Alex Schneider: At GW Law School, you're not an 'adult' until graduation day by The GW HatchetNov 26, 2013 “When do you consider a person an independent adult? At 16, when they get their driver’s license? At 18, when they can purchase tobacco and vote? At 21, when he or she can legally drink?
Well at the GW Law School, we have a new answer: You might be 25, 30 or 35, but you’re not an independent adult until you graduate.
The law school quietly implemented a new policy this month for determining eligibility for need-based grants that will force applicants – regardless of age – to fill out their parents' financial information when turning in their Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. The previous policy only required this financial aid paperwork for students 28 years old or younger.
The financial aid office emphasized that the new policy won’t affect the total amount of financial aid students receive. But for students entering in 2014, that still means more hoops to jump through, more paperwork and more scrutiny.
And for some part-time students who haven’t lived with their parents for awhile and thought they would be considered financially independent, the change could be a barrier to filling out an application.
Financial aid policies are some of the most consequential for students seeking higher education, and the smallest changes can have substantial impacts that the school should not take lightly.
Parental income and savings data is only relevant if it has a bearing on the resources available to fund a student’s education. The law school should not be sniffing around personal and irrelevant data for financially independent applicants.
It’s far from clear how this will affect access to financial aid for part-time students – but chances are, it won’t be positively.
Many students in the part-time program work and are financially independent, but would not be able to afford law school without need-based grants. Many haven’t lived with their parents within the last five years. The new policy treats all of these students as dependents, requiring parental information on the FAFSA.
The law school has done a poor job explaining the purpose of the new policy and students deserve more clarity. There was no discussion of this issue with the Student Bar Association Senate, no outreach to evening students through the Evening Law Student Association, no surveys and no meetings.
The notice of the change was placed at the bottom of an email sent to students en masse.
And while there’s certainly no guarantees, greater community input would have identified the shortcomings and could have saved this policy from itself.
SBA Executive Vice President Marisa Ortega said that since the policy was announced, it has become a "heated topic." The SBA is currently working on plans to address the issue.
I asked the law school: Why even change the policy?
“The policy change is occurring now because we are in the process of a normal review that happens every year as we begin to accept a new class,” University spokeswoman Angela Olson told me. “This is a natural time to change the policy to be consistent with other units at GW and with other law schools around the country.”
That’s well and good, though it might be prudent to note that this supposed consistency really only applies to the medical school, the only other provider of need-based grants to graduate students. GW now joins Georgetown Law in this policy, but parental information is not required for all students — and especially not those in their 30s — at schools like Northwestern University, Columbia University, University of Virginia, Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley.
So the law school’s explanations are far from convincing. If students had been privy to this decision making, they would have pointed out that the policy appears to place undeserved, increased scrutiny on financially independent students.
We also don't know whether some students will get to waive the requirement of providing parental data on the FAFSA, as is the case today.
I’m all for closing loopholes if there’s a demonstrated purpose — for instance, to combat fraud in financial aid applications. But this time around, the law school has imposed a solution that burdens financially independent applicants without demonstrating a real reason why the administrative change is needed. The writer, a second-year student in the law school, is a Hatchet columnist.”
Crime Log by The GW HatchetNov 26, 2013 “Simple Assault
11/1/13 – 12:30 to 1 a.m.
A student reported to the University Police Department that a male stranger punched him at an off-campus bar.
- No suspects or witnesses
Medical Faculty Associates Building
11/14/13 – 11:38 a.m.
A patient reported that she and her boyfriend argued and assaulted one another in an exam room. Metropolitan Police Department officers responded, but the patient refused to provide her boyfriend’s name.
- Referred to MPD
Destruction/Drug Law Violation
11/15/13 – 3:14 a.m.
A UPD officer saw someone tampering with a security camera. The officer then found a student had defaced several doors with graffiti. An administrative search was conducted in one room, which yielded a fake driver’s license, marijuana residue and drug paraphernalia.
- Referred for disciplinary action
11/16/13 – 2:40 p.m.
A student reported to UPD that his roommate had been harassing him and pushed him.
- Referred for disciplinary action
Mitchell Hall (7-Eleven)
11/17/13 – 10:42 p.m.
UPD responded to a report that a homeless man was yelling and throwing objects in the store.
