Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives in the UHP

Dear UHP Students:

The faculty and staff of the University Honors Program are committed to addressing and ending any negative experiences for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students in our community. We write to share with you the steps that we are currently undertaking—and have already undertaken—to confront issues of diversity within our own program. This work is ongoing; it is not always obvious and, in a large institution like ours, progress can sometimes be slow. The UHP has also recently gone through a significant change in its administrative structure and staffing and such transitions always divert time and energy away from important objectives.   

After hearing from students about diversity concerns in the Fall, we began working with Director of University Diversity & Inclusion Programs Jordan West, who suggested we begin with a “temperature survey” for the program to help focus our actions towards the areas in most need of consideration and change. This work has been delayed by the pandemic, but we are committed to administering this survey in Fall 2020. The newly re-formed UHP Advisory Committee (which includes faculty representatives from around the university) has also been tasked with making recommendations to the program in this area. As mentioned in our previous email, we are convening as well a UHP working group composed of students, faculty, and staff to help guide us forward. Students who would like to volunteer to be a member of this working group should complete this form. This group will convene over WebEx this summer (at a date and time convenient to as many participants as possible), but those who are unable to participate this summer are still invited to sign up. Work will continue in the Fall.      

Several recent straightforward changes that have been made include updating the UHP Student Handbook for 2020-2021 to include specific policies related to UHP student conduct to help maintain a supportive and inclusive environment for all our learners. The faculty handbook is also being updated to include additional expectations and resources for instructors. Origins’ faculty are working together as well to diversify their Origins courses. In recent years, faculty have expanded their range of readings to include non-White authors such as James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, the Dalai Lama, and Paulo Freire, to name a few. Women writers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Christine Korsgaard, Martha Nussbaum, and Virginia Held have been added to syllabi, and many of our faculty have shown students the anti-racist documentary “I’m Not Your Negro,” a powerful film on Baldwin and the American Civil Rights movement. Diversifying our syllabi is an ongoing effort—one that started over a decade ago when we began the important work of teaching non-Western traditions like Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucian thought in Origins. We remain committed to advancing a wide range of voices in the Honors program, and recognize that Origins is not the only place where we have work to do. It is important to us that all of our classes and spaces feel welcoming and inclusive to everyone. This will require working on our culture as a whole, reviewing how we teach our course materials, and being more mindful of how we engage with students inside and outside of the classroom. 

Like all special programs on campus, the UHP works in concert with the GW Office of Undergraduate Admissions in recruitment and admissions. The UHP staff has worked and is working closely with Admissions on the issue of diversity in enrollment. We have discussed the issue in depth with Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Ben Toll last summer, and we have emphasized our desire to have the Honors Program advertise as widely as possible. As a result of these meetings, the UHP was involved with the “Your GW” program in the Fall, which provided a direct avenue to a set of prospective GW students who we hoped would consider applying to the Honors program. We recognize that our admissions process is not yet fixed, but we are taking steps to understand the problem and learn how we can do better. We are pressing Admissions to ensure that a diverse set of applications is sent for our review. We are working to upgrade the UHP website so that it better represents the program and will be more attractive to prospective students who want to build a strong academic community. We have also altered our portion of the admissions process to more explicitly consider factors such as race, socioeconomics, and first-generation status.    

In Fall 2020, all UHP first-year students will live as a community in West Hall. Having the full incoming class living in West will allow us to do more focused community building in the first year, which is planned to include issues related to diversity and inclusion. Though a return to “normal” is unlikely in the Fall, we remain committed to unifying the incoming class through a shared academic and co-curricular program. Vern RAs are committed to building a community that supports all of our students. The UHP will also be working with the MVC Area Coordinator (Dan Wright) and Community Director (Marissa Townsend) to discuss options for integrating diversity and inclusion education programs in the residential community experience directly. Further, in collaboration with the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement, all UHP students will take part in an unconscious bias workshop in the Fall.

