The decade in review at Wash. U.

Time Magazine has already dubbed this past decade the ‘Decade from Hell.’  While many of the flagship events of this decade were certainly characterized by hardship, violence and struggle, headlines alone can never tell a whole story.   While many of the flagship events of this decade were certainly characterized by hardship, violence and struggle, headlines alone can never tell a whole story.

Here at Wash. U.,  the 2000-2009 decade can be defined by growth. Our rankings catapulted, we were at the forefront of the international media four times, and state of the art buildings seemed to literally sprout from the ground.  That’s not to say that our university community was spared  from the the tragedies that shook the rest of the world. In the wake of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and most recently the earthquake in Haiti, Wash. U. has banded together and showed their committment to buidling a community whose scope stretches far beyond  the Wash. U. bubble and whose span is far longer than the four-year college cycle.

What a decade we had. In honor of completing the first decade of the 21st century Student Life asked 10 alum, students and faculty members to weigh in on the events  that shaped Wash. U these last ten years.

(From left to bottom right Lane S. Goodman, David Brody, David Hartstein | Student Life)

(From left to bottom right Lane S. Goodman, David Brody, David Hartstein | Student Life)

Brian Hamman


We were full of optimism in 2000. It was the first time most of us were old enough to vote for president, and we were hosting the debate: Bush v. Gore. Student Union had set aside some astronomical sum for debate-related programming, which the campus liberals used to stage a flurry of programming. While much smaller in number, the campus conservatives caused them no end of agitation in the pages of the Washington Witness. Meanwhile, a few students who were less comfortable with the right/left labels caused national news by giving Ralph Nader a pass to the debate.

I can’t even tell you how we organized all this in those uphill-both-ways days. Most people didn’t have cell phones yet. We didn’t have Facebook or even its lame predecessor Friendster. I’m not even sure Google was a verb. But we also didn’t have terrorism–at least not in the immediate, always-front-page way we would experience it the next year. It was a year of intense optimism that sank in and has stayed with more than a few of my fellow Wash. U. students from that year.

Brian Hamman
2000-2001 Student Life editor in chief,
Interactive editor at The New York Times

Perry Stein


It’s nearly impossible to think of this year without thinking of 9/11; it is irrefutably the defining event of the decade. This event united the nation and will continue to shape our lives for years to come. On a more microscopic level, 9/11 also united the Washington University community.

Just like everywhere else around the world, the Wash. U. routine came to a halt when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center. The University immediately placed televisions, professors and counselors in common rooms across campus to inform and comfort students about the tragic event. Then the student body worked to provide relief for the victims of the attacks through donations and letters. The support was overwhelming—400 people were turned away from an emergency blood drive on campus.

Unfortunately, the events that came in the wake of 9/11 weren’t all positive. There were isolated acts of violence and threats against American Muslims, including a harassing phone call at Wash. U. that forced administrators to shut down the University’s online telephone directory. But the campus was able to rally together once again for the Winter Olympics when officials chose Francis Field, the site of the 1904 Olympic Games, as a stop on the flame’s route to Salt Lake City.

Perry Stein
2009-2010 Student Life editor in chief,
Class of 2011

Katie Platt


2002-2003 most certainly had two types of life events: the big ones we could all say changed history and the quieter-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things ones that became part of us nonetheless. We mourned together on the first anniversary of 9/11 by candlelight in the Quad, when the pain was still palpable. We watched as the shuttle Columbia was found in pieces across Texas and we honored those who died. And we stood transfixed as President Bush announced he would send troops into Iraq for what was expected to be a quick combat mission; no matter whether we joined the protest the next day or not, few of us anticipated how deeply it would become the war of our generation.