- Subject barred
Medical Faculty Associates Building
11/20/13 – 12:45 p.m.
A woman reported that a man had briefly grabbed her arm and touched her face before exiting an elevator.
- Open case Compiled by Benjamin Kershner”
Sikh students try to bring clarity to their religion, identity by The GW HatchetNov 26, 2013 “Media Credit: Erica Christian | Photo Editor
Kabir Singh Gumer, vice president of the Sikh Student Assocciation, wants to raise awareness about his religion, which was founded in the Punjab region of India. He said the Indian government’s violent outbursts against Sikhs have largely gone unnoticed. Students said attacks of Sikhs have prompted some to change their appearance to avoid being a target.
Senior Sumeet Kaur was sick of the Harry Potter jokes.
Kaur, president of the Sikh Student Association, said the first installment of the series – which featured a villain who wore a turban – sparked grade-school taunts that she and other Sikhs deflected for years. Now, Kaur and fellow SSA members are pushing for more Sikh-oriented events on campus to expand public knowledge of the faith.
“Our primary focus is awareness," Kaur said of the nearly 15-person student organization. "There are people who know [about our religion], but it’s not the majority.”
The group has seen more general student interest in its events this fall. Kaur said the group’s most successful outing was a Langar on Nov. 15 — a free, vegetarian communal meal served to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. About 100 students attended.
The group aims to demystify Sikhs' religious practices, holding events like " Turban Day ," to encourage students to learn about the significance of the head piece and don it themselves. Turbans, as well as long hair, represent piety, honor and obedience to the faith.
“For me, the kid with the turban was always a mystery. And people would say, ‘Why is that there?’ and I would try to explain it to people, but explaining the foundation of a religion to second graders is pretty hard,” the organization's treasurer Ajit Singh Gill said.
The group is trying to unite Sikhs from GW and the D.C. community, gathering SSA members for Sunday services at temples across the city.
Students are also receiving national support from organizations like The Surat Initiative, a New York-based Sikh awareness group that promoted and publicized SSA’s Sikh Awareness Day programs.
Kaur said she has been treated with suspicion and taunted for her faith. She recalled one high school classmate calling her a terrorist.
And at times, peoples’ prejudices toward Muslims were projected onto Kaur.
“I remember after 9/11, my teacher started treating me weird. My mom had to have a conference and explain that we’re Sikh and from India. My teacher says, ‘Oh! I thought you were Muslim, from Pakistan,’ and then after that she treated me better,” Kaur recalled.
Singh Gill said even in the Punjab region of India, where a large population of Sikhs live, oppression and ignorance led to waves of mass migration to the United States in the late 1940s and mid-1980s.
In 1984, a series of Sikh massacres in India led to over 8,000 deaths, and the violence prompted Singh Gill’s family to emigrate. Singh Gill’s father cut his beard and stopped wearing his turban to mask himself as Hindu and avoid becoming a target.
There are at least 280,000 Sikhs in the U.S., according to a 2012 Pew Research Center study .
Singh Gill faced bullying growing up in Baltimore, and was suspended his sophomore year of high school once for fighting another student who was making fun of his turban.
Today, Singh Gill grapples with expectations on how to dress in the professional world and how he presents himself as a Sikh college student. “Sikhi is something I keep close to my heart, but I struggle with that – with what it means to look nice. Does it look bad if I keep my beard?” Singh Gill said. “Society makes it hard ... and that ignorance hurts, especially as someone who is just trying to practice their religion.””
Archaeologists uncover one of world's oldest wine cellars by The GW HatchetNov 23, 2013 “Media Credit: Zach Dunseth, a GW alumnus, clears away dirt and debris from ancient wine jars in the ruins of a Canaanite city. Photo courtesy of Eric Cline
Media Credit: Zach Dunseth, a GW alumnus, clears away dirt and debris from ancient wine jars in the ruins of a Canaanite city. Photo courtesy of Eric Cline
Surrounded by 75 acres of ancient ruins in northern Israel, a team of researchers led by a GW professor made a big discovery: a 2,700-year old cellar that held the equivalent of 3,000 bottles of wine.