In addition, we are integrating anti-racist and anti-bias training into the Peer Advisor program so that peer advisors are equipped with the tools and self-awareness needed to address acts of racism and bias as well as refer students to supportive resources. Peer Advisor Leadership in particular will participate in anti-racist and anti-bias training to uphold these standards for the rest of the peer advisor program. 

 Under the Honors new administrative organization, Associate Provost for Special Programs & the Mount Vernon Academic Experience Elizabeth Chacko is tasked with course staffing. We have had multiple discussions about the need for diverse course offerings and faculty in our upper level courses, but because faculty and classes are scheduled a year in advance this process takes time. Since the needs of the UHP are similar to those of the other special programs on the Mount Vernon Campus, Associate Provost Chacko is working on building common programming to address these issues among students and faculty throughout these programs. In addition, our faculty and staff—like our students-—will take part in anti-racist and anti-bias training (again, hosted by GW’s Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement).

The University Honors Program believes that critical reflection, historical awareness, an openness to the diversity of human experience, and an empathetic moral imagination are the cognitive skills necessary for building a just society free from racism and oppression. The UHP is committed to cultivating these skills and enabling our students to become agents of positive change as we struggle together to create a compassionate society in which all can flourish and thrive without fear of harm. 

In solidarity,
The UHP Administration & Faculty

Statement on The Murders of Black Americans and Racism in the UHP

UHP Students,

The UHP condemns in the strongest terms the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, Tony McDade and all other members of the Black community who have been killed as a result of anti-Black racism and systemic oppression. Black lives matter. For far too long, we have lived under a system that has dehumanized and cast Black lives aside using state sponsored violence. These murders are not isolated incidents, but rather the results of longstanding systems of oppression built on white supremacy. As a society and as a community of scholars, we must confront this truth and commit to genuine discourse and action on issues affecting Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

In these moments, we must also look inward, and the UHP acknowledges that our program is not one in which all BIPOC students, staff, and faculty feel fully safe, represented, and supported. Our mission implores our students to “probe the most foundational questions of humanity and to apply their understanding to complex problems of the world today,” and we must do the same as we think about our own program. We should examine in what ways problems of racism, privilege, and lack of diversity have been sustained in our classrooms, living spaces, and in our own UHP community. We should also ask: How can we address these concerns internally and what can we do to actively overcome their presence? How can we resolve and constantly re-evaluate each of these issues as they evolve over time? These are questions that we have committed to consistently ask ourselves to create lasting change not just in our program, but within the greater context in which it exists.

One immediate action is to stand up, speak out, and support those around the country and the world who are making their voices heard. We condemn the authoritarian response of our leaders and the violence against citizens who express their legitimate grievances as is their fundamental first amendment right.

Our goal is to be a community where we all belong, but unfortunately, we are not yet fully there. As we press on toward that goal, we are listening carefully to the concerns that have been brought to us. We are eager to make improvements to our program so that we can better serve our mission. As a start, we are putting together a working group consisting of UHP students, faculty, and staff to help identify areas of concern and provide concrete steps for moving forward. Later this week, we will be telling you more about what the UHP has been doing and is committed to doing in the future and asking for volunteers to join this working group.

In solidarity,
The UHP Administration & Faculty

GW Resources:
GWInSolidarity Events 
GW Bias Incident Reporting
GW Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement

Anti-Racist Resources We Are Reading: 
Anti-Oppression LibGuide: Anti-racist resources
Educational and actionable resources

A Detailed List of Anti-Racism Resources: Book, movie recommendations, and more

police shooting tear gas into a crowd of peaceful protesters

Creators of Heavens and Hells

We’re living through some really tough times right now, especially for our Black friends and classmates. The UHP will be issuing an official statement on all this soon, but in the meantime, Professor Aviv has some fascinating thoughts on how the hellish realities of racism are not necessarily permanent but constructed.

It is a beautiful day outside, a Sunday morning. I sit at my desk with the lovely scene of trees in the yard. This is the bliss of summer break. Working at my office, it is not too hot just yet, and the birds are creating a sweet harmony that no Spotify playlist can best. But this quiet is deceiving, and this summer break is far from ordinary. These are days of disorientation and pain. The coronavirus pandemic exposed deeply rooted social fault lines. The economic toll is unimaginable and the mental pain of loneliness and being apart from our communities, friends, and systems of support makes the crisis much worse.