On campus we also had our own sources of lively debate to show us the importance and value of civil discourse—Jews for Jesus got us talking about religious boundaries; the law school’s Student Bar Association denied funding to the Law Students Pro-Life (a decision that was reversed on appeal); Salman Rushdie spoke on campus after canceling a previous visit due to security concerns; and the University joined 37 others in announcing its support for affirmative action, in a brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet alongside all the heavy stuff, W.I.L.D. lived on, Ben Folds came, and we seniors spent practically every Thursday night at the Landing. (And we thanked our lucky stars for getting in when we did, since those smart young whippersnappers made it tougher and tougher every year.) New buildings popped up, and the Princeton Review not only gave the undergraduate program its highest ranking ever at the time—No. 12—but also bestowed upon us the esteemed title of “Best Food” of any college in the country. While most of us don’t get to enjoy classes or W.I.L.D. or campus meal plans anymore, we share a history, and shared in experiencing part of our nation’s history, together.

Katie Platt
2002-2003 student body president
Legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Nelson

Brian Krigsher


The 2003-2004 year was marked by events that closely paralleled, and greatly contrasted with, what the majority of current students have encountered. From controversial speakers to strikes and student rallies, the University’s 150th year was certainly not dull.

Upperclassmen who remember Alberto Gonzales’ speech can relate to Ann Coulter’s Assembly Series speech in March 2004. Though her speech was not met by mass protests, it stirred a political dialogue on campus. Less controversial was the widely attended speech by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who also delivered the 2004 Commencement address.

In October 2003, local grocery store workers, including those at Schnucks, went on strike, leaving the Wash. U. student body divided between those who joined the striking workers and those who crossed the picket lines. For the duration of the 25-day strike, SU expanded shuttle service to Straub’s supermarkets. Also in October, the Student Worker Alliance (SWA) was formed in response to the deportation of 36 Nicaraguan grounds workers. The SWA later broadened its goals to obtaining a living wage for campus workers, though its claim to fame was the April 2005 occupation of the admissions office.

Brian Krigsher
2009-2010 Student Life associate editor

Sarah Kliff


On a sunny afternoon in April, bewildered parents and prospective freshmen watched as about a dozen students stormed the Admissions Office in Brookings. With signs and sleeping bags in tow, they announced they would be living there until the University paid all workers a “living wage,” enough for workers to reasonably support a family on. Within hours, news of an impending midnight SWA rally at the Brookings Arch started spreading and the campus was buzzing, with the enthusiasm usually reserved for a Friday night on Frat Row. By midnight, hundreds of students spilled out from under the Brookings arch, filling the quad on one side, the stairs on the other, chanting “What’s outrageous? Wash. U.’s wages!”

The three weeks of the SWA sit-in felt like the day we had hosted a presidential debate that October—the whole campus was so wrapped up in and energized by one single event. In dorm rooms, in classrooms, at Whispers and in the Student Life office, we were all debating the sit-in, discussing it, and wondering if the demands would be met and whether that would be a good thing. Some took to the quad in counter-protest; one particularly memorable group hosted a BBQ while the SWA protesters were in the middle of a six-day hunger strike.

Most students didn’t expect SWA protesters to last the 19 days they did—they would get worried about class, give up, find something better to do. But they stuck with it, and their commitment paid off: Chancellor Wrighton finally committed a half-million dollars to their cause. The SWA protesters defined that school year so much more than anything else that happened, even more than the presidential debate. Because SWA showed us the power that we had as Wash. U. students: to take action, be heard and change University policy.

Sarah Kliff
2006-2007 Student Life Editor in Chief,
Newsweek reporter

Bob Hansman


Most students come here having done community service. Some of them have ambivalent feelings about it; it was logging hours, or they question the long-term use to the community. What students here have realized is that community service at its deepest is really community involvement. A student told me that community involvement felt better—more ordinary, less heroic, less special—than service. You don’t need to have ideas for the community; you just become part of the community, and the community will figure out what to do with you. And the longer you stay involved, the deeper and more natural it all becomes. Forget goals like “make a difference” or “help the community”; those words, if they come, must come from the community.

In the 2005-2006 school year, students did their best to find that depth, and it took many forms, from fund-raising to tutoring to advocating for a raise in the WU employee minimum wage to a Spring Break spent rebuilding homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Being here only four years can make depth and permanence elusive, but, in the best scenario, the relationships and involvements thus begun will last long after the events that began them—or at least leave something of permanent value behind. The power of just being there—with, not for…ideas that help students redefine for themselves what they want to do outside the WU bubble, and how they do it, and why, and how they feel about what they have done.

