Bill Doyle, chairman of Georgetown University’s capital campaign, once said that it is Georgetown’s soul that sets her apart. But what is the state of this soul? Are Georgetown’s students living up to their Jesuit identity, which expects students to challenge societal norms, question the status quo and, most importantly, engage tensions?
In his inaugural address titled, “Engaging the Tensions, Living the Questions,” President DeGioiacemented Georgetown’s character as an epicenter of tensions.
Recently, this necessary complexity has come into sharp relief. First, it was apparent in the very public resignation of professor Patrick Deneen because of (among other things) a feeling of isolation due to his intellectual and Catholic values. The recent decision of the Obama administration to require insurance plans at Catholic institutions covering birth control without co-payments, which has since been revised, only added fuel to the fire surrounding the question of Georgetown’s Jesuit identity.
These controversies are of secondary importance, however. To paint an accurate picture of the state of Georgetown’s soul, one must look at its students. This state of affairs on the Hilltop is a sad one indeed, in particular with regard to the nature of love and relationships on campus.
The prevailing relationship culture on campus is one that runs away from — one that denies — tensions. We students are ardently averse to intimacy. We fear the possibility of failure at best and the realization of time wasted at worst. We fear real romantic interaction. We are, in a phrase, terrified of dating.
Generally speaking, there is no dating culture on campus. The notion of asking an acquaintance out for coffee or a drink, or even dinner, is close to unthinkable. We perceive this sort of activity as reserved for people with whom we might actually prepare to take the relationship plunge.
Between five classes, internships and extracurricular activities, who has time to date? In our weekly senior Capstone course , the topic was discussed in detail. Few of the men, and none of the women, had ever asked someone out on a date. Instead, the typical romantic interaction involved random encounters on the dance floors of local bars, with the potential, albeit unlikely, for a repeat the following weekend.
What was alarming was just how unsettling this reality was for the group of seniors. All of them admitted to the honest vulnerability of wishing that our campus culture were more conducive to dating. Not dating with the end goal of a hookup. Not dating with the end goal of a serious relationship. But dating with the end goal of dating in itself — spending time with someone in order to actually get to know him or her, to determine whether the possibility for real romance existed.
The core of a Jesuit education is learning to be comfortable with and to engage tensions. These tensions are made manifest in courses like “The Problem of God,” “International Business Ethics” and “Culture and Politics.” These are tensions that require us to step outside of our comfort zones and explore the possibilities of learning, understanding and trying to grasp questions that we know have no right answers.
But this practice stops when we exit the classroom. In our personal lives, the important tensions — the awkward conversation on a first date, the risky first kiss or even the very human emotion of vulnerability — are cast aside, purposefully shunted in order to avoid embarrassment or failure.
Campus controversies revolve around practical considerations — a great professor leaving or whether university health insurance should cover contraceptives. But the real tensions that need to be questioned and engaged are those that extend beyond the purview of what Georgetown as an institution can influence. The real tensions tread in the realm of the average student’s capacity and desire to feel real love and to engage in sincere romance.
It is incumbent on us as students to break the immature mold that predisposes us to insignificant flings. To grow as people, we must collectively acknowledge the soul of our alma mater — a place where tensions are engaged, no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel.
Mike Meaney is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and Matthew Hoyt is a senior in the College. They are the president and director of communications of the Georgetown University Student Association, respectively. THE STATE OF NATURE appears every other Tuesday.