How much truth is there to a Blue and Gray tour?

Ed Note: This post originally contained language that, after talking to one of the tour guides, we realized was unnecessarily inflammatory and unmerited. We regret the error and have updated the post (new material is italicized). We’d also like to remind you that this was one writer’s impression of one tour and, per the disclosure at the top of the page, “Opinions expressed in posts are those of their author alone unless otherwise stated.”

Even as your laptop battery dies a slow death on the outlet-scarce 2nd floor of Lauinger this finals week, even as your appetite withers at the thought of another slice of Leo’s pizza, there is a group of dedicated Georgetown students working to show prospies the foible-free face of Georgetown and convince them to join your ranks: the Blue and Gray tour guides.

Smooth-talking and backwards-walking, their enthusiasm and (confirmed a B & G, University-scripted) spiel are often the clincher in a prospective student’s decision to send their tuition check to Georgetown. Inspired by Vice President of the College Democrats Fitz Lufkin’s (COL `11) April 24th Twitter post—”Bobby and I just hopped on a campus tour. Lies. All lies.”—I took a tour this morning, wondering just how much of the truth B & G thinks prospective students can handle.

Not much. That depends. While the tours have got some substance to them, B & G (whose talking points, a B & G tour guide confirmed, are pretty uniform and supplied by the University) spends a lot of its time treating Georgetown less like a school and more like a museum. Yes, every school fibs in its own special way as it attempts to woo prospies, but Georgetown may take the cake for number of white lies and oversights in any given tour and Georgetown’s tour is no big fat liar. They don’t claim that their dorms are palaces or that their housing lottery is perfect, but it’s my estimation that the average prospective student comes away knowing about as much about Georgetown as a historical institution as she knows about its amenities and student life combined. As you might expect, I left the tour with my ears ringing from half-truths The tour left future freshmen with some overly-rosy expectations and a lot of admittedly delightful Georgetown trivia (six Bill Clinton (SFS `68—did you know?) references, but only two Excorsist references and one Albright shoutout).

The tour follows a well-crafted route that takes prospective students and their parents through the prettiest parts of Georgetown before wending its way past Leo’s and the concrete backside of Village C. After starting at Whitegravenor, where we learned that the building was named after two Jesuits, we strolled across Copley Lawn, which the two B & G tour guides mercifully avoided referring to as ‘Copley Beach’ (to my knowledge, no one but the B & G has ever called any section of the front lawn ‘The Beach’ since their first semester except ironically). By the time we arrived at the front gates, we all knew what a Hoya was and had learned that walking Jack the Bulldog is, at $14 an hour, the highest paid job on campus. Oh, and he’s a total chick magnet.

From the front gates we checked out Poulton Hall, where Mask & Bauble performs. Referencing the oldest drama society in the country afforded the B & G tour guides their first opportunity for a name-drop: John Wilkes Booth was once loosely affiliated with them. The two guides discussed study abroad options before boasting about the University’s townhouses (fair) and revealed that the statue of John Carroll didn’t include a pile of books under his chair. Apparently, students used to enjoy putting bedpans under our founder’s bronze likeness.

Next, we took it to Healy Hall, where B & G takes its time encouraging non-Catholics that Georgetown offers diverse religious services and boasts a strong campus ministry. Unfortunately, tour guides quickly recoup this substantive use of tour time by pimping emphasizing the attraction Gaston Hall holds for famous speakers (Obama, Condoleeza Rice, and Mayor Bloomberg all got the nod, and it made for the first Bill Clinton reference of the tour) warning us all not to step on the Seal, and explaining that the cannons outside Healy are the only non-governmental artillery in D.C. pointed at the Capital.

Then we arrived at Lauinger. Lie time. Apparently, Georgetown’s library system is everything a student could want. And while Georgetown’s librarians and special collections are great, we all know that “access to Riggs, the most beautiful library on campus” during study days is not so much a good thing as it is a sad, sad commentary on the state of Georgetown’s student space. The tour guides went on to say that you can get Internet access anywhere on campus (that’s wireless or plug-in, and the tour guides were honest about the less-than-perfect wireless coverage). But adapters being the hassle that they are, and wireless being spotty as a dalmation, many Georgetown students would probably take issue with that statement.

We learned that Georgetown’s special collections owns the stub of one of Ulysses S. Grant’s cigar as we climbed the stairs to one of Village A’s rooftop apartments. Thankfully, substantive information-giving—about campus life, internships, and freshman housing—ensued as we walked past New South. Until we hit Leo’s.