Bob Hansman
Associate Professor of Architecture,
Founder of City Faces

(From top left to bottom David Brody, Matt Mitgang, Oliver Hulland | Student Life)

(From top left to bottom David Brody, Matt Mitgang, Oliver Hulland | Student Life)

Sam Guzik


The 2006-2007 began with a radical change in the physical appearance of campus. Students returned to a gaping hole where Prince Hall once stood—the construction site that sprang up would become the Danforth University Center. Outside the Athletic Complex construction workers began to turn a former parking lot into the future home of Siegel Hall. In addition, during the year all of main campus was renamed to honor the contributions of former Chancellor William Danforth; what was once known as the Hilltop Campus became the Danforth Campus.

Throughout the year, security was a major concern. The year began as a study labeled St. Louis the most dangerous city in the United States. Closer to campus, in February, a female student was sexually assaulted in her dorm room. Shortly after the attack, the University added peepholes to all of the doors in residential life housing. Security became a nationwide issue in April as 32 students were murdered by a student gunman at Virginia Tech.

Sam Guzik
2008-2009 Student Life Editor-in-chief,
Class of 2010

Neil Patel


Every four years, a new generation of students cycle through the Wash U. grinder. Despite our different backgrounds and personalities, it seems that common themes tie us all together.

In 2007-2008, graduates were concerned about dreary job prospects and looming financial collapse. Students believed the University should work to improve fitness facilities, wireless internet access, and bring more nationally recognized speakers on campus. Some of us couldn’t wait to hit up Morgan Street, Big Bang, and Pin-Up on Thursday followed by an Obama or McCain rally on Friday.

During our time, an engineering dean was replaced, a Presidential Debate was announced, and the DUC construction was in its final stages.

While the specifics will fade over time, what I won’t forget is the way Wash U. made us feel. Student life was engaging, peers challenged each other, and we had a good time along the way.

Neil Patel
2007-2008 Student Union President
Vice President, AAAA World Import-Export, Inc.

Greg Allen


Of course a year never goes by in which nothing worthy of note occurs, but the 2008-2009 school year still felt like it was in a class of its own. Even the most highly anticipated events, like the Beijing Olympics and the election of Barack Obama, exceeded their expectations. Yet, the year was probably most marked by the unexpected. Fall semester saw the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which set off a chain reaction of economic turmoil and misery that transformed national news into part of our own personal stories. I had more than a few friends who were forced to face the evaporation of their post-graduation plans in the weeks following Lehman. After that, daily life at Wash. U. seemed to take on a seriousness that I don’t recall being present before. Perhaps because global affairs were of such inescapable importance, the campus went through a period of collective maturation. Whatever it was, last year was defined by change, both at Wash. U. and across the world.

Greg Allen
2009-2010 Washington University Political Review Editor-in-chief,
Class of 2010

Fernando Cutz


The 2009-2010 School Year started off with excitement in the air. As the summer concluded, all of us feared for our lives as swine flu began to spread through the media like the Y2K bug back in 1999. Our University, which normally stresses the RED FLAG policy, began to pass out hand alcohol thoroughly and excessively at every single door, window and emergency exit one could find. Green groups protested the carbon neutrality of Purell bottles. It seemed like Doomsday had hit Wash U until we all realized that there were more important things afoot than public health; there was Jeff Smith. The State Senator who taught us Political Science and stressed its ethical obligations was arrested on charges of corruption and perjury. Washington University responded strongly and resolutely by immediately announcing it would shut down our Center on Ethics and Human Values. Not to be outdone, Student Union too decided to step up to the plate, and, although each gave a different reason at the time, we can now safely state that all 93 people who resigned from their various posts within SU this semester did so in protest of Jeff Smith and the swine flu.

Next came Fall Break, when we as a University got to experience rest, relaxation and racism. After 12 press conferences live on CNN and a Papal decree, the infamous Mother’s Bar incident was resolved and the international media was able to put the spotlight back on the important issue of the swine flu. But as if we hadn’t experienced enough excitement, media hype and protesting for one semester, Bon Appetit took it upon themselves to keep the good times rolling and announce that a merciless, campus-wide tomato ban would take effect immediately. Those of us who value our taste buds more than our morals protested while green groups did flash mobs of celebration in front of the library. Most students were left utterly confused. SU immediately declared a state of emergency and after hours upon hours of debating legislation, passed a resolution officially condemning in the strongest possible terms all that relates to the swine flu. That about covers ‘09…can’t wait for 2010!

