hasn’t changed what I remember from that day and how much I appreciate that the GW community came together then.

Huddled in our wee women’s studies townhouse – that my program had just moved into that week — my faculty colleagues, my graduate teaching assistants, our custodian, our administrative assistant and her partner formed a tight circle that reflected GW’s diversity in age, race, class, position, sexuality, nationality and temperament. Soon I emerged to tack a large sign on our front door: “COME IN IF YOU NEED A HUG.”

I had occasion to give many hugs in the panicked days that followed when classes, having barely begun, were interrupted with vigils, evacuation drills and National Guard tanks on campus. In due time when my big history survey course resumed, I offered whatever counsel I could muster to my first-year students, many of whom hailed from New York or were living away from home for the first time. I candidly admitted my own fear, just as I had on another sorrowful occasion just four years earlier — after the murder of Matthew Shepard in a gay hate crime.

It’s easy to state the obvious: At GW, as in other distracted or fragmented institutions, we all become a family when threatened. Yet that family feeling of human care should be a given and year-round in normal practice. That sense of community is what must be knit back together as we begin a new year frayed by brutal job cuts, the ejection of longtime staff and faculty, and allegations of homophobia in the athletic program.

Not so long ago, that physical attack on the World Trade Center and locally on the Pentagon reverberated for all at GW — it incited better levels of caring and outreach. Now, 15 years later, I hope we’ve learned that affirming every individual’s humanity should be a daily value, not just a response to crisis. As GW moves forward through its challenges of budget cuts and homophobia, remember it costs zero to be kind and to offer up that hug to those in our large campus family.

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Kelly Pemberton is an associate professor of religion and women’s studies.

On Aug. 26, the French Council of State ruled to suspend the ban on the burkini that had been ordered by the resort of Villeneuve-Loubet. Since the Council aims to make this an exemplary ruling, it applies to all administrative courts in France. For some, the lifting of the ban represents a triumph for freedom of choice, religious expression, feminism or all three.

Yet the debate is far from over. Some mayors are still upholding the ban. Opinions about the burkini, which have been flying freely on the pages of print and digital newspapers, in the blogosphere and from the lips of Muslim and non-Muslim interlocutors everywhere, seem to be missing some crucial points.

The debate about the burkini is not really about feminism, rights or freedom of choice. However, parallels can be drawn with these issues: They are all concerned with how womens’ bodies serve as symbols of national progress(iveness) or, alternatively, “backwardness.”

Nor is the burkini furor actually about the problems France has faced in integrating Muslims. For those who have been shepherded en banlieue, compelled to live on segregated landscapes dotted by soulless concrete slabs, with inadequate jobs, minimal diversions and even fewer promises of a brighter future, the failure to integrate seems glaring. But for many others, living, loving, working, even thriving in France, this face of disdain towards Islam is the face of a stranger.

It’s not easily dismissed as the — in my opinion, justified — paranoia engendered by a series of devastating terrorist attacks by Islamic radicals these past 18 months. First Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Jan. 2015, then Bataclan and the Stade de France that following November, then mass murder by cargo truck in Nice this past Bastille Day and the slaying of an 84-year-old priest in Rouen just twelve days afterwards.

What’s missing from the debate over the burkini in France is a discussion of how it reflects a growing French crisis that is partially rooted in questions of identity, exacerbated by a deeply unpopular political leadership and fueled by economic insecurities that have loomed larger as the global financial crisis years of 2007-08 have faded from recent memory.

Unemployment remains at more than 10 percent, with youth unemployment more than twice as high. Gross domestic product grew slower in France than in any of the other 35 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries except Italy. For nearly a decade, ongoing national economic woes have percolated downward on a steady spiral. Among the few who have the reassurance of job security, life is relatively good. For most others, not knowing what tomorrow will bring can feel like a life sentence. Such insecurities breed fear and the need to place blame on easy targets. Under these circumstances, the burkini debate has operated as a touchstone for what France is becoming, where it has gone wrong and how it seems to be falling into decline, despite all efforts to save it.

