On Wednesday, Apr. 5, just outside of the guard booth, a group of 17 students and four professors from the Government Department — Raymond Antolik, Ph.D., Winsome Downie, Ph.D., Margaret Groarke, Ph.D., and Jonathan Keller, Ph.D. — departed on a four-day excursion to Washington, D.C.
The tour of the nation’s capitol was the result of nearly six months of planning by Government Department Chair Pamela Chasek, Ph.D., according to Downie and Antolik, respectively. “I’d say that planning began in early October,” said Antolik.
The department began laying the foundation for the trip so soon in the academic year due to the lack of availability of tickets for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which just opened in September 2016 and has proved to be extremely popular, selling out tickets on a near constant basis.
According to Downie, there were other considerations as well.
“We also wanted to coincide the dates with cherry blossoms,” said Downie.
Antolik also chimed in that the early April departure date was selected in order to take advantage of the nicer weather. However, shortly after their arrival on Wednesday night in Vienna, Va., where the group’s hotel was located, it soon became clear that nice weather would not be on the agenda.
On Thursday morning, the group left to the Rayburn House Office Building where they met with and took questions from an aide of Congressman Eliot Engel, who has represented Manhattan College and the adjacent Riverdale area since 1989, and were met with torrential rain and strong winds. The storm became so severe that the National Weather Service subsequently announced that three tornadoes, all rated at EF-0, touched down in D.C.
Despite being caught in the rain, students maintained their jovial spirit. Sky Williams ’18 reacted by saying, “It was actually a cool experience. I kind of liked it… I think it brought [the members of the group] closer together. It was a bonding experience, ironically.”
After finishing their meeting at the Rayburn Building, the group visited the U.S. Capitol and, thanks to gallery passes provided by Engel and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (who represents New York), they had the opportunity to watch the Senate in session.
Having entered the Senate Chamber just after Senate Republicans’ use of the so-called “nuclear option” that broke the Democratic filibuster of the former Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, the visitors from Manhattan watched speeches from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Senators Steve Daines and Mike Rounds of Montana and South Dakota, respectively.
“The process is a lot less flashy than it looks on C-SPAN which says something,” said Peter Ruimerman ’19, a member of the Government & Politics Club, in reaction to the happenings of the Senate. Ruimerman added, while shaking his head that “some of those [Senators] don’t have towering intellect.”
On Friday, the group was led on a morning tour of the National Mall by Antolik, whom Downie described as the group’s resident expert on walking tours of the District.
In their stroll around the National Mall, the group visited the North Lawn of the White House where some protesters had arrived to object to President Donald J. Trump’s late-night strike against Syria. Thereafter, the group visited the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Vietnam War and World War II memorials before entering the NMAAHC.
“I think that they were somber, especially the Vietnam Memorial which is very… simple because it was a wall with the names of the soldiers who died,” said John Balsamo ’20, who studies Government and is a student in Downie’s U.S. Congress class.
At the African-American Museum, the students and faculty members had the chance to see the history of African-Americans charted from the arrival of the first African slaves in the 1500s to the first election of former President Barack Obama in 2008.
“They did their best to acknowledge all aspects of African-American culture, and I didn’t see it but they had a section on the Bronx,” said Alicia Ballinas ’19 in a positive review of the museum. “It was very inspiring to know that they included my hometown even though that it usually gets a bad rap aside from hip-hop.”
For her part, Downie gave the museum a stirring review as well, saying: “The historians who worked on it did a magnificent job of recreating the historical narrative that represents the African-American experience.” Furthermore, Downie said that the exterior design of the museum, specifically its three-tiered form, was equally “magnificent” and that the architectural design evokes the imagery of a slave ship.
Finally, on Saturday, the group visited the National Museum of the American Indian, which — like the African-American Museum — is located on the National Mall. After grabbing a meal from the myriad of food trucks that were parked along the sidewalk, the group departed the Capitol to return back to Riverdale.
On the drive back, Keller emphasized the importance of the trip and said: “At this difficult time in our nation’s history, it’s helpful to remember that our institutions have long endured [and] I think this trip helped put that into perspective.”