I’ll confess that I’ve always been amused by people who say we need an official language in the United States. ultilingualism, they warn, undermines – and may ultimately destroy – English as we know it.
Who are they kidding? English is dead, and we killed it. In our centuries-long march toward a less formal, more functional way to communicate, we took the language that once conveyed the beautiful genius of Shakespeare and crammed it inelegantly into a few modern codes of usage that shred away the very essence of English.
Of these, perhaps none is a greater offender than AP Style – the turgid, passionless prose in which most journalism in the United States (including that in The Hoya) is written. On everything from sentence structure to abbreviations to where to place commas, AP Style tells journalists, “Don’t think about it too hard. Just check the book.”
Sure, I understand that journalism needs to be accessible to readers, and I suppose that AP Style, with its mindless consistency, ensures clarity in all of our writing.
I can’t help but feel, though, that AP Style is just a bit out of place as the official language of journalism – a trade whose highest obligation is, after all, to make people think harder.
I love Georgetown, but it’s far from perfect. And its biggest problems run a bit deeper than the food at Leo’s or gaps in the GUTS bus schedule. Editing the student paper for a semester doesn’t qualify one to say exactly what those problems are, but it’s at least given me a way to think about them.
Georgetown isn’t as wealthy as its peers – not a problem in its own right, perhaps. But it means that the university can’t afford to meet every student’s financial need, so students who aren’t as well off are less likely to come here.
Georgetown is a Catholic university in the 21st century, but isn’t entirely sure what that means. Hanging big blue posters emblazoned with Jesuit mottoes around campus is good. But on the questions and conflicts that divide Catholic scholars today, in both the Church and academia, Georgetown prefers to stay silent.
And perhaps worst of all from a journalist’s point of view, Georgetown is secretive.
On everything from finances to construction to how it punishes student conduct violations, the prevailing attitude at Georgetown is to give the public less information, not more – a creed exemplified by the hermit-like behavior of the university president.
My time at The Hoya has given me a unique appreciation for the university’s propensity to conceal information. In every attempt I made to shine some light on those decisions that might be behind some of Georgetown’s problems – in other words, to discover the truth and tell people – I soon learned to measure progress in inches, not miles, knowing that the true substance of vital public knowledge might always be just beyond our reach.
So it frustrated me all the more when students got in on the act. From my earliest days as a roving Hoya reporter, I remember student leaders, suspicious of the paper’s intentions and worried about how some unsought publicity might endanger their own causes and concerns, dancing around reality in interviews and feeding me quotes that only a spin doctor could love.
It’s understandable why students go into self-defense mode in their encounters with the press, I guess. The College Democrats and College Republicans do it because they’re convinced they’re right about everything. The Corp and the Credit Union do it because they have businesses to run. GUSA does it because . OK, I’m still not really sure why they do.
But I would hope that those of you in positions of student leadership on campus see that The Hoya’s aggressiveness and relentless questioning aim to serve a greater good. I hope that you would lead by an example of openness and honesty, the example on which university leaders so routinely fail. Have the intellectual courage to tell the truth and be open to skepticism, even when that’s difficult.
Of course, it may sometimes seem that the work we do is too negative, that it attacks out of nowhere and tears things down at Georgetown where other people are trying to build them up. We’re aware of our reputation as an occasional campus killjoy.
Maybe The Hoya makes you happy, and maybe The Hoya makes your blood boil. Maybe you cut out our articles and tape them to your wall, and maybe you vent your undying hatred for all that we stand for on an Internet message board somewhere.
All I hope is that The Hoya challenges you to think harder about this place where you live and what your role is while you are here. I hope that it lives up, in some small measure, to that noble principle that journalism was intended to serve: to challenge people to become better citizens.
It’s not an easy task, and it never will be. The same administrators who labor so arduously against the public’s right to know also stand in the way of the one achievement that would advance that right most forcefully on our campus: a completely independent Hoya.
But it’s good that it’s hard. It should be hard, because it’s worth the fight. It will always be worth the fight to question those leaders at Georgetown who hide our university’s shortcomings behind a steady stream of rose-colored assessments from the communications office, and whose unwillingness to even speak honestly about the problems we all face betrays a saddening disrespect for the level of sophistication on our campus.
And that’s why, at day’s end, we all have an interest in making this newspaper better than it is now. A better Hoya means just that: better Hoyas. Better citizens of Georgetown University, better equipped to do what is necessary to move that place closer to its founding ideals.
So make sure that we keep reaching for that goal. The day we stop is the day you should stop reading The Hoya. And never, ever stop asking the questions that challenge people to think harder, because what you’ll discover always makes for a good story – in whatever language.
Except AP Style. Man, how I hate AP Style.
Stephen Santulli is a junior in the College and the outgoing editor in chief of The Hoya.