Fernando Cutz
2009-2010 Senior Class President,
Class of 2010

  • Vidya

    How did the founding of the Burning Kumquat in the fall of 2007, among the nation’s first campus urban farms, escape this list?

  • Steven Hoffmann’s comment is finally on line! He posted this the day after I posted this article to my Facebook wall, 6/21/10. Peter Jones’ comment is now visible too, posted just two hours after I posted this link, and invisible until today. Thanks, Peter and Steven, for your detailed recollections. For the record, I endorsed both the Sit-In and the counter-demonstration, and I invited both the SWA and College Libertarians to address my Freshman Focus class.

    Here is an invitation, sent on June 21 with my tongue half in my cheek, to guests of the Facebook event, “Cease and Desist in the Name of Truth”:

    “If you can’t get another invitation from Chancellor Wrighton to take over the Admissions Office or his front lawn, you have one from me, as you know. You may sit in my Living Room and put up a tent city in my back yard. But first you must get a camping permit. That’s not as easy as it used to be, and the list is very short.”

    More on this later. Please see

    • shevek

      The 2010 April Fool’s Day event, “Cease and Desist in the Name of Truth,” has been offline, along with the 2011 April Fool’s Day event “Living Wage Sit-In for Tenured Professors” and all other events created by the satirical/reforming Facebook group, Washington University of Utopia, since August 1, 2011, just before our Midwest Rising Convergence.

      • shevek

        I will never believe Washington University in St Louis is so badly messed up it is not worth saving from itself. On the contrary, I remain optimistic about our prospects of reforming it. The school is a “fixer-upper” for idealistic students who want to make a difference and take leadership. I wonder how long this message will take to clear the Board of Censors? I will wait patiently.

  • I guess it’s time to finally “out” myself as the original SWA “counter-protester.” On April 17, 2005, I set up a tent in the quad next to January Hall with a few signs that read “Support Workers, Not Whiners (SWA),” “Capitalism Works, Coercion Hurts,” and “I Support Workers, The Chancellor, and the Free Market-Not the SWA.” (See the link below). And then I left and went to class.

    As I expected, my signs were promptly stolen by members of the SWA. (I caught her in the act, and performed a legal and valid citizen’s arrest, detaining her until the police arrived. Contrary to her claims, I did not use excessive force, even as she attempted to run after my repeated statement that she was required to stay until the police arrived.)

    What I didn’t expect was that a very large (and dirty) bra was placed in my tent, and my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were stolen from me.

    Later that night, I was assaulted by another member of the SWA, a very angry black female, who told me (in the presence of SWA member Ben Tramposh–who later denied it-(that’s O.K., Ben, I believe in Karma)) that she had “killed a man before, and would do it again,” threatening to “slice [my] throat,” a detail that Student Life failed to report, although they did mention that she stated “I’m meaner than her [the sign thief], and I’ll just kick your ass.”

    It was, however, very amusing to have 4 SWA students accuse me of being “rich enough not to care about the workers,” since at the time I was physically exhausted from working full-time as a laborer for a construction company so I could simultaneously attend Wash U full-time, and since I didn’t have heat or electricity all winter that year, since I couldn’t afford it. I was both a student and a worker.

    From Student Life: “The anti-SWA protester felt that the whole incident violated his ability to express his views on an issue pertinent to the University campus. “Frankly, I was expecting that my property rights would be violated and that I would be verbally attacked,” said the anti-SWA protester. “That prediction came true. I wanted to see how far my rights could be taken, while voicing a relevant minority opinion.” The anti-SWA protester went on to comment about the SWA’s use of tactics. “I find it hypocritical that a group of students as large as the SWA, and supposedly concerned with justice, is threatened by me in a small tent, and could act so hatefully towards me after one of their own committed a crime against me. I just hope that I’m left alone.”

