A home away from home in Washington, DC by Leah S.
I have always wanted to live in DC, so my three weeks here have been an insightful glimpse into what my life might look like in the future. I was able to quickly settle into a routine that has made DC really feel like my home during this short time here. A large part of this study away experience has been, of course, the “study” aspect. Every night we have readings for the following class and the occasional paper to write.
As someone who enjoys coffee and physically cannot do schoolwork in their room, I have been exploring the different coffee shops around our hotel in Navy Yard. There are the classics, like Starbucks, but my favorites to do homework at are the regional chains that I can’t find in Madison, such as Gregorys and Philz. These spots have also been great meeting places to grab a coffee with friends or work on homework together.
At nighttime if I want to homework and the coffee shops are all closed, I will sometimes sit at the tables outside of our hotel. The warm summer nights are the perfect conditions for a relaxing evening reading our assigned articles and writing a short reaction paper. These tables outside of our hotel are also an excellent location for eating breakfast. There’s nothing better than a peaceful breakfast in the sun to wake you up before heading to class. The walk to class has become an essential part of my daily life here that I will miss. I mean, who else can say that they pass the US Capitol and Supreme Court Building on their way to class? As much as I love walking to class with other people, I also enjoy a solo walk listening to music or a podcast. It’s never a boring walk with the eighth grade tour groups and occasional protests by the Capitol and Supreme Court or the random politicians you see on the way there.
Another walk I will miss is the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. Some nights, a few of the other people from this program and I will walk down by the Anacostia River. On our way to the trail, we walk past Nationals Park where the Washington Nationals play. The Navy Yard area is very lively at night, especially on game days, and the riverside is always full of people dining outside or also taking walks. The best part is walking by the little dog park and watching the dogs run around together. We then walk down the boardwalk and into the actual Navy Yard before turning around, typically stopping for ice cream or gelato on our way back to the hotel. One night, it started drizzling during our Anacostia River walk. It was only raining for a short amount of time but after it ended, we could see a full rainbow. A little further into our walk, we realized that it was faintly a double rainbow too. I think that I am going to miss the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail the most. Not only because of the amazing nightly views, but also because of the memories I made with some of the people that I’m really glad I met on this program.
Local Interactions by Gracie N.
On Sundays I wake up early, this is something I try to do in any city I visit as I once saw a quote that read “For the city that never sleeps, Sunday morning is when it does” while this was in reference to New York City I find it quite true globally. Sunday morning the world is momentarily quiet from the hustle of the work week and especially in a town as young as DC, Sunday morning holds a lot of its citizens in their beds, trying to escape the memories from the night before. It is the one time in the week where the streets remain still. Therefore, I like to explore places during the early Sunday hours, before Church starts and hungover bagels occur with friends. So, I get up and wander.
The creatures of Sunday morning always enthrall me. First, a young dad, maybe 31, walking with his toddler sitting in a pretty brand new stroller with a dog on his left side. Both have a donut in hand and both look as though they could use four more hours asleep. I imagine that they left a newborn and mother at home to get the sleep that they both desire, as Jimmy, the two year old, was ready to start the day. His hair is uncombed and they are both in their pajamas. Jimmy points to a tree and his father, John, nods accordingly. Across the street is the girl everyone hates. She is the 24 year old runner who has already had her green juice and is hoping to get in ‘just 7 miles’ before 9am. Her Lululemon outfit fits her perfectly and her hair swings back and forth without an ounce of sweat on her entire body. Across the street is a couple stopped at a sidewalk, one arm holding the other. It is in this moment I see pure love. On the other side there is the man setting up his fruit stand where he will undoubtedly sell out of pineapple and bottled water before noon, and a group of older women pass him who are talking the same walk they have taken since they were new mothers themselves. Except now they walk a little slower and instead of who’s baby has said their first word they discuss grandkids and partners dying.
I wonder who I am? What do people profile me as on this early Sunday morning. The college student? The young working professional? The single mom? Who knows. I am interrupted as I make my way into a corner coffee shop. I order my cold brew with oat milk from a really cool indie girl. I can’t tell if I want to be her or be with her. And imagine her name is something tomboyish like Ryan or Noa. Scanning the cafe I see two men with their three kids laughing over hot chocolate and blueberry muffins. I see a young man already with his laptop out and I realize it must be getting later in the morning as the first group of hungover mid-20 year olds comes in to get their coffee and recount their evenings.