As if the health crisis was not enough, the horrors of this pandemic joined forces with much older ones, those of racism. Together they have created a tsunami of incredible pain, rage and violence. These visions haunt me; a policeman who kneels on the neck of George Floyd, the vigilantes who murder Ahmaud Arbery, followed by an outburst of rage and violent police backlash. Protesters in the streets are exposed to the threat of human violence and the havoc of COVID-19, many of them live in communities already vulnerable to the virus. Emotions of sadness, anger and helplessness flood me and fill me with an almost desperate need to make
sense of this chaos.

One powerful image that comes to my mind is that of a Buddhist hell. According to ancient Buddhist texts, our world includes six realms of existence. In the middle is the messy world of humans, filled with desires, anger and confusion but also with compassion and the possibility of change. There is also a realm that is a blissful world of divine beings who are fortunate to be free of most things that torment us, and then there are the Buddhist hells. A Buddhist hell is a place where no one wants to be.

Hells in the Buddhist imagination includes creative ways for its inhabitants to exist miserably. There are many hells, but they share some important characteristics. Denizens are often suffering from systematic abuse, life is a lengthy experience of fear and pain, and there are hell guardians whose job it is to keep the structure and institution of hell running. The environment is contributing to ones’ suffering, either too cold or often too hot, suffocatingly hot. Unlike in the monpainting of Buddhist hell with three people covered in blood and chains being chased by three tormentors with whips, all surrounded by fireotheistic version of hell, there is a way to leave the Buddhist ones, but it takes a long time and extraordinary effort.

But where are those hells? Are they real?

According to one school of Buddhist thought, the Yogācāra or Mind-Only school, these are the wrong questions to ask. All worlds are created by our minds, and hell exists for beings whose shared experiences construct their world as one. But if we, too, construct our world, in recent years our shared creation looks more and more like a Buddhist hell.  Think about the policeman (or policemen) who kneels on George Floyd’s neck. They are as human as you and I; they are people who were shaped by our social realities to become violent police officers. They bear responsibility, and so do we. This is not to assert an accusation, but as a statement about the deep, interconnected causal nexus that we are a part of. We are shaped by this world and shape it. These policemen grew up into this world where a black person is immediately seen as a suspect. It does not matter if that person is jogging around the neighborhood (Ahmaud Arbery), enjoying birds in the park (Christian Cooper), or just sitting at home (Botham Jean). Black Americans live in fear that they do not deserve. But it is not only black Americans, Asian Americans are also a target; Jewish Americans see a rise of antisemitic attacks; Americans originally from Latin America are abused by our immigration system. As evident from the rise of white supremacy, many white Americans are fearful too. They fear for their livelihood, fear of the pandemic, and the opioid addiction that has devastated many small cities. When we
construct a Buddhist hell, no one can be free from the suffering it entails. Some could have the illusion of safety, but as the COVID-19 taught us, when our social infrastructure is failing, a virus does not care to distinguish between which bodies it inhabits.

When pain consumes enraged fellow citizens, the streets of all of us are burning, the glasses around all of us are shattering. But here is the silver lining: this is a reality that we have constructed, and one that we can dismantle. When I say that “we have constructed” this reality, I do not mean just you and me; I mean you and me as well as generations upon generations of those who come before us. This is why the structures of this reality are so hard to dismantle. As my students and I recently discussed in my Buddhism and Cognitive Science course, we have sound evidence to show that these sorts of habituations form our individual
and social identities. They are the “eyes” through which we “see” the world. Except that we do not really see ‘it’–rather, we are constructing our world again and again. Together, we can recreate the same patterns that make the world more like a Buddhist hell, or we can create a better human realm with all its imperfections.

