We see the legacy of Georgetown’s Jesuits everywhere: all over the historic buildings, on the inscriptions, in the mottos and banners that hang across our campus and in the people we meet everyday. Jesuit Heritage Week is our opportunity to reflect on what has been passed down to us by the Society of Jesus, by St. Ignatius of Loyola and by the great men who have turned our little Hilltop into a site of global importance.
Theoretically, the School of Foreign Service should be the shining example of the values held by Georgetown as a Jesuit university. Fr. Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., recognized that these Jesuit values, combined with the history and unique position of our beloved school, necessitated an institution to train Catholic diplomats.
Unfortunately, the SFS has strayed from its mission for the sake of attaining unquestionable academic excellence. Our university in general has been abandoning its traditional role as a beacon for the humanities, and the core curriculum of the SFS leaves very little room for its ambitious and eager students to ask, “Why is the world this way?” We are instead forced to sit through class after class that asserts how the world functions.
We cover game theory as if it were the theory of gravity, and we hear the names of the world’s most controversial thinkers, such as Marx, Hayek, Kant and St. Thomas Aquinas, without ever truly delving into their ideologies and influence. The only times I ever found myself actually in deep thought were in the few courses I had with discussion sections. “Political and Social Thought” was my favorite course at Georgetown precisely because professor Mitchell provoked discussion and forced his students to form opinions.
Yes, it is important that one learn about what the world is like before asking how it can or should be changed. But the academic culture here at Georgetown suppresses the very ambition and intellectual hunger that would otherwise be brought to its full potential. Their absences leave us yearning for more. Georgetown students crave debate, discussion and controversial thinking. We all have passionate and fierce opinions. But that desire to seek absolutes — to argue about what is right and what is wrong — is neither cultivated nor encouraged.
Clear evidence of this reality is the heavy involvement of Georgetown undergraduates in campus groups. Unable to find what they should be getting in the classroom, students devote more time to their extracurricular activities than they do to studying. They attempt to recreate the kind of intellectual environment that they do not find in the classroom by dedicating their time to groups outside of it. Intellectual forums flourish because they offer truly intellectual experiences. Advocacy and political groups abound because students want to show that they believe in something without challenging concepts or being challenged themselves.
The particular academic culture of the SFS will undoubtedly impact the future success of an institution that once thrived because of its unique Jesuit identity. SFS students learn about innovative theories and ideas in all international fields, but merely memorizing and regurgitating those different ideals is not the same as being on the cutting edge of the field.
Recreating the atmosphere spearheaded by the Jesuit community would again unleash the ambition and desire to ask “why?” not just in SFS students, but in students from all four schools. We would once again become the innovators, grounded in a humanizing liberal arts education, instead of the first to learn about what others are doing.
Jesuit Heritage Week should remind us all that our Jesuit identity should be more than a legacy that we look back upon. It should be the reality that compels us to “go out and set the world on fire.” Without it, we would only go out and watch the world burn.
Kevin Sullivan is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.