Yes, said one of the B & G guides, Leo’s has great food. The tour guides are getting hungry just thinking about it. At most universities, students will tell you that the food is “okay,” but you won’t find a student saying that here, because they love it. Admitting that not all students are enamored of what Leo’s has to offer, the tour guides emphasized that Aramark is always adding new things to the menu because they’re all about variety and “Leo’s is very, very good at listening to student suggestions.” In other words, Leo’s must really test the mettle of a Blue and Gray tour guide. Today’s guides seemed sincere in their evaluation of Georgetown’s only cafeteria, but this part of the tour surely forces some to lie through their teeth.

From then on, the tour began to focus more on student life. Blue and Gray pimped what you’d expect about the remaining sites on the tour: the behemoth marvel that is the all student-run Corp, the solar-panelled ICC, the bustle of Red Square, and the safety of Georgetown’s campus, which generally only sees “crimes of convenience.” But the tour still took typical digressions to allow for name-dropping, including five more Bill Clinton references. If you ever forget how many presidents have spoken from the steps of Old North, B & G can remind you.

Let it be known that I skipped the info session, and that B & G does provide a lot of information about the University. Nonetheless, should a campus tour really be about telling students that Bill Clinton totally went here and lived in Harbin? But given that Georgetown exists primarily as an educational institution—not a historical society—perhaps we could cut a couple of the fun presidential facts and focus more on the reality of student life.

Photo from Flickr user wallyg used under a Creative Commons license.

23 Comments on “How much truth is there to a Blue and Gray tour?

  1. +well what is Georgetown supposed to do, actually fix all these problems? its so much easier to just pretend like they don’t exist.+

  2. “The tour guides went on to say that you can get Internet access anywhere on campus. Uh huh.”

    What are you talking about? Of course you can. With an iPhone.

  3. I’m supposed to be getting paid for walking Jack? News to me…

  4. Molly,

    Not really a fan of this entry. You really build it up as if there are tons of lies, and then the only two places you really mention lies are talking about Leo’s and Lauinger.

    On Leo’s, I disagree with you. Yes, it’s no Citronelle, but generally the food is pretty good (better than the food at most universities where my friends go). Over the four years I’ve been here, the food has improved immeasurably — and I know from a friend who goes to the Food Committee meetings that they really do listen to student concerns. If you show up and say “I want a panini machine” or “I want an ice cream bar” or “I want a made-to-order sub stand” or whatever, they’ll listen. Chicken Finger Thursdays became a tradition because students said “I like this.” They hugely increased vegan and vegetarian options because of student requests, as well as improved the quality of the cold cuts. I think Leo’s gets a bad reputation because it’s a cafeteria. The fact that it’s a cafeteria itself makes it less appetizing. Independently, the food is not that bad — definitely not so bad that it counts as “lies” or even stretching the truth for someone to say they like it. I think you’re vastly stretching the truth by making it sound hellish. People make fun of university dining halls, it’s as stale a stereotype as any found in Animal House.

    About Lau… Yeah, some of that may be stretching the truth, but Lau is another thing that students complain about that isn’t really THAT BAD. What, are they going to say “There aren’t enough electrical sockets and the Internet is spotty?” Maybe they leave out a few details, but I hardly think this counts as a lie-fest and I’m sure it’s no worse than at every other university. It sounds like you want B&G to go out of its way to point out the things that students don’t like. There are things that frustrate me about Georgetown, too, but I absolutely love the place. I’d much rather have our representatives present a rosy vision of Georgetown than one tinged by negativism.

    So yeah, I think you blow this way out of proportion. It’s a slight positive spin on the school, but I didn’t really hear that much in the way of “lies,” it sounds like you just think that reflexive student grumbling about “the caf” and “the library” and “homework” should be treated as “the real Georgetown.”

  5. I’ve been a B&G guide for 3 years now. Through this experience, I can guarantee you that no two tours are the same. Tour content depends on many things – where you’ve lived on campus, what kind of social scene you’re into, which school you’re in, how long it’s been since you’ve read the tour guide packet (about 2 years for me…), whether or not you like Leos (I’m convinced that I’m the only person on campus that likes that place – I sincerely love it), what random references you remember along the way, etc, etc. Even my own tours between my freshman year and now have changed drastically.

    All I’m trying to say is you can’t really judge tours by going on just one. Every tour guide presents his/her own personal, dynamic Georgetown experience and you can imagine how people can see our school from many differing perspectives. I feel like you might’ve gotten a younger guide on your tour – my tours have morphed into something very different from that tour guide packet I was given a few years ago.

