Mapping Commonplaces: My Journey to Gonzaga College High School

On the first day of class when my professor explained we were going to create our own website, centered around a location in Washington, D.C., with menu bars, embedded maps, annotated bibliographies, digital archives and more, I never thought it was possible. Quite frankly, when my professor started to throw out words such as rhetoric, topoi and commonplace, it all sounded like a foreign language to me. Now, four months later here we are! I have my own webspace available for anyone to see. It is something that is associated with my identity.

It all starts with my Complex Local System (CLS). Gonzaga College High School presents this principle dichotomy of the wealth and race disparity in Washington, D.C. Gonzaga College High School is located in the Swampoodle neighborhood, now rebranded as NoMa. In recent years, there has been massive new development, which, in turn, has shifted relationships between the location and the people who inhabit the area.

For the final project, in which we had to deeply, rhetorically analyze our CLS via associative ways of research, I thought it was necessary to take a look around the larger area. Gonzaga College High School is located just down the road from Union Station. Union Station is particularly interesting because it is a crossroads for interstate travel via Amtrak or busses, and there are a variety of stores and restaurants within the building. Being that it’s so close to Gonzaga College High School many students take the Metro to and from school. Also in the neighborhood is Central Union Mission, a men’s homeless shelter, which incorporates religion and God to uplift those in need. Located at 65 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, it is extremely close to the back entrance of Gonzaga College High School. In addition to Central Union Mission, a new mixed-use commercial and residential development is situated on H Street NW overlooking the multi-use sports field. Each location contributes something unique to the community to build upon a larger idea of unified places.

By getting the perspective of all different types of people who inhabit the area, including the homeless, workers and donors at the homeless shelter, shoppers and residents of the new development, and alumni and current students of Gonzaga College High School, I was able to better understand how they influence each other. I asked participants questions and compiled them into a documentary titled “My Journey to Gonzaga College High School.” In the documentary, I begin my trip at Union Station, travel down Massachusetts Ave. to H St., then make my way to Gonzaga College High School, up North Capitol St. and close it out by getting on the Metrorail to head back to American University.

A lot of my final observations can be connected to those of Derek Hyra’s, professor at American University and author of Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City. In his book, Hyra analogized the shifting dynamics in Washington, D.C. to a cappuccino. The white millennial are the milk and when the foam gets poured on top and spills over, it’s just like the people that have been displaced from the neighborhood. This is the case with 77H apartments just next to Gonzaga College High School. When I interviewed Wissam Itani, a resident at 77H luxury apartments, he mentioned that over time he’s noticed “a greater police presence slowly cleaning out the homeless.” In connection to Central Union Mission, the shelter was originally located on 14th and R Street, but was forced to move to a new location on Massachusetts Ave. When I interviewed Charles Purcell III, a homeless man outside of Union Station, he discussed the possibility of knocking down a shelter in the area to build a new high-rise apartment building. Sadly, this is exactly what Hyra described: where the excess is spilled over and forced to find a new home. It was particularly interesting to hear from Candice Santomauro that she was aware of the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty. She said when “leaving the shopping center coming to grab my $5 coffee, I passed a bunch of homeless people on the way.” Everyone in the community is aware of the changes, but some, such as the homeless in the area, now have to fear that their shelter may move again.

Through this process of interviewing and exploring the area around my CLS, I was able to develop critical thinking and work through the rhetorical situation regarding Gonzaga College High School and its location. Lastly, I want to end with the words of Ibe Crawley, a donor at Central Union Mission. When I asked how she felt about the changes in the city, she responded, “I am grateful for all of the changes that have occurred. Where there are people and where there are buildings we come together and we work together to make this a city where everyone is welcomed, can feel comfortable and can live together.”

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy the documentary!