I am not deluding myself into the belief that we can entirely dismantle racism, sexism and other forms of social ills including cruelty to non-human animals. Nonetheless, we must act. In a recent interview that went viral, Cornel West cited Samuel Beckett in a way that captures this sentiment very well: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” We have to try. Our efforts will fall short, because as Buddhist cosmology tell us, the human realm is ever messy: we are not divine beings. But we need at the least to fail better. In one of the most profound Buddhist texts, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Śāntideva, an 8th century Buddhist monk and philosopher, instructed his readers about the perfection of the virtue of generosity. He reminds us that if it was possible to solve social ills like poverty, the Buddha and other sages who were smarter than us would have figured it out before. These are hard problems, but he reminds us of this not to discourage us, but to encourage us to commit
to action even when the results are unguaranteed: Śāntideva said that “the perfection of generosity is said to result from [a] mental attitude” (Crosby and Skilton 1995, 34). Our intention matters. To dismantles the structure of racism, sexism etc. we need a commitment, a sacred vow. This is because there will always be viruses, just as we will always have racists and sexists within our communities. It is not about the outcome: it is about the commitment to constructing a better human realm. We owe it to George Floyd, to Ahmaud Arbery, to Breonna Taylor and the countless victims of the pandemics that could still be alive today. We owe it to ourselves.

Life As A UHP Alum

So you did it. You graduated. Finally! I’ll say this one last time (it won’t be the last time)– congratulations! And now…you’re an alum. There are a ton of benefits that you can get as a GWU alum, but I wanted to detail for you some of the benefits you have specifically as a UHP alum! You can learn more about the broad GW alumni benefits here.


You may know already about the UHP LinkedIn Group, but if not, let me acquaint you! Over the past several years, we’ve been curating a LinkedIn group for UHPers. This can be a tremendous networking resource for you! If you join the group (you should join the group), you’ll be connected to a whole series of former UHPers now doing incredibly cool things all over the country. And they’ve all joined this group for the express purpose of networking with other UHPers. So take advantage of it! Look through the folks there– maybe one of them is doing your dream job!

UHP Events

Congratulations! You have earned free admission to all semesterly Student-Faculty Dinners from now until the end of time. And you did it just by graduating! If you’re ever back in town towards the end of a given semester, please drop us a line at uhp@gwu.edu or 202-994-6816 and join us. That goes for all sorts of UHP events– the UHP Hike, Food for Thoughts, Holiday Parties…all of it!

The Townhouse

You’re also always welcome to drop by the townhouse when you’re in town! Your free access to come around for free coffee, hot chocolate, and good company is officially approved to extend as long as we have coffee and hot chocolate. And we will definitely want to say hello!

More Coming Soon…

We’re also developing some further things for y’all, so stay tuned! If you want to get updates on this sort of thing, make sure you fill out the Senior Survey so we know how to get in touch with you.

And once again:


2020 Strasser Prize Winners Announced

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Strasser Writing Prize competition!  We have one first place winner, and two runners-up.

1st Place:

Talia Zelle
“Created Languages in Speculative Fiction: Humane Language in Babel-17 and Understand”

Runners Up:

Elena Mieszczanski
“Chariclea: Both Black and White”

Benjamin Blitz
“Effect of Parenting Styles on Child Well-Being: An Overview and Critique”

Weekly Contest Winners Spotlight!

Since the beginning of the Digital Townhouse Project, we’ve had several different weekly contests going on, and I just wanted to take a minute to honor all the winners of the past weekly contests!

First up, we have the winner of our final weekly contest (who has not yet been announced): Jared Bulla with his re-creation of “The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” as seen below. The winning nomination for Professor Kung’s re-creation is Johannes Vermeer’s The Astronomer!

The next winner was Matthew Obserstaedt with the following short story:

One otherwise inconspicuous Wednesday, Jacky is cleaning out her childhood bedroom. She’s basically just throwing all her childhood memories into a big black trash bag, because, you know, who needs them anymore when you’re in college, right? So in go her beloved stuffed animals, her soccer trophies, her prom photos, and so on. But then, she comes across something really, really sentimental for her – a self-portrait her grandmother had painted just before her death. Jacky feels a tear come to her eye, then wipes it away, shrugs, and throws the painting out.