Eric Cline, an archaeological expert in Near Eastern civilizations, said the wine cellar is one of the world’s largest and oldest. It began when the team unearthed a three-foot-long wine jug, which they named “Bessie” – and then they found three dozen more containing residue of both whites and reds.
"We’ve read about these types of wine cellars. We grew up studying them in graduate school. But that is only attested from clay tablets, and now we think we’ve actually found one,” Cline said.
The researchers, which includes American and Israeli researchers, will present their findings at a conference in Baltimore on Friday.
Excavation of the Canaanite Palace began in 2005, and Cline said student researchers from GW and other universities helped clear the site in two shifts.
Andrew Koh, a professor of classical studies at Brandeis University, said he found evidence of both red and white wine that had been sweetened with honey and was flavored with mint, cinnamon and juniper berries.
He called the size and quality of the findings unprecedented and that he would work to better identify the recipe for the wine.
Assaf Yasur–Landau, who co-led the dig from the University of Haifa in Israel, said the wine cellar and the banquet hall seemed to be “destroyed during the same violent event, perhaps an earthquake,” because the walls were caked with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster. Before leaving, the team discovered two doors leading out of the cellar, which they will search through when they return to the site in 2015.”
Graduate student's defense team aims to reduce homicide charges by The GW HatchetNov 21, 2013 “The graduate student who admitted to killing a Georgetown law student in a drunken rage last month is hoping to reduce his charges – and the law may be on his side.
Media Credit: Photo from the Montgomery County Police Department
Rahul Gupta, a graduate student who also earned his undergraduate degree from GW in 2012, is facing second-degree murder charges.
The attorney for 24-year-old Rahul Gupta told a Maryland courtroom last week that the stabbing was a “hot-blooded response to some type of provocation” rather than an intentional attack. Four criminal defense attorneys told The Hatchet that the court may favor a manslaughter plea over a murder charge.
Gupta was charged with second-degree murder after he told police Oct. 13 that he had killed his high school friend Mark Waugh because he thought Waugh and his girlfriend were involved romantically behind his back. But a prosecutor told a District Court judge last week that he believed Gupta should be charged with first-degree murder, which would require the state’s legal team to prove premeditation.
For a jury to find Gupta guilty of second-degree murder, prosecutors would have to show that he intended to kill Waugh or cause such serious physical harm that Waugh would likely die. A second-degree murder conviction in Maryland carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
But criminal defense attorney David Benowitz said the circumstances of that night could reduce the charges.
“Catching your girlfriend or wife cheating is kind of the classic mitigator that you learn about in law school, which potentially could mitigate from murder down to manslaughter,” Benowitz, a 1995 GW Law School alumnus, said. “But what really matters are the facts of the case specifically.”
A person who commits manslaughter in Maryland faces a maximum of 10 years in prison or two years in a local correctional facility, a fine not exceeding $500, or both.
Roland Lee, a Maryland attorney and former prosecutor, agreed that if Gupta’s defense shows that he acted spontaneously in a “heat of passion,” he could be given a manslaughter charge.
But the jury will also read officers’ reports that Gupta confessed to stabbing his friend that night, telling officers, “My girl was cheating with my buddy. I walked in on them cheating and I killed my buddy.”
Lee said the statements were “very damaging” against Gupta and would likely play into a jury’s decision. But he added that the defense could try to use Gupta and Waugh’s friendship to its advantage, arguing that Gupta would have no reason to intentionally kill his close friend.
In court last week, Gupta’s lawyer, Philip Armstrong, stressed that everyone who was at the Silver Spring apartment that night was heavily intoxicated.
“Everybody agrees that everybody was drunk. Everybody agrees that everybody was best friends,” Armstrong told the courtroom.
But attorneys pointed out that the defense could not use voluntary intoxication in itself as an excuse in Gupta’s case.
The reports from Gupta and his girlfriend, who is also a GW alumna, are also conflicting.
Media Credit: Police arrived on the 16th floor of The Blairs apartments in Silver Spring, Md. on Oct. 13 to find Rahul Gupta lying on the floor, covered in blood, near the body of his high school friend Mark Waugh. Hatchet File Photo
Gupta told officers that his girlfriend’s screams had awoken him, and when he turned toward her, he saw Waugh “bleeding out” on the floor against a bed. But the girlfriend said she woke up to Gupta yelling for her to call 911.
