Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Letter to the editor: AU ignores strengths with ‘wonk’

Geography can be helpful (or hindering) in building up the brand of a university. Certainly the city of Boston imbues a certain heritage of debate and American investigation upon the Harvard Crimson. As if to say, it’s cold here so the privileged (Emerson, Holmes, Thoreau) prefer to stay inside and pontificate. Similarly, Georgetown University is very close to D.C.’s centers of power yet geographically distinct enough to masquerade as a place the powerful go to seek council. Less fortunately, George Washington University is like the eager adviser that stands too close to the action, both outliving their usefulness and reminding everyone that although they are similar to the movers and shakers, they ultimately will not be invited for drinks after the meeting, missing out on the real business of power and influence.

American cannot easily rely on its geographic location to build a portrait worth projecting to the world. While American may call D.C. home it’s not the iconic D.C. that can sell statue figurines and spur on patriotism.

“It was at this very site twelve years ago that Best Buy first broke ground on what was destined to be the largest home electronic big box retailer within walking distance of the red line.”

We are somewhat on the periphery, recently preoccupied with constructing shinier facilities and “brand building.” Obviously worried that if we don’t shout loud enough, then the rest of D.C. may forget about us. Even when not caricatured, this is a silly and ultimately counterproductive strategy. The “Wonk” campaign is an attempt to carve out a niche within a field that is already crowded with established players. It’s an attempt to say that we are as much of part of the Washington machinery as the schools to our south. I agree that American has often been undervalued as an institution and I am also glad to see that recent initiatives such as Renew AU have given the community a sense of resurgence. That energy is real and potent, but to waste it building an identity that depends either on an appreciation for the esoteric or a genuine desire to labor in obscurity (comforted only by the fact that you “know” your subject area backward and forwards) is ridiculous.

Ultimately, if American wants to create an enduring brand it should not look outward to the city at large, but inwards to a student body that differentiates itself from its peers frankly through its lack of “wonkishness.” We are thankfully a good deal louder than the cadets at Starfleet Academy (Georgetown) and certainly more friendly than the students at the perpetual SAT prep course (George Washington). For those who question the value of some of our more loquacious tendencies I would point you toward the “First American” Benjamin Franklin, a man known both for his wit and good humor as well as his political mastery, who is known to have cautioned us that “Admiration is the daughter of ignorance.” It’s wisdom worth remembering as American searches for the image it wishes to project to the world.

Samuel Bernstein is a junior in the School of Public Affairs.

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