Before I set up my bed or hung up my clothes, I placed a container of fresh dates on the gently whirring AC system of my freshman dorm room.
After my parents left, flying 3,000 miles from one coast to the other, all that remained in my room were suitcases — and the box of dates. For the rest of my first year of college, my mother bought dates and sent them to me from the local Persian market where I grew up in Los Angeles.
To an outsider, the tradition might seem excessive. Why did I not just buy dates at a nearby grocery store? Simply put, the reason my family sent me those reminders of home is the same reason I traveled so far from it. Locations have significance; we believe in a difference in quality depending on where we encounter a product or experience. I can’t have the same Georgetown University education without physically being in Georgetown.
Many students’ decisions to come to Georgetown similarly stem from its location in the capital, world-class facilities and campus life diversity, which all add priceless value to the university’s education. With online instruction, this quality has been significantly affected and, as such, reflecting those changes by reducing tuition is not only just but logical.
There is, undoubtedly, a problem with my belief that certain experiences derive a measure of their quality from where they are experienced: privilege. My privilege to pursue higher education and to do so wherever I wished. Regardless of a student’s privilege, all colleges with a campus derive a portion of their character from their physical institutions. You cannot recreate a full college experience without a college campus, just as you cannot recreate the taste of the dates my mother carefully wrapped with her jasmine-perfumed arthritic hands with those from a chain store.
A college’s charm stems from its physical whereabouts. Impromptu cram sessions in lounges yield the best late-night conversations, and I would never have befriended people from different faiths and hometowns if not for New South Hall’s cookie nights. Performances and sports games unite the school. A campus is what makes a college a home.
These Georgetown qualities hold special emotional value in the hearts and minds of students. And in terms of financial value, the physicality of a college campus holds undeniable academic and extracurricular value that cannot be recreated online. I am, of course, incredibly grateful to have professors who adjusted their plans and remained supportive during this unprecedented time, but sympathy aside, virtual substitutes could not replace certain aspects of the curriculum. Students could not enjoy laboratories or performance spaces, which benefit their knowledge. The COVID-19 pandemic also rendered most students’ volunteer opportunities obsolete, in addition to taking away access to city-based internships. The quality of the classes is not the same, and students cannot be as engaged in their schoolwork as in their usual campus environment. Additionally, most students have vastly different home lives, especially during the pandemic.
Students should not have to pay the same amount for an unequal educational experience. If Georgetown administrators do not adjust tuition for another online semester, they are suggesting that the only thing students pay for is class content, which can often be found online for free or transferred for a fraction of the price. Not adjusting the tuition would render the resources, culture and location of Georgetown worthless.
I accept why Georgetown kept its tuition rate the same for the remainder of this past school year, only refunding housing and dining plans; everyone and everything, including schools, is reeling from the consequences of health-mandated measures and economic recession. I am grateful to Georgetown for remaining empathetic and visible during this time. Yet, I am also concerned. When discussing opening campuses in the fall, I cannot know if part of the motivation to bring students back would stem from the school’s desire to keep the tuition rate the same. Unchanged tuition during another online semester would suggest students are mostly paying for a name. Although I’m sympathetic to how difficult it would be to redistribute funds to keep the school year going with less income from tuition, Georgetown risks more financial loss from the sizable portion of its student population that would transfer or opt for a gap semester if they do not prioritize students during this pivotal time.
I believe the physical quality and resources of a campus add something to my education, just as I prize my mother’s dates because they came from home. My parents themselves immigrated to the United States for better educational opportunities. This understanding of the importance of one’s environment echoes a quote I used in my last essay of the school year, from Tayeb Salih’s “Season of Migration to the North”: “Over there is like here, neither better nor worse. But I am from here, just as the date palm standing in the courtyard of our house has grown in our house and not in anyone else’s.”
It is one thing to consider dates from two different places the same; it is something else to equate online education with a full college experience. If Georgetown does not adjust tuition rates for an online semester, then it discredits the value of normal in-class education and fails students with less privilege who can not afford to buy that lie.
Saba Nia is a sophomore in the College.