I am located in one small coffee shop in the middle of a major metropolitan area and yet this is what makes DC, DC. It is a small hole in the wall where people of all races, all ages, all socioeconomic statuses come in and share their slow Sunday mornings together. It is not about one person or one moment. To talk just a singular interaction with a particular local in Washington DC would minimize the entire city as a whole. What makes the District of Columbia so special is the culmination of people that work together to add to the melting pot of culture that it is. Each individual person carries a piece of the city with them and that is what makes it so very special.
The local interactions can be found through one slow Sunday morning, seeing the people of DC in their truest form.
An Impactful Moment: Connectivity, Care, and Craft by Ria D.
When applying for this program, we were asked to write about monuments we would like to visit, and (being a teenage liberal arts student) I had used my essay as an opportunity/excuse to denounce the concepts of monuments as a whole. I had argued:
“Monuments uphold what we want to celebrate, either focusing on prosperity and achievement or working to honor a loss. Monuments do not expose failings or work to educate about problems that are still ongoing. Monuments, museums, and artifacts are retroactive preservations of symbols, flashbulb memories, deemed important in history. Studying these moments alone, especially when they are positively framed, is incredibly limiting. A more holistic approach to studying the complex problem of racial divide would be examining proactive institutions alongside monuments.”
After spending three weeks studying race and politics whilst exploring the city of Washington DC, my impactful moment was a series of experiences that resulted in the conclusion: I was wrong. So, incredibly, wrong. Here’s why—
I initially applied for this program because I care about politics. More specifically, I care about how politics affect people, and—like most young people—I want to “make a difference.” A desire that’s easy to share, but really hard to act on. As a student studying literature, I believed myself an outsider in the world of policy—unqualified, with the hopes of becoming more civically engaged as a result of this class.
First, I learned that monuments are not synonymous with memorials. A memorial is a commemorative place, performance, statue, or date that can be spontaneously constructed (or planned). A memorial is usually publicly funded and conserves stories, events, people, ideals, or protests the artist or public donors want to commemorate. By contrast, a monument is something that is physically built to mark something. This means that all monuments are memorials, but not all memorials are monuments.
Second, I learned that the city of DC itself is a memorial to the United States: a self-regulating capital city that serves to assert power on a global scale while simultaneously changing to reflect new beliefs, ideals, and politics. Every aesthetic decision that went into designing the city has a large symbolic purpose. The western European architecture reflects Western ideals. The neoclassical design, inspired by Greece and Rome, reflects the birthplace of Democracy. The grid-like structure/layout foundation with the “axis” of presidential memorials, Capitol, and White House are representative of the founding fathers constructing American ideals. Lining the axis with museums reflects how individual pursuit of knowledge and a celebration of arts upholds American values.
Now, why am I explaining architectural intentions? Because, the design has symbolism. There is symbolism to be analyzed. And architecture is art. In fact, so much of politics is influenced by, commemorated with, and protested through the medium of art. And art itself has always been inherently political. My impactful moment was realizing that I’m not an outsider—but there is both room and a need for artists to analyze and be involved in politics.
For three weeks we spent time studying policy, seeing its differential and inegalitarian impacts on people. But more importantly, for three weeks we studied memorials—we studied how to interpret art. For class, we read articles—written memorials—on topics journalists and scholars felt strongly enough to analyze, criticize, and argue for. Our daily readings and seminar discussions were predicated on our ability to critically analyze and examine narrative fallacies. Our discussions and brainstorming of reforms, solutions, and new perspectives were expressions of creativity and imagination. Our visits to museums and galleries were actually tours of carefully curated pieces of art canonized due to merit, mission, or exemplifying a movement. Witnessing this art, reading of its exigence, and even questioning its presence were also forms of analysis.
During this program: we saw a dance performance that memorialized the Stono Rebellion (Drumfolk), ate lunch at a restaurant catered to community events such as poetry slams (Busboys and Poets), and saw subversive memorials that confronted history rather than celebrating it (BLM and Vietnam War Memorials). As we went on countless tours and listened to countless tour guides—we were taking in the story of DC through memorials, tagging important plot points and figuring out characters.
