Georgetown students are a worldly bunch. While a modest 12 percent of the student body lives overseas, most would agree that many Georgetown students – no doubt thanks to the financial situation of their parents – frequently travel either across the pond or south to Latin America. In addition, more than 58 percent of Georgetown students spend part of their undergraduate experience overseas. Judging from conversations I’ve had with friends and classmates, many students are going to programs in South America, Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East.
Many are shunning the traditional study abroad spots in Europe, like Madrid or Paris, for more unique experiences in countries ranging from Botswana to Chile to Nepal. While some of my friends going to these destinations are just looking for a more unique experience than locales such as France and Spain, others tell me they want an opportunity to see first hand the global economic inequalities that still define the world.
In fact, I’m sure this desire is a factor for many Georgetown students when choosing their study abroad destinations. It is reassuring to know that many students are concerned with the world around them. What many Georgetown students, and our peers around the country, lack, however, is an understanding or desire to study the economic inequality that exists right here in the United States.
It’s hard to fault individuals for this. After all, it is definitely more exciting to travel to sub-Saharan Africa to look at poverty rather than the 15 minutes it takes to get to the other side of D.C. And there is no denying that other states face political and economic instabilities that are a constant threat to their populations. Somalia – long considered one of the world’s most troubled nations – has been in a perpetual civil war since 1991, and has gained notoriety recently for the number of pirates that operate off of its coast. The life expectancy of an individual born in the country is a dismal 49 years.
While taking nothing away from the dire situation in Somalia, however, we must admit that it is easier to face inequality in a foreign land where someone else is at fault than to see it in our own backyard and have to question our own role in its perpetuation.
As bad as Somalia is, there are equally depressing communities located right here within the United States.
A small patch of land located in South Dakota is home to the one of the Western hemisphere’s lowest life expectancies, with the average male living a dishearteningly short 47 years. This area, home to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is one of the poorest communities in the United States. Unemployment on the reservation is near 80 percent, and the adolescent suicide rate is 150 percent higher than the national average.
Indian reservations aren’t the only parts in the United States that could use more attention. From communities in parts of Appalachia in the East to Skid Row in Los Angeles in the West, there are countless rural and urban areas of the country that are currently neglected.
Granted, there are Georgetown students and groups that work to correct these issues. Many Georgetown students spend spring breaks in Appalachia volunteering in various communities, or in New Orleans helping to rebuild a desperate city. Furthermore, Georgetown is the third highest contributor recruits to Teach For America, a great program trying to correct the current economic injustice in education.
More, though, can be done. While Georgetown should not abandon its pursuit of educating students in international affairs, students would benefit from better understanding the inequities that exist right here in this country. It’s easy to fault countries thousands of miles away for poor economic policies or their inability to bring marginalized groups into the modern economy. But what if your own country suffers from the same problems? Hopefully, both Georgetown faculty and students will work to better answer this question in the future.
John Thornburgh is a senior in the College. He can be reached at [email protected]. Worldwise appears every other Tuesday.
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