Ha! I bet you, the ignorant reader, thought that portrait was going to be the thing that changed Jacky’s life, right? Nope! I just totally subverted your expectations, and I feel pretty darn good about it, too!

Anyway, once she throws away the portrait, Jacky comes upon a portal to another dimension that she had made as a kid and forgotten about. Then she enters it and I guess some kind of life changing experience happens in there. Not sure what exactly; I didn’t come up with the specifics. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Anyway, it inspires her to become an animal rights activist or something else cool like that.

The following winner was Ethan Goldblatt with this limerick:

There once was a digger named Gary
who most people found quite scary
but if you’d go and check-in
he’d greet you with a grin
then you’d be the next one that he’d bury.

The following winner was two-fold! Both Sara Iagnemma and Matthew Oberstaedt won the UHP mascot contest, as seen below:

Sara Iagnemma:

Sara’s mascot is the UHP Raven, because they’re both some of the smartest animals on the planet as well as omnivores!

Matthew Oberstaedt:

Matthew’s was, well, as follows:

“Meet the new UHP Mascot: Brainy McBrainface! Brainy is a walking, talking, personified brain, and they are, like, totally jacked from flexing all that intellectual muscle UHPers are famous for. Brainy can usually been lifting weights with one arm and a beaker in the other, demonstrating the careful balance between taking care of one’s body and mind. Brainy has a big, goofy laugh that annoys pretty much everyone, but is endearing to the right people, and they can’t shut up about politics! Brainy’s spinal cord is basically their body. They typically wear shorts, a graduation cap, and shoes… BUT NO SHIRT, because, I repeat, they’re totally jacked.”

And finally, we have our first winner of them all: the virtual learning meme contest! This victory went to Hannah DelVecchio with the following meme:

UHP Graduation Reception

Listen, dear Seniors: quarantine is deeply unfortunate, but we will be darned if we can’t still do everything in our power to celebrate you with everything we’ve got, so come over and join us on May 16, 5PM EST. Wear something formal (regalia if you have it!) and bring your family and friends as well as a drink for toasting. Professor Kung will introduce the evening with some encouragement to the class, and then the UHP faculty will also join in and talk about how wonderful you all are. There will also be a time for you to give toasts to each other! Finally, at the end, some faculty will be hosting individual “office-hours” style receptions where you can join in, introduce them to your family, and talk to them personally.

You’ll all be receiving a formal invitation from us in the coming days with the link to join, so keep an eye out for that! If you don’t see it by Friday, reach out to us at uhp@gwu.edu so we can make sure you can join us.

Also, we’d love to get pictures of memories you have from your time in the UHP to put together in the reception in a slideshow. Submit them here: https://forms.gle/uMda4CGTSdYjE7gKA

A Conservative Perspective on Syngman Rhee

Check out the following research story from fellow UHPer Mark Thomas-Patterson!

This semester, I took part in the GW Institute of Korean Studies Undergraduate Research Fellowship. This is a program sponsored by the GWU Institute of Korean Studies in which participants propose to write an academic article on any topic that connects with Korea. You are then matched up with a professor who focuses on that area of study, in my case Professor Greg Brazinsky in the Elliott School. Participants them work with their mentor towards creating a final paper, and workshop with other members of the program. Finally, the fellows with the top five papers are chosen to present at a research symposium with students in a sister program and Indian University. Even though the symposium was cancelled, I ended up being awarded the third-place award for my paper.

For this project, I analyzed how the Chicago Tribune, then a prominent conservative publication, covered the South Korean leader Syngman Rhee, a GWU alum who would later go on to be the first president of South Korea in the years between 1945-1950. I chose this topic as I am interested in the history of international relations and am particularly interested at how domestic groups viewed foreign affairs.

