Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Lack of Institutional Memory Dooms Clubs to Repeating Past

Being a history major is depressing. Don’t get me wrong. The department is excellent. Unfortunately they’ve done too good a job, showing me how the study of history can be put to use. Sadly, I’ve seen how little it is used within the confines of the university. History, the study of past events, looks for trends to understand why the events happened. Too often, students involved in activities, trying to make an impact, ignore the past. Undergraduates, on the whole, lack institutional memory, which is why we have so difficult a time influencing the life of this university in a more than trivial manner. This is the key to success and the reason why student groups with this trait succeed brilliantly, while others founder.

How many organizations are you involved in that can recount their history (read: past failures, mistakes, successes, triumphs – from more than three years past)? How many make a concerted effort not to repeat yesterday’s mistakes and make even stronger the successes of yesteryear? Without institutional memory, student groups and movements (those lucky to last longer than a year or two) are caught in a cycle, whereby every few years the good and bad of yesterday is forgotten, to be recreated in an originally unproductive way. There are three student organizations proving this point: The Corp, Mask & Bauble and GUSA. The first two are exceptions, while the third is sadly the rule.The Corp has existed for roughly 30 years, influencing the life of university students since its inception. Starting small, it has grown into a supermarket, video store, coffee shop and more, giving back to Georgetown along the way. Why so successfully, however? The Corp is a business and its leadership realizes that to serve the community effectively, it must understand what has and hasn’t worked before. Corp Travel closed because the Internet was taking away business and it’s doubtful that in four years the Corp will suddenly open a new travel agency. Instead, drawing on past strengths, the Corp may open a third coffee shop, because the first two proved so fruitful. This organization rarely makes mistakes twice because its leadership has a sense of history, looking not just short term, in their career at Georgetown, but beyond their time here.

Mask & Bauble impacts Georgetown, not because it puts on worthwhile productions, but because it does this year after year, without fail. This doesn’t happen because it consistently reinvents the wheel. To become a member of M&B and lead the organization, you have to participate in a minimum number of productions. Those who participate before membership, gain insight from those who have been involved for years. In a lot of organizations, new leadership means new goals and means of operation but not at Mask & Bauble. Look at the College Democrats or Republicans, which rise or fall based on the quality of their leadership. I doubt either group can describe what events were great and which ones failed over a year or two ago. Their leadership works hard, but without looking at the past in order to look forward, how smart are they working?

Where these groups succeed, GUSA stumbles. Being a former representative, I have an intimate knowledge of this. Motivated students become involved in the Assembly, committees, or the presidency, without looking backwards and seeing what’s worked and what hasn’t, in order to effectively look forwards and positively influence Georgetown. Year after year, students become involved and are left with little past guidance. They have great ideas, but rarely know which have been tried in what ways. One example is the test bank, which GUSA representatives and committees have tried throughout the years to implement. It was discussed my freshman and junior year. Junior year, did those interested ask what had been done before (maybe learning from some of the lessons and road blacks of freshman year)? No. Did those working on this issue freshman year think to see what had been done before? No. The idea has floundered, because the institutional memory was not present. In three years when a student thinks a test bank would be smart, will they look to the past (i.e. GUSA records, Hoya archives)? The turnover in GUSA makes it apt for this problem, but what if those involved took more time to ask themselves what happened a few years ago, instead of looking at the single year ahead or behind. Without this institutional memory, how will GUSA ever look forward with open eyes?

The solution to this problem is difficult and long term. In whatever facets of campus we are involved, we must make the effort to see our clubs, teams and movements for what they truly can be. (They do not have to be fleetingly successful, but only if we look backwards and forwards with a farther glance.) Look through old Hoyas and other publications. Ask alumni what your organization was like in their day, and if you aren’t in contact with any alumni, starting making the effort. Along with this, try to keep alumni informed about the comings and goings of your organizations and ask for advice. Most importantly, don’t assume that younger members will remember the lessons you’ve learned. A focus on institutional memory, not harping on the past, but using it as a tool, is one way to insure what we love now will become a long-term part of the community.

Aaron Kass is a senior in the College.

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