Georgetown is at its best when its faculty and administrators partner with students during their educational journeys. I have witnessed this phenomenon — both inside and outside of the classroom — countless times over my five short years on the Hilltop.
Creating meaningful, sustainable change is hard work. Yet, the great ideas of Georgetown students have often permanently changed the Hilltop. Changes to the way Georgetown responds to sexual assault and teaches bystander intervention were led by student activism. The creation of La Casa Latina and a full-time staff member to support Hoyas without documentation were also efforts led by students. There are many examples of effective student efforts and, in my opinion, there are three integral catalysts for these changes: passion, partnership and perseverance.
In fall 2015, Jacy Neczypor (NHS ’18) and Jaclynne Nader (NHS ’18) presented an idea while in professor Joan Riley’s “Health Promotion and Disease Prevention” class: to start a pre-orientation program for students interested in health. This program would immerse students in the Washington, D.C. community and expose them to concepts like health disparities and social justice in a way that reaffirms our Jesuit values. Impressed by their proposal, Riley encouraged the students to pursue the idea.
Neczypor and Nader began breathing life into their idea, calling it CURA, the Latin word for “care.” Over the next year, they — with faculty support — did everything possible to transform this idea into a working program, and in December 2016 we were notified that the program had been approved for a fall 2017 launch. We continued to refine the program and established partnerships both on campus and in the greater D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area. We collaborated with the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington to find a space in the community for our students to have direct access to those most in need. Georgetown’s Office of Mission and Ministry worked with us to flesh out how we could use the Examen as a tool to reflect on the day’s events. The LGBTQ Resource Center helped us develop space for participants to reflect on their own identities and learn about identities different than their own. CURA would not be what it is today without all of these integral partnerships.
On Aug. 20, CURA officially launched. Two coordinators, five student leaders and 15 participants spent the next five days learning about health care issues, social justice, themselves and each other. Words cannot capture the stark contrast between the anxious, somewhat forced smiles on the first day and the laughter filling Copley Crypt the last evening of the program. The experience was transformative for everyone involved.
As Nader described the program, “The totality of these experiences forced all of us outside of our comfort zone to the margins of society where we worked with the most vulnerable populations. From dynamic seminars on identity and inclusion to conversations around health disparities, CURA fostered an environment that allowed students to grow in empathy as part of a community that will continue over their entire undergraduate career.”
At times, building this program was uncomfortable, exhausting and left us feeling raw. Emotions ran high, and there were moments where we looked at each other across the table and thought, “Is all of this worth it?”
Yet, reflecting on our journey, it was an absolute privilege to ride along as two passionate students took an idea, partnered with exceptional, generous people, persevered through challenges and saw their dream come to life. This success represents the incredible potential of student-led efforts, particularly when they have the support of faculty. We leaned into the discomfort, uncertainty and sheer amount of work, coming out on the other side forever changed and having hopefully made Georgetown just a little better.
Justin Smith is an assistant dean of academic affairs in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. From the Dean’s Desk appears online every other Thursday.