“That’s helpful for the defense, too,” Maryland attorney Drew Cochran said. “If he’s really just an evil person, why is he telling her to call 911?”
G. Randolph Rice, Jr., a criminal lawyer in Maryland, said the defense would have to show that Waugh’s actions provoked Gupta’s rage, and he killed Waugh before those emotions could cool off. He said it could work if Gupta was “under the duress of seeing his girlfriend” cheating on him and Waugh was the person who prompted that outrage.
But he said he couldn’t remember a time when a defendant entirely escaped a guilty verdict because the person “was enraged or mentally incapable.” Rice said police officers charge suspects with “what they think is appropriate” at the the time of the arrest, but those charges could change or the state could tack on additional charges as a case advances to Circuit Court, which hears felonies.”
Freshman crafts makeup tips for 18,000 people by The GW HatchetNov 21, 2013 “Makeup brushes sit in mason jars on Anna Garsia's dresser while a Canon Rebel T4I sits pointed at a perfectly made bed – the backdrop to most of the freshman's beauty YouTube videos.
She selects a MAC lipstick from her modest collection, preparing her makeup for her 18,000 subscribers.
In her time between classes, friends and work, Garsia has uploaded nearly 300 videos over the past four and a half years to her YouTube channel " Smilecuzurhappy ," a hobby that transformed into a part-time job that puts money in her pocket. She partnered with YouTube in 2011 and the website's beauty network, Stylehaul, six months later.
"There is this micro-celebrity created by YouTube – I don’t want to say I am a celebrity because [I’m not], but I get to have people who care enough about what I’m saying," she said. "Maybe I’m just saying things about makeup and beauty, but at the same time I have that ability and responsibility to promote a message of self-love and self-respect and the idea that makeup isn’t everything."
The main staple on Garsia’s channel is her weekly beauty videos, but she also films video blogs about her daily life and on topics like homesickness and study tips. As part of her commitment to her channel, Garsia chose a single in West Hall in order to make filming videos easier while at GW.
When Garsia created her YouTube channel in 2009, she hoped it would evolve into a part-time job. It took her almost four years to reach 10,000 subscribers, a number that has now almost doubled in less than a year.
“Anna’s channel... has fun, creative beauty tutorials along with lifestyle videos to help her viewers. She has a great sense of style and her personality represents the StyleHaul brand perfectly,” said Garsia’s community manager Bridget Moriarty.
Her favorite video , a Festival Fashion video, uses more advanced cinematography, incorporating music, scenic locations and more complex editing techniques. A video tour of her bedroom has received her highest number of views yet – 346,951.
But her videos on makeup tips – like how to get ready for brunch – are the central part of her YouTube channel. She said she wears makeup nearly every day because it helps her "hold my head a little higher and [be] a little more ready to take on the world."
Still, Garsia sees the importance of self-value without makeup.
"There was a time in my life where I didn’t feel comfortable with myself without makeup, and I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, 'If I’m not comfortable ever leaving the house without makeup, I shouldn’t be allowed to wear it,'" she said. "I took some time off, and then when I felt beautiful again without it, I fell back into it."
As part of her channel, small makeup companies send Garsia products about once every two months. After reviewing the products, she chooses whether to upload a review or return the product to the sender, which she does if she does not feel comfortable promoting it.
Garsia began seeing profits when she became a YouTube partner. Her salary is based on the number of views her videos receive and revenue from advertisements that appear before her videos. She said her contract with YouTube forbids her from disclosing her salary, but she equated her income to a part-time job.
She said page views, hit counts and profits don't drive her to keep producing, though.
"If I was in it for the money, I might feel worried about views, but I just put out the content that I am interested in," she said.
While she has to juggle time in between classes and getting accustomed to college, she said she sometimes also has to contend with hurtful feedback. But YouTube, a website known for its particularly brutal comment section, has been generally kind to Garsia, who receives mainly constructive comments.
"I appreciate constructive criticism, but sometimes there are people that just want to tear you down, and I just let those comments slide off. I have to remember that these people don’t actually know me. They are either coming from a place of hatred or misunderstanding, and it so not worth getting bogged down in things like that," she says.