All reading is inherently political. Studying literature (so far) has been studying how to read narratives and people, how to navigate politics. Analytical lenses in English classes help students uncover subtlety veiled racism/prejudice and then critique it. These skills translate to real life media literacy today—it’s always been political. Literature classes have been about analysis and imagination—policy debates need more of this perspective.
When writing my final paper for class, my concluding argument on course content followed from (and is a culmination of) this line of thinking: Art is protest. Protest pushes perspective. Perspective, like policy, produces practice. Changes in practice are transformative social changes.
Ultimately, perception (belief/idea/intrinsic motivation) is what strongly inspires practice (outcome) while policy (extrinsic motivator/restriction) can regulate and prompt the same practice either simultaneously with perspective or act as an “until then” mechanism.
What I mean it that all and any changes in policy will be ineffective if the majority of citizens do not believe in that policy. Policy, on it’s own, is short term—regulating behavior, not perspectives. In order to enact real changes on the status quo, one must not only enact policy, but shift perspective. Therefore, all valid attempts at restorative change must rely on policy to address immediate harm while simultaneously focusing on education initiatives/modeling that lead to long term changes in perspective. In this model, policy acts as a temporary band-aid to social dilemmas, promoting behavior until it happens on its own. It is critical then, that current policies cannot rely upon or promote narratives and subsequent perspectives that directly contradict resocialization efforts. If policy is indirectly promoting the flawed perceptions of the status quo, it will not lead to real change in the future. While policies cannot promote values, they can inadvertently promote narratives and incentives. Therefore, the only effective policy to address any social issue is one that does not reinforce flawed narratives.
Overall, this was a long winded way of proclaiming that my impactful moment was realizing that I was wrong. That, in my spare time, I did go see every monument and visit as many museums as I possibly could—that I loved it. That Political Science is not some isolated study, exclusive to those who study policy. In fact, there seems to be an urgent need for other perspectives, for people who study other things to study politics in conjunction. That protesting, pushing for change is not and cannot be one thing. That we can all engage with politics individually, that we can all provide our own individual skillset—that we can all find our protest. And there’s a lot of hope in that.
A New Experience: U Street by Kristen J.
On Wednesday, June 1st, my class visited U street which has immense cultural significance in Washington DC. Also, U street has personal significance to me because this was the place I wrote about in my entrance essay for the Global Gateway Washington DC Program. The first place we decided to visit was the African American Civil War Memorial. More than 200,000 African American soldiers served, and their service aided the efforts to free millions of slaves and end the war itself. This memorial included women and children alongside the soldiers to demonstrate how everyone’s efforts were essential to gaining freedom in the United States. Although these men and women gave a massive contribution to the Civil War, their work is often not stated in the tellings of our history. This memorial ensures that their sacrifices are not overlooked.
Later on, we ate lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Before we went, I knew that Ben’s Chili Bowl was a black-owned restaurant that opened in 1958. After eating and listening to the staff’s presentation, I found there was more to their story. At the beginning of the restaurant’s opening, artists such as Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and others performed at the Lincoln Theater and then would come next door, to Ben’s Chili Bowl, to eat. Then, in 1968, riots ensued following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and U street was not exempted. Violence and looting commenced while Ben’s Chili Bowl was able to stay mostly untouched by placing a sign that read, “Soul Brother.” This was the restaurant’s way of telling the people in the community that they understood their pain. Ben’s Chili Bowl is one of the three buildings that remained open since the riots of 1968. They continued to be open throughout the Metro Green Line construction and the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like the “Soul Brother” sign, Ben’s Chili Bowl serves as a symbol of hope and understanding for the U Street community.
Another central piece of Ben’s Chili Bowl’s history is the famous individuals who visited such as President Barack Obama, Serena Williams, Denzel Washington, Chris Rock, Danny Glover, and many others. The various people who come to the restaurant, whose pictures you can find on the wall, illustrate the comforting atmosphere this place provides for others. I felt this welcoming ambiance throughout the entire time we ate. One of the staff members shared how there is still room on the wall for more pictures. Instilling the hope, that future successes are to come to U street and Ben’s Chili Bowl will be there to support them.
It just goes to show that no matter where you go in DC, the history runs so deep that even getting a hot dog could entail decades of cultural and historical significance. The opportunity to go to these places inside the communities and not just remotely through museums allows us to fully engage with the history. I am grateful for having this new experience on U Street, the place that began my journey in Washington DC.