When I am working in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and as a tour guide, I am often asked to explain why I chose Georgetown University to prospective students and families. I typically share an anecdote about meeting compassionate staff and ambitious students and explain how excited I was for the opportunities in Washington, D.C. Upon reflecting on my Georgetown experience as a new graduate, however, I have come to realize the important role that history and values have played in shaping my experience.
I came to Georgetown with the goal of learning how to support and advocate for America’s Black and Brown communities as they endure years of prejudice. I pursued a degree in international politics in the School of Foreign Service because I resonated with its call to action — its core principle that, to me, signifies so much more than diplomacy and international development.
For me, the word “foreign” suggests difference. It often refers to the unfamiliar “other” — the heritage that is unlike our own. But it also refers to an experience or a feeling that is new. For example, “foreign” is the discomfort we feel at the thought of change, and it was the uncertainty of this past year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Foreign was Georgetown’s first Black student, Samuel Halsey, walking into an all-white university in 1953, and it was me taking my first steps on campus in 2017. Attending a university like Georgetown as a Black student from a lower socioeconomic status, I always felt marked: a vulnerability that felt like wearing a winter coat in August—there was never a moment when I was not acutely aware of it.
The word “foreign,” however, is followed by “service,” which, to me, implies a duty to give back to others. It is a duty that I feel more strongly than my discomfort. So instead of being overcome by doubt, I used my vulnerability to connect people. I stepped up for the Track team and created a space to improve the group’s relationships. I was intentional about including others to live the change I wanted to see. I pushed for more Black and Brown representation in campus life and corporate spaces. Through my work, I aspired to address the history of exclusion on our campus and in our nation. I found an appreciation for service that sacrifices for the sake of others, like the student advocacy that reckons with the fact that members of our Georgetown community sold over 272 enslaved men, women and children to contribute to the financial stability of its main campus.
As students in the SFS, we are taught to see past ourselves and appreciate the vibrance of others — to recognize the potential of the unknown. Through our majors, we learn to weave together the disconnected pieces of our global community. We learn how to serve despite being unlike the people or causes we are fighting for. We immerse ourselves in cultures divergent from our own so we may grow and serve with compassion. The success I have found as a first-generation, low-income student-athlete is a testament to the fact that it makes a difference when others care for those unlike themselves.
Although theoretical readings, essays and course discussions may feel abstract, we can never forget that our studies impact real people who are counting on us. We can never forget there are adverse consequences when we fall short in our service, when we become so afraid that we hate what is unknown to us. The expansive list of Black victims of police brutality remind us so. I wish to dedicate my life in service to them and the cause they did not intend to die for. This means that while I still struggle from time to time with my identity, I harness my discomfort to connect and unite people — bringing “Black Georgetown” and inclusive authenticity to the mainstream campus environment. As difficult as the past four years may have been, it is an honor to reflect on my experience from the position of a Georgetown graduate. When you have grown up as that low-income Black kid from Los Angeles, coming to a place like Georgetown was a chance at something more, and it certainly has been. I am grateful for the friendships and support I have experienced as a student. I am excited for what the future will bring when we start working together.
Josiah Laney is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.