The burkini ban in France may be dead. But the debate seems determined to live on.

 

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Talia Balakirsky, a junior double majoring in journalism and political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

If GW’s location didn’t already make it a unique college campus, it definitely is now. Over the summer, officials closed J Street – the one dining hall on the Foggy Bottom campus. Although some parents and new students might be worried about freshmen finding places to eat, eliminating the dining hall should be a relief for GW students.

Now, all undergraduate students can spend their dining cash freely at independent eateries around campus and beyond, and not spend anything at a lackluster dining hall. Closing J Street encourages students to venture off campus to find places to eat that accept our meal plan money.

As students living in a city, freshmen should find their ways around the District sooner rather than later. With dining cash options slightly off campus, freshmen have more of a reason to escape the Foggy Bottom bubble.

GW is in no respects a typical university so a traditional dining hall isn’t a necessity when so many students juggle going back and forth from classes to internships to the National Mall. It has always been more satisfying, and at often cheaper, to dine at restaurants near campus that accept GWorld cards — like Whole Foods and Roti.

This year, GW offers more than 90 options for on-campus and off-campus dining, but some students students may be unaware of the laundry list of options of where they can spend their dining cash. And although many options are near campus, dining cash reaches much further off campus. In Georgetown, students can use their GWorld cards at a number of restaurants, including Los Cuates and Café Tu o Tu. Students can eat at popular D.C. eateries, like Buredo and Wicked Waffle, using dining cash, too.

As a freshman, I didn’t venture outside of the GW bubble as much as I should have, because I thought everything I wanted and needed was on or near campus. As an upperclassman, I have come to realize that there are amazing opportunities to take advantage of outside of GW. Had I been pushed to travel outside of the bubble my freshman year, I likely would have taken advantage of unique D.C. opportunities when I first came to GW two years ago.

If you’re really looking for a cafeteria-style meal, there’s always Pelham Commons on the Vern. But with all of the restaurants around D.C., getting lost every once in awhile trying to find the best spot that accepts GWorld will be a whole lot more helpful to freshmen later in their GW experiences — and it might just be faster than trying to catch the Vern Express during rush hour.

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Irene Ly, a junior majoring in psychology, is the Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

The concept of traveling abroad is enchanting. More than 50 percent of students at GW study abroad and others take shorter trips out of the country because they want to experience something different than where they live. I feel the same way: Although I have wanted to visit some U.S. cities, Europe and Asia have always piqued my interest more.

This summer I learned that traveling domestically can open to your eyes to how different another part of the same country can be. For years, I’ve been guilty of overlooking the U.S. as a place to travel to broaden my horizons. Crossing seas, exchanging currencies and hearing new languages make other countries seem like more exciting destinations. But the U.S. has its own share of vibrant cities, beautiful scenery and interesting characters that you can experience without having to spend the money and time leaving the country.

Last month, I flew to San Francisco with some of my family members and friends. We rented two cars and embarked on a road trip to Los Angeles, San Diego, some smaller California cities and Las Vegas. When I had the chance to explore these places, I picked up on varying types of people and lifestyles within a state.

It’s easy to become comfortable inside the bubble where we grow up or go to school, which can lead us to believe our whole country is about the same. This trip reminded me of the differences – both obvious and subtle – that exist in different areas of the U.S. and within just one state.

Within a day of staying in San Francisco, despite being a college student in an urban city like D.C. where I’m always walking, the sight of all the steep hills in downtown San Francisco made me feel a little weak. I was shocked to watch elderly people walking up and down these enormous hills, looking completely unfazed and full of energy, even if they had to walk with canes. In contrast, L.A. was all about getting around in cars, with traffic that felt never-ending — partially redeemed by the endless sun and gorgeous blue skies.

