Friday, February 8, 2008

Midwinter Obfuscation, GW Style

The key to success in Washington is spin, right? Apparently so, as you can easily see in this article from the GW Hatchet.

The article proclaims that GW is now no longer showing Thurston Hall to prospective freshmen. Okay, got the point. But why the change? Well, the Hatchet reports that GW Housing believes that because of a greater diversity of housing options on campus, Thurston would convey an inaccurate representation of residential life at GW. Specifically, Kathryn Napper, dean of undergraduate admissions, says,

Thurston was initially used because it housed a greater percentage of the undergraduates; however, as the size of the student body has increased and the number of housing options increased, other residence halls became viable options,"

It's funny that this is cited as the reason when the lead for the story mentions Thurston's reputation as a lascivious cesspool of impurity, saying,

Few buildings on campus carry a more infamous name than Thurston Hall

Well that's true. And one would think that a story naturally grows out of its lead. In fact, stories do grow out of their leads.

In this case, the story diverges from the lead only to return to it near the end. This is because the undeniable truth of the real reason Thurston is no longer shown cannot be escaped, even after spin takes its toll. GW STARs (student admissions representatives / tour guides) testified to this truth in the article with admirable bluntness and honesty. One describes an all too familiar scene in Thurston in decrying the difficulties of Saturday morning tours:

There are a lot of problems with showing Thurston, especially on Saturday mornings, [STAR rep] said. I would walk by a room and there would be beer and wine bottles all over the place, or there would be people passed out in the hallway.

Another went into more lecherous detail:

One room had heaters covered in green beer bottles. When the sunlight came through the windows, it went through the bottles and created a green glow that you could see in the really put a damper on the rest of the tour. Parents think after seeing Thurston that there's no control.

This is not an exposé. We know that these occurrences are literally commonplace. And we know that the University's claim that this was not a factor in its decision to no longer show Thurston to prospective students really has no weight behind it.

If STAR tour guides claim...

We couldn't be confident showing Thurston. Showing Potomac will protect the integrity of the University."

...then it is evident to me that the poor quality of the Thurston scene is the reason it will no longer be shown on tours! Interestingly, and perhaps obviously, the bulk of this article deals with the problems posed by Thurston's reputation for the image of the University to new students and parents. The "diversity concern" found in the lead of the story is not repeated throughout and does not color the story through its development. Rather, the story abruptly shifts gears -- and it goes in the right direction -- but then the lead comes back in the end to protect the reputation of the University.

The coordinator of the STAR tour guides strongly makes the case that the switch from tours of Thurston to tours of Potomac was not influenced by Thurston's reputation.
Even though Potomac is notably quieter, less boisterous, and a sophomore dorm (talk about inaccurate representations of freshmen residential life). Shanna, also of GW Blogspot, writes here that it would be impractical to cover up the "real freshman experience" since it is an inevitability for many new students. As such, it should not be closed off from students' and parents' eyes - it is a reality, whether likable or not. Alex also wisely captures this fact in his post, noting that if the administration "can't fix [Thurston], then it hides it". Without getting into the notion of whether such a "fix" would be appropriate or even adequate for the University's PR standards, the author makes the point that GW has suspended Thurston tours for the obvious reason - and not the one in the body of the Hatchet story (but that which is in the lead).

And so, we return to the actual cover-up: The Hatchet quotes the coordinator of the program, saying,

While Rifkin recognizes that such encounters have occurred, he cites convenience as the sole reason for this change. "Have those things happened? Absolutely," he said, "But that was not a factor in the decision to make the change."

Really? Don't think so for a minute, especially not in this city.

Update: Check out the two links I put in to some of my classmates' posts, which go into some more detail about the way in which this deception is taking place. In case you can't find the links, see Shanna's blog and also Alex's post.

No comments: