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George Washington Week: Celebrating Wash. U.’s namesake, diversity with week of activities

| News Editor

In honor of Presidents Day, sophomore honorary Lock And Chain brought a horse carriage to Danforth Campus, with a member of the honorary dressed as Washington to ride along.Kastyn Matheny | Student Life

In honor of Presidents Day, sophomore honorary Lock And Chain brought a horse carriage to Danforth Campus, with a member of the honorary dressed as Washington to ride along.

Hundreds of students ate a giant chocolate cake covered with vanilla icing and shaped like a quarter Monday afternoon as Washington University kicked off the weeklong celebration of its namesake, who would have turned 280 on Wednesday.

This year’s George Washington Week, titled “Who is WU?,” aims to celebrate the history and diversity of the Washington University community.

The week, hosted annually by Lock & Chain Sophomore Honorary, includes events ranging from a birthday cake cutting for the deceased president to a large group service project on Friday.

“Even though we all come from diverse backgrounds, we need to be united in that diversity, and we need to be united in those diverse heritages that we all have,” sophomore Michele Hall, who organized the week, said.

A map on the first floor of the DUC had about 100 pushpins placed in it, marking where students at the University hail from, next to a display of about that many postcards where students wrote their heritage stories.

Students’ described their backgrounds as everything from “pure-blood Mexican” to “African-American born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee.”

Other students gave fuller versions of their stories.

“I came from a family where only one parent was working, to take care of me, my younger brothers, & any foster children that came through our house. While I did not have much growing up, I was truly blessed for my circumstances. I can’t forget where I came from as I continue on with my story b/c it is what made me who I am today,” one student wrote.

Hall said Lock & Chain has worked hard this year to reach out to various student groups and academic departments to make the week truly reflect the diverse community it is targeting.

“We really made a conscious effort to reach out; that’s really a big part of our mission this year,” she said.

Students said they appreciate how George Washington Week strives to encompass diversity in numerous forms.

“I think it’s important to realize diversity is not just a cultural thing. I think George Washington Week is an opportunity for different groups on campus to come together and learn about diversity and the history of our school,” senior Robert Levy said. “I’m in the Rodriguez Scholars program and one of our pillars is diversity, and everything we—everything I try to do on campus that benefits the community is done with the mindset of ‘how can we unite different groups?’”

Hall said Lock & Chain has also tried to use this year’s George Washington Week to fight stigmas relating to immigration.

Dozens of students gathered in Tisch Commons Wednesday night for the 7th Annual Symposium on Latino Contributions featuring a keynote by Eric Balderas, a Harvard University biology student who made national headlines in 2010 after being arrested for being in the country illegally—despite the fact that he had lived in the states since he was four.

Hall said immigration is an issue much closer to students than many realize.

“Even though there are really large immigrant communities in St. Louis, a lot of students don’t really know about them,” Hall said. “With particular dialogues that have been happening around campus, with ‘Wash. U. is segregated’—that op-ed … we just wanted to highlight those issues with our week.”

Earlier in the week, the St. Louis Carriage Company offered 10-minute horse-drawn carriage rides around Mudd Field, an open mic coffeehouse at Ibby’s and a speech by professor Shanti Parikh on how love transcends ethnic divides. Events on schedule for later this week include a silent auction featuring campus a cappella groups, a WUnity Ball hosted by Connect4 and a Day of Service sponsored by Student Union.

While many students said they had not heard of the week, others said they consider it an important way of remembering the man for whom the school was named and what he stood for.

“I think it’s a really important part of tradition that we shouldn’t lose sight of,” junior J.R. Davis said.

And though the week has yet to reach its end, Hall said it has already succeeded in achieving its main purpose.

“Hearing people actually talk about these issues that we’re trying to bring up, I think that’s the most rewarding part,” she said. “Hopefully [it’s] something that carries past the week.”

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