Our pit stops in between major cities were eye-opening – from the elephant seals and beautiful deep blue waters in San Simeon to the Danish charm of Solvang. These small cities showed there was more to California than the stereotypical laid back West Coast feel or the hustle and bustle of big cities like San Francisco and L.A. I got to experiences these new people and places, and it was more practical than traveling abroad.

Plus, taking a cross-country road trip is even cheaper than a domestic plane ride. If you decide to take a road trip, you have more flexibility on where you go and how much time to spend at each stop. And without any language barriers, getting lost is less of a problem.

The next time you’re planning a vacation, consider staying in the U.S. This country varies from coast to coast and everywhere in between more than you think. I still have a ton of international cities on my list of places I want to travel, but now I have a growing list of U.S. cities, too.

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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016 12:56 p.m.

Irene Ly: This week’s best and worst

Irene Ly, a junior majoring in psychology, 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:

The School of Engineering and Applied Science now has taken another impressive project under its belt.

GW has been awarded a $900,000 grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to develop a new solar power panel design. The research will be led by Matthew Lumb in SEAS. He will be partnering with four other groups, according to a University release Monday.

Semprius, one of the research partners, has created an alternative design to the current typically flat-plate rectangle, consisting of panels that use micro-scale solar cells, which is more cost effective and energy more efficient.

The announcement comes after the news earlier this summer that GW researchers would receive $1.6 million for heart failure research. It’s great to see the University receiving money to research such important issues that have the potential to benefit people’s everyday lives and that might bring GW national attention.

SEAS has definitely earned some more bragging rights this summer. The recognition and prestige from conducting such research will hopefully attract more aspiring engineers to GW, where the engineering school has always struggled in being as well-known as its international affairs programs.

Thumbs down:

Feel free to go on your stroll along the Potomac River, but don’t touch the water.

A new lawsuit is claiming that the level of the fecal bacteria E. coli in D.C.’s river water is dangerously high, the Washington City Paper reported Tuesday. Fecal bacteria can cause symptoms like vomiting, indigestion, diarrhea, fever and other infections.

Despite this, the Environmental Protection Agency approved of the thresholds and did not ask for any actions to be taken. Local nonprofit organizations are suing the EPA for approving the District’s total maximum daily loads – the maximum amounts of pollutants a body of water can have while still passing water quality standards.

We already know that you shouldn’t swim in the Potomac River because it has been named dirtiest rivers in the country, but it’s alarming to hear that any contact with the water can spike the risk of illness. It’s even more disheartening to hear that the EPA has turned a blind eye to something that is potentially harmful.

The groups are hoping the U.S. District Court will declare the EPA’s approval of the District’s maximum loads “unlawful and arbitrary” and demand the federal government to change standards within a year.

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Laura Castro Lindarte, a sophomore double majoring in journalism and political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Living away from your parents for the first time can be unsettling. Most GW students went through this odd transition during freshman year, but I’m first experiencing it this summer for the first time because I’m a commuter student at GW. Being in Colombia alone for two months is the closest experience I’ve had to moving away from home for college.

Being away from home these two months was a confusing experience for a lot of reasons. But it was an experience that I think all commuter students should have because it forces them to become more independent. I have learned skills from living separate from my parents for two months that I could not have learned under my parents’ roof.

Being a commuter student at GW has given me one fewer worry than many GW students: budgeting money. For the first time, I’m learning to consider how I spend my money because I only have a limited amount of money that I was given for my trip. It might sound like a small thing, but figuring out how to do this in a foreign country is a lot harder than it would have been if I was learning how to be independent in the company of thousands of college classmates.

Also, I’ve had to function without constant physical and emotional support of my parents. Even though I talk to them via text or over the phone, I’ve felt left out of their lives and have wanted them to have a more active role in my life in Colombia. I have quickly learned that talking to someone on the phone is not the same as talking to someone in person.  

As an only child, I am extremely close to my parents. I tell them everything, because they were my main companions for 19 years. Because of these two months without them, I have learned just how much I enjoy their company. I have learned to replace the support I usually get from them by talking more with other members of my family that are here with me like my cousins or the aunt that I am staying with. I have also learned to be more patient and figure things out on my own since I can’t have their input all the time.