    My earlier letter to the editor can also be found below, which caused SWA supporter Tim Lewandowski of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences to write a letter to the editor of Student Life attempting to poison my well, stating that he was “curious about the details of Steven Hoffman’s financial situation (whether his parents are cosigning any loans, whether he’s supporting a family of three,” none of which has anything to do with my arguments against a living wage. And by the way, Tim, I never responded to you because I though your letter was just so stupid. I’m responding now, you don’t have to be curious any more. No, my parents never cosigned my loans, and no, I wasn’t supporting a family of three, and yes, there were times that I went to bed without eating a single meal that day, because an education is more important than comfort. Get over it. This seems to have been a tactic of the SWA: claim that their detractors are all wealthy and privileged. In fact, I know several SWA members who stand to inherit very large trusts.

    Unfortunately, Dr. Bauer, while I recognize that my experiences don’t account for all of the actions of the SWA, I saw a lot of reasons why the SWA shouldn’t have been proud of their actions, and I witnessed both the threat of violence and uncivility from SOME members of the SWA. Others remain good friends.

    Those are my honest recollections, for what it’s worth.

  • Peter Jones

    I think a few things were missed 2000-2005.

    On October 17, 2000, the eve of the Bush Gore debate, Ralph Nader had been invited onto campus by a student group, but was turned back as WashU had agreed to refuse entry to all third party candidates at the request of the Commission for Presidential Debates(CPD).

    The protests outside of the 2000 debate were organized by the o17 coalition. It was a rare example city + campus groups working together. Ralph Nader spoke in Northmoor park in front of at least 1000 people. Later a march was made by affinity groups, sans Nader, to the other side of campus. Skinker, Forsyth, and Forest Park Parkway were briefly blocked off in turn by protesters. The march ended with the stlpd using pepper spray on a few people. and maybe some arrests?

    o17 was very much inspired(albeit much smaller :) by Seattle 1999 and I think helped give birth to st. louis indymedia as well as jump starting some much needed collaborative activism in the city. WashU and St. Louis got a lot of practice planning protests marches teachins and rallies in the eight years that followed.

    In 2004 both Green and Libertarian candidates were peacefully arrested, protesting this policy.

    Newspapers! There used to be both a conservative and a leftish newspaper on campus in addition to student life. The conservative(libertarian) was the Washington Witness. The left(greenish) was Southpaw. The Political Review took up some of the slack, but it is a shame that both of those newspapers are gone.-as far as I know

    In 2001, only a few days after September 11, a number of students were already concerned that the Bush administration was planning for extended war. A few groups on campus were aware enough to begin making extremely simple but effective “I am not at war” buttons

    Fall of 2002 saw a flurry of antiwar activity on campus and in St. Louis. The WashU Stop the War Coalition composed of students from both sides of the political spectrum from greens to libertarians, handed out flyers, and helped organize rallies in the city.

    On March 20, 2003 there was an antiwar rally in the washu quad with 300-500 students.

    Spring 2003 saw the demise of the Progressive Action Coalition office suite on the second floor of Umrath. The PAC offices were shared among a few groups including Amnesty, socialist forum, and the campus greens. The PAC offices were heavily used for o17(the protests outside of the debates in 2000) as well as all antiwar activity 2002-2003.

    PAC’s website was still functional up to Spring 2005 and served as a washu activist newsfeed accessible to search engines.

    PAC produced a left newspaper called Southpaw, which survived on it’s own for a time.

    In 2003 or 2004 the WashU Political Review, a nonpartisan political issues magazine began.

    On October 8, 2004, at the protests outside the debate, both Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik and Green Party candidate David Cobb were arrested in an act of civil disobedience for walking onto campus together. As in 2000, WashU at the request of the Commission for Presidential Debates(CPD) had closed the campus to all other presidential candidates. Hardball with Chris Matthews, I think was allowed to broadcast live in 2004, but all venues on campus were closed to you if you were a third party presidential candidate. In fact, I don’t think Chris Matthews would have been allowed to bring Ralph Nader or David Cobb, etc onto his show if it would have required them walking onto campus.

