Although I dearly miss many aspects of life on Georgetown University’s campus, hearing my fellow students brag about how much time they spent cooped up in Lauinger Library or how little sleep they got is not one of them.
While I am certainly guilty of acting like school is a competition over how much work one can get done before they pass out from exhaustion and sleep deprivation, we as a community must now come together to recognize how harmful this language really is. To do so, we must interrogate why we feel so compelled to brag about pushing ourselves to our breaking points.
Georgetown community members and administrators must acknowledge what harm this mindset, known as internalized capitalism, does to community members in order to foster an environment that values peoples’ humanity over their productivity.
Capitalism is a system that prioritizes profits over the well-being and dignity of people. While this statement may seem extreme, in reality, it is a truth universally internalized without many people even realizing it. While this system may not always be obvious to us because capitalism is so pervasive in American culture, we continuously act in a way that perpetuates this system.
In an interview with Vox, Malcolm Harris, an author who writes about how economics affects the behavior of young people, said young people have “internalized the drive to produce as much as [they] can for as little as possible.”
Capitalism is such a ubiquitous facet of American life that we have come to believe self-satisfaction comes mainly from one’s life at work. What makes internalized capitalism so insidious is its tendency to make us question our own worth as people if we are not productive. Internalized capitalism fuels the stress culture at Georgetown with which so many of us take issue.
As students at Georgetown surrounded by high-achieving peers, we are expected and compelled to sacrifice our health and wellness to do well in classes, be leaders of clubs and do good for our wider community. While these are noble goals, internalized capitalism forces students to work until they are at their breaking point for all the wrong reasons. Instead of having the opportunity to intentionally invest our time in causes we care about, we are forced into an endless cycle of long nights and never-ending to-do lists.
We feel like we have to work so hard to achieve this unattainable expectation of what it means to be a student at Georgetown. Associating our place in this community with productivity is incredibly damaging, as students feel like they do not deserve rest until they have been productive enough.
As a community, we need to interrogate where our self-worth should come from and how that differs from how we actually determine our value as people. It should not take 10 hours in Lau and four hours of sleep a night for us to feel like we are valuable people. I worry that students have lost sight of their inherent value and dignity that comes with being human. While we should be proud of the work we accomplish and be willing to discuss with our peers when we fall short of our goals, our relative success should never define us.
If we allow this mindset to continue, students will view their shortcomings in academics or extracurriculars as personal failures, damaging their sense of self. Students need to actively remind themselves that their worth does not depend on their productivity.
Attitudes of internalized capitalism ultimately undermine one of Georgetown’s core values, cura personalis, or care of the whole person. While students hear this phrase often from administrators, it is important for students to hear explicitly that their worth to Georgetown is inherent and unconditional, not dependent on the work they do while at Georgetown. From the moment students enter this community, they need to know that someone is looking out for them no matter how well they are doing in school.
To achieve this vision, administrators must encourage professors to be flexible with students and expand mental health resources so every student has the chance to build a healthy sense of self that does not depend on how much they can accomplish on any given day.
Completely rejecting internalized capitalism is a massive task that will require collective effort, but there are things we can do at individual and institutional levels to help alleviate the burdens of this harmful mindset. Being a student should be a rich and fulfilling experience, not one that causes constant stress and anxiety. We need to work toward formulating a culture that encourages curiosity and passion over being productive for productivity’s sake.
The Georgetown experience should be so much more than a completed checklist; it should encourage growth and personal development that will ultimately make us better stewards of compassion, generosity and justice.
Erin Casey is a sophomore in the College.