But being away from my parents also has given me the tools to be more independent. I envy that most GW students – and college students who live on campuses across the U.S. – have the freedom to live on their own. And having that sort of freedom is something I hadn’t really ever imagined.

These past two months, I was able to go out with friends without feeling like I had to introduce every single person to my parents. The few times that I went places with my cousins or friends I felt like I could spend money without feeling too guilty because it was my own money that I was spending. Of course, I still had to maintain a budget, but I didn’t have to tell my parents exactly what I spent money on.

I have always admired college students who leave their homes at 18-years-old and venture off on their own. Sometimes I wonder if it’s wrong to be as attached to my parents as I am now. This summer may have given me two months of a semi-normal college experience, but there’s a lot more out in the world that I’ll never experience alone until I graduate college.

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Melissa Holzberg, a junior 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.

Best:

After over a year of student advocacy, officials finally debuted an updated Haven – GW’s sexual assault resource website.

The new website takes a more user-friendly approach by listing emergency resources’ contact information on each page. The website also boasts separate tabs for legal resources, on-campus resources and support contacts unaffiliated with GW. Although the old Haven website may have had some of the same information, this new update should bring students a sense of relief that sexual assault survivors will have a less overwhelming website – which was a key point for student advocates.

While it may have taken over a year for the website revamp, it seems that GW took into consideration many issues that student groups had with the old website. For example, the dated Haven website listed Title IX policies and regulations on the front page, and resources listed were listed as names and addresses rather than with explanations. A website won’t stop sexual assaults from happening on campus, but Haven can now better educate sexual assault survivors and bystanders and can empower other members of the GW community.

Whether you’re a student coming to GW for the first time this year, or if you’re entering your final year as a student here, sexual assault education is likely something that is or will be part of your college experience. It’s heartening to know that officials considered students’ concerns and made the website more helpful for the entire community.

Worst:

The Federal Transit Authority just handed the Washington Metro Transit Authority a hefty list of failures.

After a train derailment last week in East Falls Church, the FTA said Metro’s track conditions failed to meet “allowable safety parameters specified in [Metro’s] track safety standards, and were not found or addressed by [Metro] personnel prior to the derailment,” according to the report. The FTA also determined that WMATA wasn’t adhering to established standards for track inspections.

If that wasn’t enough bad news for Metro officials, the National Transportation Safety Board alleges that Metro officials have known about their lackadaisical safety procedures since 2009. Officials will not be meeting until Aug. 25th – a full month after the train derailment in East Falls Church – to discuss how to move forward with train inspections and recommendations. We can expect officials to discuss much more than just track issues at this meeting. They have other topics to discuss, like Metro operators running red lights and a Metro Transit Police Officer recently charged with providing material support to ISIS.

Although this report doesn’t give any new information about the train derailment or the inspection procedures for WMATA, it adds new difficulty to an already rocky summer for Metro officials. Unfortunately, the difficulties are becoming the norm for Metro.

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Kendrick Baker, a junior double majoring in political science and economics, is a Hatchet columnist. 

Students across the country have been calling on their universities’ boards of trustees to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry, including students at GW.

The calls for divestment by student groups often fail to consider the full implications of divestment, and they ignore potential financial damage to the University. GW’s endowment isn’t as big as some better-known universities, like Stanford University or Harvard College, so divestment would have a more severe impact on the University’s financial well-being.

We shouldn’t blindly call for divestment without knowing how much it will affect us. Only by studying the impacts of divestment first can we ensure that divestment would not severely harm GW’s budget.

Before groups continue to advocate for divestment, the managers of GW’s endowment fund should conduct and publish a study investigating the financial impact of divestment. Because GW’s endowment breakdown isn’t public, commissioning an in-depth study by GW’s fund managers is the only way to determine whether divestment would have a significant negative impact on the school’s finances. The results of such a study should be made public to students, so they can fully understand the financial implications of divestment.