One commenter in particular caught Garsia’s attention, showcasing the consequences of sharing your life with strangers. "There was a girl commenting on my Instagram photos and a lot of my videos, and even my best friend from back home’s Instagram, asking whether me and my boyfriend had broken up," she said. "It just goes to show, you put those things out there and as a result you are making a decision to allow people to have that insight into your life, and there are ramifications."”
Counseling director: GW must consider student privacy when relocating center by The GW HatchetNov 21, 2013 “As GW searches over the next year for a new University Counseling Center location, the head of that office said Thursday that the new spot must strike a balance between accessibility and anonymity.
UCC director Silvio Weisner said his top priority is keeping concealed the identities of students who seek counseling. The University announced three weeks ago that it plans to move the K Street office, as well as Student Health Services, closer to campus.
“A move closer to the center of campus has to keep in mind how we situate our physical space to maximize privacy and confidentially for students,” Weisner said. “How we’ll go about doing that remains to be seen.”
Administrators and students have pointed to UCC’s off-campus location as a big draw because students can seek help without worrying that they’ll be seen by their peers.
Weisner said the University could protect students' privacy if the center is tucked in the corner of a campus building with solid doors instead of a wide glass entrance. He also said that if the center moves into a shared location with Student Health Service, it would “blur the lines” of which department students in the waiting room were going.
A committee charged with finding a location for the two departments started searching for a space this month, though officials have said a permanent move will likely be years away.
Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said the basement space in the “superdorm” project on H Street is one option. But officials have been leaning towards instead adding group conference rooms, performing space, a dining center or a mailroom.
Administrators have also discussed Tompkins Hall, though it would require significant remodeling. Konwerski has said the move would likely happen as part of a campus-wide shuffle because the ideal location is the Marvin Center, which as of now has no free space.
University President Steven Knapp said this month that the move would not displace academic or student space.
Weisner said the committee is also concerned that moving the location closer to students’ residence halls will drive a surge in requests for appointments – something the under-staffed center may not be able to handle.
GW’s staff of 18 is smaller than competitor schools such as New York University and the University of Southern California, which boast 46 and 31 staff members, respectively. Northwestern University also has 31 counseling staffers, while Duke University has 25.
Students have reported several-weeks-long wait times before an appointment was available over the last several years – an issue Weisner has tried to tackle during his first year as director.
The University has steadily increased UCC’s budget over the last two years, including increasing it by $150,000 this year to bring in specialized therapists.
Katie Duman, president of the student organization Active Minds, said that while anonymity is a big concern, a move closer to campus for UCC will help “decrease the stigma” of seeking help.
She said not enough students know the center exists because it is a few blocks off campus. But she also said she was concerned that the current staffing would not be apt to handle a large influx of students seeking help, and that she has been working with Weisner and other health officials to make sure it will be managed properly. “That's the largest thing to do. What do you do when you have this many people? That's the first concern,” Duman said.”
Administrator on the front lines of student crises to leave GW by The GW HatchetNov 19, 2013 “Updated Nov. 18, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.
For 14 years, Tara Pereira has been on the front lines of students’ most sensitive conflicts. She's walked victims through the steps of reporting sexual assaults, searched students’ rooms for drugs and even fended off a drunken attack from a recently expelled student.
But Pereira has now decided to put her family first. After her mother was rushed to the hospital last week and her 5-year-old daughter started kindergarten this fall, Pereira said she will step down next month as GW’s sexual harassment and discrimination coordinator.
Media Credit: Photo Courtesy of Tara Pereira
Tara Pereira, who oversees the University's responses to sexual assault cases, will step down in December after 14 years at GW. She said she wants to spend more time with her daughter, Sofia.
“Working with survivors is a very high burnout job,” Pereira said. “I cannot go home at night and not worry about the students that I worry about during the day. That’s just not me.”
Her departure leaves GW without the administrator who helped retool some of the most contentious corners of student life, like the drugs and alcohol disciplinary process , Greek life hazing and the sexual assault policy .
She currently oversees GW’s efforts to prevent and respond to instances of sexual violence, taking on new cases at least once or twice a week. As her work load piles up, she said she's had to miss too many Girl Scouts and parent-teacher meetings.
