Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Initiative Thrives in the Corp

This weekend the Corp will hand over the reigns of the company to four complete outsiders. And that’s only the beginning of what makes the Corp one of Georgetown’s most dynamic and exciting student organizations.

The goal? Provide fresh ideas, clear accountability and increased ownership for the company whose stakeholders are the students of this university.

The move isn’t as outlandish as it sounds. The Corp’s seven-member board of directors includes the three officers of the company and four Georgetown student leaders from outside the company. It’s the highest governing body of a company that brings in $3 million in revenue every year and oversees a $1 million plus endowment.

And as one of those outsiders this year, I’ve had the chance to see the inside of a great organization.

The Corp can boast plenty. It gives out lots of money to other campus groups and scholarships to individual students. It runs three coffee shops, a grocery store, a convenience store, a book co-op, a movie-delivery service and a storage outfit. And almost all of those make money.

Those aren’t even its greatest selling points. At its most basic level, the Corp gives students a cheap place to buy groceries and offers students flexible and fun jobs.

True, not all prices are cheap (but no one said an iced caramel mocha smoothie is a necessity), and the stores do offer “dollar” coffee, cheaper sodas than anywhere around campus and fair prices on most other campus essentials.

This year it’s worked to improve its operations – visibly by upgrading storefronts at Uncommon Grounds and Vital Vittles – and behind the scenes by becoming a work-study employer. It’s also improved technology in the stores to speed up lines and launched an online movie rental service from the existing and outdated model.

And yet it’s not a perfect company – there’s plenty of room for improvement, and next year’s officers and managers have ambitious plans to strengthen customer service and continue upgrading the stores. Sometimes there are long lines at the coffee shops, but student feedback usually gets taken seriously – just look at the way Vital Vittles has transformed itself into a first-rate grocery store, with fully stocked and labeled shelves, innovative products and low prices.

The company plans to launch a completely revitalized Book Co-op next year, probably the most important service the Corp runs given the skyrocketing price of books. The fact that the service doesn’t turn a profit shows how the Corp isn’t afraid to put principle ahead of profit.

Student-run enterprises like these help set Georgetown apart from its competitors. The Corp is by no means the only example of a great Hoya initiative – look at DC Reads, the Credit Union, GERMS and so many other student-run organizations on campus that are among the best at any college.

The Corp thrives in spite of the high turnover that comes with being student-run, from the cashiers and grinders to the CEO and board chairman, providing a completely different education to students when they’re not in the classroom.

“Students serving students” sounds like a cliche, until you spend a year inside the organization and see that that’s what it’s all about – students who work relatively low-paying jobs that benefit their fellow students.

But the Corp does more than sell cheap sodas and coffee for a buck, more than open-mic nights at Uncommon Grounds and late night chai at Midnight Mug. Georgetown students founded the company in 1972 at a time when colleges everywhere were in turmoil.

In response to riots that threatened the rights of Georgetown students during the era of Vietnam War protests, Students of Georgetown, Inc., incorporated to “assert and protect the inherent rights of its members and its community.”

Selling cheap Coke and yogurt in New South gave the company some money – the endowment it would need to protect those students’ rights. Over the years the company evolved and the student activism from which the Corp was born dissipated, but that activism imbued in its founding is still present today.

It’s that spirit that leads to the sponsorship of any number of events and initiatives, from Hoyathon to the Run for Rigby.

It’s that spirit that keeps the Corp invested in campus by giving students scholarships.

It’s that spirit that led the Corp to commit to selling fair trade coffee earlier this year.

It’s that spirit that allows student groups to hang art in coffee shops, promoting free speech even when some students might take offense (as happened at Uncommon Grounds earlier this year).

And it’s that spirit that keeps a student-run company on the front lines of student service – selling yogurt and soda or spearheading the next campus initiative.

Nick Timiraos is a senior in the College, a former editor in chief of THE HOYA and an outgoing member of the Corp’s board of directors. He can be reached at timiraosthehoya.com. DAYS ON THE HILLTOP appears every Friday.

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