Many adjectives have been used to describe Georgetown: Elite, intellectual, service-oriented, diverse, spirited, Catholic and Jesuit, just to name a few. There is, however, an adjective not often vocally addressed, but which resonates among many undergraduates: Stifling. Whether in the realms of academics, the administration or extracurricular life, the atmosphere on the Hilltop often smothers undergraduates.
A haze has settled upon our university, a thick cloud of smoke that has blinded undergraduate vision. A multitude of factors has converged to suppress student flexibility, creativity and passion. Undergraduates hold few real positions of authority and therefore have a disproportionately weak voice on campus. Students are being led through the university instead of blazing their way through it.
Certainly, no one person or group is responsible for the suffocating atmosphere. On the contrary, many have facilitated its growth without recognizing their role in the process. Rules, guidelines and laws are certainly an important and necessary aspect to college life. But when the red tape becomes so unyielding, and the bureaucracy so enormous that it prevents students from being true leaders on campus or fulfilling their dreams, then the university suffers.
In fact, many of the major controversies that have garnered our attention over the last couple years – from the Map of the Modern World dispute to the continuing vocal protests against the Student Activities Commission to even some troubles with neighborhood residents – stem from a disconnect between undergraduates and the individuals who hold the reigns of power on campus. The visions and desires that various campus groups have for our university often clash, and unfortunately undergraduates are at a disadvantage.
When so many of Georgetown’s majestic buildings, such as Healy Hall and White Gravenor Hall, are full of administrative offices while students are forced to trek to the unimpressive Walsh building for classes, undergraduate access to the best resources on campus is smothered. When SAC requires clubs to plan out their entire agenda for a semester months in advance in order to receive funding, undergraduate creativity and flexibility is stifled. When students are given such a small role in planning and are not even allowed to vote on the university’s ten-year plans, the undergraduate voice is suppressed. After years of living in this smothering haze, students assume that this is the only way a university can run, but there must be, and there is, a different and better way.
Part of the blame does rest with students themselves. At times we can become so focused on the future – the next internship, the next opportunity – that we don’t appreciate our present university experience. We often treat Georgetown as a mere means of getting ahead instead of as an experience and institution worth preserving and improving for both present and future generations. We embrace indifference and lethargy instead of mobilizing, rallying and fighting for the Georgetown traditions and reforms we feel are important.
Some of the blame also rests with the academic boards, programming committees and the administration itself. Some dismiss undergraduate ideas and initiatives because they see students as “renewable resources” that can easily be replaced after four years. But the rapid turnover rate is even more of a reason to embrace student leadership and vision. Undergraduates may burn quickly but they also burn brightly, defending the traditions that brought them to Georgetown in the first place while devising and promoting the innovative improvements that our university needs.
In the end, it comes down to this: What is the purpose of Georgetown University? If the main goal of Georgetown is to bring forth new research, then Georgetown should be built around professors. But if Georgetown stopped funding research tomorrow, it would still be a teaching university. If the first objective of Georgetown is efficiency and monetary stability, then Georgetown should be modeled around administrators.
If, however, the ultimate purpose of Georgetown is the betterment of students, then student wants, desires and needs should be the foremost concern. Without students Georgetown is no longer a university: A great institute of knowledge, perhaps, but not a university, for a university is defined by its students.
The heart of Georgetown is its undergraduate student body: they are the blood that rushes through it, providing nourishment and energy so it can thrive. For too long Georgetown has focused on its exterior: New buildings, new money, international prestige. It is time for the bloodletting to end: Let the heart beat freely again. Return the power to the students and let them dream unhindered. Then, when the stifling smoke dissipates from campus, our university will be able to breathe freely again.
Michael Fischer is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be contacted at[email protected]. POSTSCRIPT appears every other Tuesday.
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