“I was at the point where I felt, ‘Either I need to rearrange what this job does or I need to step out,’” Pereira, 39, said. “I just felt that, unless I made a significant decision, I was either going to shortchange GW or shortchange my family. And I’m not comfortable with either of those answers.”
Part of her passion for the job, she said, stems from her experience dealing with her parents’ heroin use and her father’s drinking problem. In her final year overseeing the University’s judicial arm in 2012, Pereira created a support group for students battling addictions to drugs and alcohol.
One of the students in that recovery group, Timothy Rabolt, called Pereira a “guardian angel,” and said the news of her resignation was “shockingly hard to deal with.”
“She always had solutions for the kinds of problems we thought were unsolvable,” said Rabolt, who has worked to overcome a prescription drug addiction. “We’ll be all right, but it won’t be the same.”
Sophomore Maya Weinstein, who has worked with Pereira and knew her well, reaffirmed Pereira's commitment to students.
“She is one of those people who you can call at 10 o’clock at night and she’ll pick up and then you can’t get her off the phone,” Weinstein said.
Pereira said she’s also dealt with dark moments in the campus judicial process, which she led from 2003 to 2012. About a decade ago, she said a student threatened to stand on top of a building and shoot her as she walked by. A year after Pereira started as a residence hall director, the Sept. 11 attacks shut down the city and she spent 48 hours waiting out the terror with students in Thurston Hall.
Despite the intensity, Pereira said she loved wearing different “hats” during her time at GW, sitting down one-on-one with students and working in the thick of GW’s administrative processes.
‘A steadfast advocate’
Before Pereira took the helm at Student Judicial Services, students were punished if campus police officers found empty liquor bottles used as decorations in their rooms, and hundreds of students were removed from residence halls every year for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Pereira called her revolution of the judicial system a “big point of pride” in her GW career.
“Nobody wants to like a judicial system. I mean, who wants to be punished for things?” Pereira said. “But I felt like we were able to break down some barriers by the way we were repackaging the system.”
But she decided to move on from judicial affairs in 2012, taking on a two-year effort to strengthen GW’s sexual violence codes in line with federal benchmarks.
One of Pereira’s early attempts to reshape the policy came under fire for limiting the amount of time victims had to file formal complaints with the University. Several months later, the University removed the deadline, a move that student leaders lauded.
Matthew Scott, the president of Students Against Sexual Assault, said Pereira was a “steadfast advocate” who brought the student voice into closed-door discussions within the administration.
“She cares about students, first and foremost, and she has proved that every step along the way,” Scott said.
The road to GW and the transition out
Pereira spent both her undergraduate and graduate years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, contemplating a degree in adolescent development. But she started to reconsider after she took a job in the dean of students’ office and watched administrators mentor her peers.
“I had no idea that working with college students was a profession when I was younger,” Pereira said. “And that just changed my entire trajectory.”
Pereira thought she would stay in Massachusetts, where her single mother and tight-knit extended family had always lived. But after a friend encouraged her to interview at GW, she fell in love with the campus and immediately accepted the job offer.
Now, as Pereira wraps up open cases and investigations, she and Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed will transition her workload to someone new. Her last day in the position will be Dec. 13.
Pereira plans to use her expertise in anti-discrimination and sexual assault policies as a consultant to help guide other universities in shaping their policies.
At the same time, she will lead her daughter’s Girl Scouts troop and sit as vice president of her school’s Parent Teacher Association. Her mother, along with her two cats, will leave Boston to move closer to her this winter.
Pereira said she may return once her daughter Sofia, who has grown up on GW’s campus, is older.
Pereira said when she told Sofia she was not going to work at GW anymore, the 5-year-old burst into tears and asked if she could still go to the basketball games. “But I don’t think I’ll stay away from a college campus forever. I just can’t,” Pereira said. “It’s an emotional experience. That is for sure. I’m really sad about leaving.””
Nearly 100 online mapmakers aid Philippines relief efforts by The GW HatchetNov 15, 2013 “Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Photographer
Spatial analysis lab manager Richard Hinton, left, helps freshman Jacob Pavlik map cities in the Philippines destroyed by a typhoon.
Days after one of the world’s deadliest storms struck the Philippines last week, assistant geography professor Nuala Cowan began mobilizing dozens of students, faculty and alumni.