Although some smaller universities have divested their endowments from all fossil fuels, these early adopters tend to be institutions that do not have or do not heavily depend on large endowments for salaries, scholarships and other institutional costs. GW’s per-pupil endowment is too small to take the hit to funding that Stanford University and Harvard College can. GW is far more dependent on endowment funding than smaller schools that have divested, yet does not have a large enough endowment to absorb potential losses on its rate of return.

At GW, 11.6 percent and 13 percent of endowment income goes toward student aid and professorships, respectively. Although these figures are not outliers compared to institutions like GW, they demonstrate that our endowment still represents a vital funding stream for the University.  We cannot afford to miscalculate or ignore the financial costs of divestmentbecause our endowment has an impact on our financial aid and our professors’ jobs.

For the environmentally conscious, GW retaining a portfolio that contains fossil fuel-invested stocks may feel morally irresponsible, but based on similar endowments at businesses and other universities, GW probably only invests a small fraction of its over $1 billion endowment in fossil fuel stocks. That means that the small fraction of $1 billion that would actually be divested from the fossil-fuel industry would not have a substantial direct effect on oil company profits. But losing even a fraction of one percent of the endowment could have an effect on students in the short run and on GW’s finances in the long run.

Students need to question what’s more important: moving ahead with an aggressive divestment strategy without complete information or wait a while longer to commission a study and ensure that the future health of the University.

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Melissa Holzberg, a junior 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:

GW officials are on the cusp of exceeding fundraising expectations. As of the end of July, officials have raised $875 million for the University’s $1 billion campaign. Not only does this mean officials raised over $40 million dollars in just five months, but it also means that there is a real chance that officials will cross the $1 billion finish line seven months ahead of the June 2018 deadline. If the campaign continues at a rate of raising $40 million every five months, the campaign would reach $1 billion dollars by November 2017.

Students should take notice, because a lot of the donations directly benefit student life. Although some may have been skeptical that officials would be able to reach such a seemingly lofty goal, the success of the campaign shows a commitment to student life and education at GW. We should be proud of the campaign, and we should encourage officials to continue the campaign through June 2018 and expand the goal, regardless of when they hit $1 billion.

While there’s no way to predict the level of success officials will have in fundraising during this fiscal year, the campaign’s structure should give students and officials hope that donations will stay on track. Because donors can give money to specific schools and organizations, they can notice the direct effects of their money. That’s important because parents and recent alumni often give money to the activities in which they or their children participated. If officials can show near-immediate return on investment to donors, it’s more likely that those donors will give more in the future or encourage others to donate.

It’s nearly impossible to walk around campus without hearing the familiar #OnlyAtGW moments that officials and tour guides say cheerfully and students say sarcastically. But perhaps this new fundraising bump, and the real chance of an early finish, will give students and officials something they can both be proud of.

Thumbs down:

Students signed up for sculpture classes this upcoming semester will have to wait a bit longer to post an Instagram photo of the newly renovated Flagg Building – home of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.

Sculpture classes that were set to be held in the Flagg Building will be temporarily moved to Smith Hall or the Science and Engineering Hall for the first three weeks of the semester until the renovations are complete. These renovations are part of the first phase of the multi-year $47.5 million construction project scheduled for the Corcoran that includes updates to things like bathrooms and faculty offices.

Although moving classrooms for just three weeks isn’t all that bad, officials aren’t doing much to improve their reputations for longer-than-expected renovations. In March 2015, two months after the Science and Engineering Hall opened, many researchers still hadn’t moved into their facilities because renovations ran late. And the renovation of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design is only one of the major renovation projects happening this summer. Construction on District House is finishing up to be open for fall move-in, and the basement of Shenkman Hall is being updated.

Hopefully sculpture students get to move into their new digs by the three-week deadline. But until then, students will have to chisel in less majestic rooms on campus.

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