We all know about the “Georgetown bubble,” that invisible border in Northwest Washington, D.C., that keeps many students comfortably cloistered on campus. A lot of lip service is paid on campus to the notion of “breaking the bubble.” While it’s good that this phrase is common — that, at the very least, students generally know that they spend a lot of their time isolated from the surrounding city — our ideas about bubble-breaking are still wanting in nuance.
This school is situated in a highly segregated city, and I find something unsavory about spending four years perched on this affluent Hilltop while ignoring the problems in this politically disenfranchised capital city where HIV and AIDS rates are as high as those of much of sub-Saharan Africa. It’s even a shame to ignore the city’s incredible breadth of cultural opportunities and attractions.
Before we begin to tackle these problems, we ought to recognize that a university is meant to be a bubble; it is supposed to be a place where you can ponder what justice is, consider the problem of God and wrestle with cell biology. It should be a place without the interference of the capitalist treadmill and some of the banalities of day-to-day existence, with close proximity to hundreds of other students and with time for rest and leisure.
Having such a lifestyle, of course, is an enormous privilege in our day and age and obviously has the potential to negatively isolate the student body. But this is where the idea of a Georgetown bubble is so important: As students at a Jesuit university, we are inheritors of an educational tradition based not on breaking but on balancing the university bubble.
Think about it. Walking across campus, you’re bound to come across the phrases utraque unum — or “both into one” — and “contemplation in action.” Take time in the bubble to incubate big ideas and reflect on your experiences. And don’t feel guilty, because personal development is in no way mutually exclusive to engagement in the world.
But once you’ve pondered what justice is, get out there and pursue it. Still stuck on the problem of God? Join the club, but find ways to seek Him in your dealings with others. And if you have chosen not to seek God, seek a better world in whatever framework you choose.
As for all of you cell biologists, use your study of science to open up new possibilities and alleviate suffering. And every once in a while, don’t be afraid to return to your bubble for reflection and self-care. I think the point is to bring both into one — to make both contemplation and action components of your college experience.
I can’t say I’ve found that Georgetown students, myself included, do a particularly good job of this. As students part of a highly career-oriented and practical generation, internships and networking can often seem more relevant than contemplation. And, truthfully, some of us on the Hilltop are quite content with a highly insulated, almost exclusively academic college experience. Georgetown students do a fair amount of contemplation and certainly plenty of action, but perhaps not very much utraque unum.
It’s also worth pointing out that breaking or balancing the Georgetown bubble isn’t just accomplished by going to the Eastern Market or stopping by the Portrait Gallery after a game at Verizon Center. There’s a much wider bubble in D.C. that separates the politicos and most of the students — many of whom understand the city as a place they’ll just be passing through — from lifelong residents east of the Anacostia River and below the poverty line. These lines cannot be crossed by a night out in Adams Morgan or an internship on K Street.
When we talk about breaking the bubble, then, we shouldn’t think of it as merely getting out of Georgetown — though there undoubtedly is value in the very act of venturing beyond the front gates. Instead, let’s think of it as connecting our Georgetown experience — academic and otherwise — with new parts of the city. This way, respectfully and thoughtfully, we can pop our bubbles of privilege and build our on-campus growth.