About 8,600 miles away from the ravaged cities in the Philippines, Cowan has worked with volunteers nearly every day this week to help rebuild the region by recreating maps. She said on the first day, 90 people showed up.
Using satellite data donated by Bing to trace roads and buildings, the volunteers’ work will help disaster relief crews like the Red Cross create routes to bring supplies to the country’s hardest-hit areas.
"You can't assess damage unless you know what was there before," she said, explaining that satellite data becomes a reference point to compare the now-destroyed landscape.
GW’s team is part of the largest volunteer mapping effort that the Red Cross has ever coordinated for a natural disaster, with more than 400 others around the world, according to the organization’s website.
Using an open-source platform that’s been described as the Wikipedia of maps, over one hundred have attended Cowan’s lunchtime mapping sessions in the geography department.
In the last week, national volunteers have mapped nearly every square mile of the coastal city of Tacloban. Once home to more than 200,000 people, the city is now in ruins.
"The open data platform is there for anybody to contribute to," said Cowan, who has been spending evenings cleaning up and tracing maps of the Philippines from her home. "There is no waiting, there is no jumping through hoops to get the data.”
The technology, called Open Street Map, can be used during political conflicts as well as natural disasters. The Red Cross began using geospatial data to coordinate responses after the massive earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010, after a team of online mappers etched out the entire city of Port Au Prince in one day.
As relief efforts got underway in the Philippines this week, the number of casualties continued to climb, reaching 4,600 on Thursday, according to a United Nations report.
Sixin Li, an economics major, said she heard about the mapping through her geographic information systems class. "Since I can't physically be there, this really is the least I can do" she said.”
Jacob Garber: Fight is futile for student Board of Trustees member by The GW HatchetNov 11, 2013 “Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Student Association senators are supposed to act on the best interests of GW students. But the way many of them voted last week was simply naive.
To bolster the student voice and bring transparency to the administration, the SA voted to explore how to bring a student representative onto the Board of Trustees. The move would be counterproductive, unnecessary and unjustified.
It may seem, on the surface, that a voting representative would bring students closer to administrative decisions. In his support of the bill, Sen. Ryan Counihan, SoB-U, said , “There needs to be student input at those higher levels to make sure when the board makes decisions, that students are heard.” But the reality is that student input already exists, and the Board of Trustees is not the place for students to have direct influence as voting members.
Even if the board allows a student member, the representative will have little to no impact. There are 38 trustees on the board, many of whom have tenures lasting years. A student representative would be recycled yearly, with a new, inexperienced one likely starting over every fall.
This inconsistency isn’t what we need in the University’s highest governing body. A student presence would be an insignificant minority, having virtually no effect on decisions.
Besides, the board is made up of mainly of business leaders and wealthy alumni – those who have the experience of running and understanding an operation of GW-scale immensity. We need more specialty and experience on the board, not less. Aside from University President Knapp, even faculty and administrators don't have a direct say in the board’s decisions, such as approving tuition rates and the amount of financial aid that will go to students.
As it is now, the Board already hears a direct student voice. SA president Julia Susuni delivers a report at every meeting, and she and two other SA representatives sit on board committees. And, as Susuni told The Hatchet last week, the experience has been positive, and board members actively listen to and solicit feedback from her.
But this is where the relationship should end. A vote gives a responsibility to students that they cannot fulfill.
The SA has a limited amount of time to make an impact on the University, and student leaders should focus on goals they know they can reasonably achieve, such as bringing Student Health Service and the University Counseling Center to campus , for which University President Steven Knapp announced his support earlier this week. Historically, pushing for a voting student member of the board has been an exercise in futility.
The last time the Student Association tried to appoint a student to the board was in 2004, and the proposition was shot down by the past university president and board of trustees chairman. Former Board chair Charles Mannatt said students have an obvious conflict of interest in being on the board, and that they lack experience. This remains true today.
Yes, there should absolutely be more transparency between the board and students. It makes sense, for example, to post board minutes online and video stream meetings – an easy act of transparency GW has not yet been put in place. But appointing a student member to the board is not the way to make students heard at the highest level. And as representatives of the student body, it is naive for SA senators to direct their efforts toward an unreachable goal. The writer, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet's contributing opinions editor.”
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