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.
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.
2000-2001 Student Life editor in chief,
Interactive editor at The New York Times
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.
2009-2010 Student Life editor in chief,
Class of 2011
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.
2002-2003 student body president
Legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Nelson
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.
2009-2010 Student Life associate editor
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.
2006-2007 Student Life Editor in Chief,
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.
Associate Professor of Architecture,
Founder of City Faces
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.
2008-2009 Student Life Editor-in-chief,
Class of 2010
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.
2007-2008 Student Union President
Vice President, AAAA World Import-Export, Inc.
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.
2009-2010 Washington University Political Review Editor-in-chief,
Class of 2010
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!
2009-2010 Senior Class President,
Class of 2010