    The protests outside of the 2004 presidential debate were called stlo8. Attendance was disappointing but the small turnout should have been expected. After the 2000 election many people who would have identified Green were afraid of seeming to protest Kerry.

    In 2005, after over a year of trying to engage the administration on the plight of workers on campus, SWA occupied the admissions office in South Brookings hall, and as a result got the university to spend at least an extra million dollars / year on healthcare for sub contracted workers.

    I hammered all of this out quickly! and am sure I missed a lot. hopefully these and the above comments will be attached to this article for a little while.

  • PPS to my note: Chancellor Wrighton, according to the Post-Dispatch article naming him “Man of the Year” in 2006, was the one who prevailed upon the Trustees not to have the strikers arrested. He and the Vice Chancellors deserve praise for their decision to invite the SWA into the Admissions Office, as honored guests. Of course they knew about it in advance. Almost everybody did.

    I think we should all be proud of the way this was handled, by everybody involved. I think we should all be proud to live in a country where we can do something like this, and agree to disagree about matters that are not trivial, without getting violent or even uncivil with each other. I hope we can agree on this.

  • PS to my note above: “strength through truth” (per veritatem vis) is our motto, not “debauch yourselves and screw the workers.” Which side are you on?

  • “I’ll never forget seeing my women’s studies professor roll her eyes at me over the top of SWA’s tents as she crossed the quad in the morning.”

    I’ll never forget the support given to the sit-in participants and hunger strikers by local churches and unions, better allies of labor than most WashU faculty and students, who are “very liberal” only on the lifestyle issues, not on worker’s rights.

    Much press coverage of the Sit-In was quite classist, stressing the pride and privilege of the strikers, not the validity of the cause.

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    –special guest participant-observer, 2005 Living Wage Sit-in, whose organizers were themselves special guests of the University Administration, who had invited our idealistic students into the admissions office as honored guests….

  • One common criticism of the SWA Sit-In was that it “became a scene,” a pretentious party in the Admissions Office, and there is NOTHING WashU students do better than throw pretentious parties. I was there, and I can assure you, that criticism has an element of truth. I can assure you also that many who took part are still committed to the cause of worker’s rights wherever they are now. Many have been blacklisted for their efforts. To dismiss alt this as “self-serving” is hardly fair.

    I think Sarah Kliff was right about that year.

  • wash u student

    I heard that the Wash U. administration went back on a lot of the policies it promised SWA would implement at the end of the sit-in. Having come to Wash U. after the year of the sit-in, it would be nice to hear some follow-up about that and maybe a story on what the state of working conditions are like now in comparison.

  • Jocelyn

    This was a nice retrospective of the past decade, and certainly makes me miss my time at Wash U. This reminds me to send in my letter requesting annual reunions, if not to reunite with friends, then to see how the campus changes every year.

    I do take issue, though, with Sarah Kliff’s assessment of 2004-2005. While some may have been inspired by SWA’s work, many students outside of SWA saw their protest as a nuisance. Whether it was the beloved campus admission staff being forced out of their own offices, or the fact that Rob (the wrap master) in Holmes understood the intricacies of Wash U’s contract with Bon Appetit better than the president of SWA did, it seemed like SWA’s protests were more self-serving, and about proving that they could stick it out, more than it was about helping campus employees. I’ll never forget seeing my women’s studies professor roll her eyes at me over the top of SWA’s tents as she crossed the quad in the morning.

    I’m not saying everyone was annoyed with SWA. Many were especially intrigued by SWA’s efforts, if nothing else. And bringing light to an issue in any way is admirable. But any sort of productivity or effective dialog was crushed by SWA’s heightened sense of self-importance during those 17 days. It was public, it was in your face, it was focused on bashing the Chancellor, and it was smelly (since not showering was apparently seen as furthering one’s dedication to the cause).

    I didn’t expect every year’s re-cap to encompass every aspect of that year, especially since every student experiences Wash U in a different way. I do, however, feel like I need to point out that SWA was a small blip on the radar for many, inspiring neither hope nor one’s ability to create change, but rather annoyance at a disorganized and self-indulgent attempt to make noise about an issue, instead of working responsibly to find a solution.