In order to understand why I decided to analyze the Chicago Tribune in this time period, one needs to understand the state of US conservatism in the 1940s. Unlike conservatism of today, conservatism of the 1940s was split between both parties, and drew on supporters from all around the country. However, conservatives at the time had a few major defining ideals. One of these was Anti-Communism. Conservatives, ever since the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, had opposed the spread of Communism and sought to combat it. During the 1920s and 30s many American conservatives had attacked organized labor for being the vanguard of communism in the US. Another ideal shared by many conservatives, as well as many on the left, was the belief in isolationism. American conservatives did not seek to create a state in which the US would turn into some sort of hermit kingdom a la DPRK. Instead, there was a belief that the US should not seek military involvements overseas.

An Overview of the Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune represented the Midwestern conservative branch of the Republican party under the ownership of Col. Robert McCormick(who was never a Col.). McCormick was the descendant of Cyrus McCormick and inherited the International Harvester company. He utilized these funds to go purchase the Chicago Tribune and turn it into a mouthpiece to advocate for his own political beliefs, which included supporting relatives who were active in the Republican party. This blatant bias in the paper granted it a certain degree of journalistic infamy, with a survey of journalists declaring the paper the most biased in the country, a title it shared with the newspaper of the US Communist Party. The paper had a long list of enemies, including the Roosevelt administration and organized labor. It was incredibly isolationist and intensely criticized Churchill and Stalin, who were displayed as European imperialists intent on manipulating the US.

Phase One- A Useful Friend

The Chicago Tribune’s coverage of Rhee can be broken into three main phases. The Tribune’s coverage of Syngman Rhee began at the San Francisco conference of 1945, where Rhee had traveled to advocate for recognition of his Korean Provisional Government in exile, as Korea was still under Japanese rule. Rhee’s application for Korea to join the brand-new United Nations was turned down by the US State Department as they had a policy of not recognizing any formally established governments. The Chicago Tribune noticed this and reached out to Rhee. Rhee talked to the Tribune about how he sought to create an independent Korean state based on American principles of Republican government and free enterprise. This connection was in large part motivated by the fact that the Tribune wanted to criticize the Truman administration, and the saga of a Democratic adminstration ignoring the pleas of a pro-American freedom fighter made for a great story. This relationship is not entirely one sided, however, as Rhee wrote the Tribune, thanking it for its advocacy on his behalf.

Phase Two-Critique of an Authoritarian

The second phase takes place in 1946 and 47, when the Tribune correspondent Walter Simmons arrives in Southern Korea, which was under US military governance. Simmons painted Rhee as a diehard anti-communist, whose refusal to work with anyone on the left made him a major thorn in the side of the US military, who wanted Korea to have a functioning government. Simmons covers how Rhee uses paramilitary groups to attack newspapers that disagree with him, and states that he is an aspiring autocrat. This period is topped off by a report by Col. McCormick on the peninsula, in which he states the US should leave the peninsula, even if it means Korea will come under Soviet domination.

Phase Three- Anti-Communist Embrace

The last stage of the Tribune’s coverage of Rhee began in 1948 in the run up to the first Korean Presidential election. Here, the coverage of Rhee swings back in his favor. He is depicted as a dependable US ally seeking to create a country based off of American principles. Furthermore, the atrocities committed by right-wing paramilitaries were minimized, and the blame for all violence is placed on communists. The paper excuses Rhee’s repressive actions as necessary in order to counter the communist threat.

Throughout my research, I saw the Chicago Tribune at a crossroads in the history of American conservatism. At times, it signaled its isolationist tendencies, but in the end its desire to combat communism won out. This desire to support anti-communism abroad would later go on to define American conservatism throughout the rest of the Cold War.






Riddle of the Day 5/1


To most, I am a mystery
Hidden ‘tween H and G
Bring your vessels unto me
And to you I’ll spill my Tea.
What am I?


The correct answer to yesterday’s riddle (a J.R.R. Tolkien original) was FISHES, which was gotten first by Jared Bulla. The most creative answer goes to Sydni Nadler with “a knight in (quiet) shining armor.” Congrats to you both!

This will also be the last riddle of the semester, as we’re getting into the final stretch of things! Thanks for playing along everyone!!

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