Thirty years ago, 14 students and seven leaders embarked on the inaugural First Year Orientation to Community Involvement program at Georgetown University. Put together by the Center for Social Justice in 1986, the program has since more than tripled to its current size of 54 participants and 16 leaders per year.
FOCI celebrated its 30th anniversary March 28 by bringing together students, faculty, alumni and friends for a day of activities, including an alumni reflection panel, a FOCI service activity and an evening reception and gala.
The intensive, week-long pre-orientation program is open to incoming freshmen and transfer students and is a chance for first years to immerse themselves in Washington, D.C., through the promotion of social justice and community service.
Monica Gibbons (NHS ’16), a FOCI leader captain in 2014, said that the program pushes students to go beyond campus and encounter the city in a way that brings about solidarity and emphasizes social justice in the larger community.
“The goal of FOCI is to bring a diverse group of students from all over the country and with different backgrounds to a week of learning about the city that they are about to be immersed into for the next four years, and to look at the issues that the places in the city that you are about to live in face,” Gibbons said.
Center for Social Justice Associate Director Ray Shiu said that FOCI allows for students’ personal growth before they even step foot in a classroom at Georgetown.
“FOCI participants actively engage in community service; discover and reflect on the diverse populations, perspectives, and roles in the Georgetown and D.C. communities; develop the capacity for leadership; and become part of a community committed to personal growth through service and reflection,” Shiu said. “FOCI’s activities address a wide variety of social justice issues.”
FOCI was founded in 1986 after the idea was proposed by a group of Georgetown students, including Dr. Mark Fox (CAS ’87), who was inspired to propose a program after attending a service and community engagement conference at Princeton University.
FOCI leader Tessa Pulaski (SFS ’15) said that preserving the program’s history at this milestone is an important task.
“Thirty years means we have been involved in trying to get Georgetown students more off campus and more into D.C. for a long time,” Pulaski said. “Thirty years is a good time to think about what the future of the program will bring because a lot of the program has been built off of really strong institutional backgrounds. I hope that moving forward, we keep that history super close.”
Pulaski also said that the program is highly valued at Georgetown, serving as a place where close relationships among participants and leaders are formed.
“I think it tries to start difficult conversations before you even get to Georgetown about race, class, privilege,” Pulaski said. “It tries to expedite these conversations that might happen for Georgetown students only during their junior or senior years. I think FOCI can bring in a very diverse group of people that makes the conversation start happening at an earlier time, and I think these are critical conversations to be having.”
The FOCI community remains large and expansive, consisting of both current students and alumni. Several FOCI alumni are professors at Georgetown, including Soyica Colbert (COL ’01), Brian McCabe (SFS ’02) and Dinaw Mengestu (COL ’00). Meanwhile, many other alumni have pursued careers in social justice.
Daniel Wassim (SFS ‘18), a participant of FOCI this past year, said the program has been influential in shaping his future at Georgetown.
“FOCI provided me with meaningful friendships even before orientation, and it undoubtedly shaped my journey here at Georgetown by instilling in me a sense of duty for my community,” Wassim said.