    Oh and fyi, I tell my prospectives that while everyone hates Leos, I love it and have missed my meal plan dearly since moving off campus. And I rarely mention our favorite presidential alum

  6. Molly,
    I understand your frustration at some of the things said on the tour. As a tour guide I wanted to point out some things. The excessive name dropping of Bill Clinton probably came from a guide who is heavily invested in politics. Blue and Gray tries to pick guides who have a diverse range of interests and experiences they can draw on during tours. Not every guide will mention Bill Clinton frequently in tours (full disclosure: they’ll probably mention him once). Also, its important to keep in mind that although many students are disillusioned with Leo’s and frankly, despise it, not all students feel this way. Vegan and vegetarians hopefully don’t feel that way, Leo’s has won awards from PETA for its vegan/vegetarian cuisine. Guides are also should mention other options for eating on and off campus.

    Blue and Gray runs Quality Control on tours throughout the semester to try to combat false representations and fact-check guides (such as the wireless comment, guides are not told to say the whole campus is wireless, because it’s not). Guides are encouraged to be honest on tours but they are also asked to present situations from a glass-half-full perspective. No one wants to have a cynical tour guide on university tours. Despite your review of the tour, would you or many more proud Georgetown students be even more offended if a tour guide pointed out what’s BAD about Georgetown?

    I think Hoyas are a proud bunch of students who truly love Georgetown despite some minor grievances. Blue and Gray attracts the most enthusiastic students who volunteer their time to give tours to portray to prospective students why they love Georgetown. Personally, I think they do a great job.

  7. To be fair, with six Bill Clinton references, the tour only beats this blog post by two.

  8. The tours are most certainly NOT scripted. The route is set and the facts are as well (obviously, you can’t give tours if you aren’t briefed on the facts), but the delivery of those facts, which ones a guide chooses to mention, when they are mentioned, etc. are entirely up to the guide.

    Also, most of your criticism is entirely subjective. I understand this is a blog, but your individual opinions absolutely do not represent those of the entire student body.

    Finally, our tour guides don’t lie, and I’m offended you would even suggest that. Tour guides aren’t paid in order to eliminate any incentive to lie on behalf of the school. We give our genuine opinions, we just do it diplomatically.

  9. Other people above have pointed out that the methodology of this blog research was flawed. It seems pretty darn obvious that Molly went into this “hopping on a tour” experience with her expectations set. Blue and Grey lies, she’s going to find the lies and put them online. As one person pointed out, it sounds like almost all of the tour was fine and she nitpicks two areas where, at most, the tour guide presented things more positively than the average student. (As someone else pointed out, this is just one student’s tour.)

    I really would say that you should take down this post, Molly. It really comes off as if you went on the tour with the story already written and just pasted in a few of the details.

  10. I agree with a lot of these commenters that the beginning of this post kind of hypes up what lies Molly discovered on the tour. Besides the internet access thing, I don’t think there were any lies.

    But one lie is a lie too many. I vaguely remember hearing tour guides talking about our superb internet access my sophomore year. If it’s not good, Blue and Gray, just don’t talka bout.

  11. “Organic chemistry is a great class. It’s challenging, but the work load is definitely manageable. You’ll hear a lot of people complain about it at other schools, but the students who take it here really enjoy it. Have I taken it yet? No, I’m an English major, so unfortunately, I’m unable to given my class schedule.”
    -B&G tour guide, Spring ’09, outside Reiss

  12. As a current CUA student and an incoming GULC student I’ve really enjoyed following this blog over the last few months. I will say though, you guys have NOTHING on CUA tours. Our tours are filled with horrible over exaggerations about life at the school. The most outrageous lies are the influence the church has on the curriculum and the extent to which non-Catholics may feel out of place. The school also overplays the amount of interaction the general student body has with the rest of DC. On top of all that we still get the blatant lies that come on any tour about school food. The biggest problem with that is that, unlike GU students, we have no access to a neighborhood filled with other food sources. Overall I would say your tours are probably no worse than the average undergraduate tour and certainly not the worst in the district!

  13. Just for the record, my tweet was somewhat in jest, although I do remember that my two tours as a prospective student did paint quite a rosy picture of some aspects of Georgetown that turned out to be a bit too rosy. That being said, I think the tours and guides are truthful, although, as has been said, spun to see the glass half full.

  14. Molly,

    Can you confirm these changes in the updated version, that I’m reading this correctly?

    1.) The tour guide’s comment went from saying that “wireless is available everywhere” to “Internet is available everywhere either by wireless or by plug-in, and the wireless can be spotty”?

    2.) It went from the tour guide “lying through their teeth” about how great Leo’s is to saying “I really like Leo’s, but not all students are enamored by it”?

    Seems like pretty huge differences!!! One of the criticisms was that the tour guides weren’t providing balanced views, but saying “I like it but not everybody does” and “Wireless is available but it’s spotty” seems pretty balanced to me!

  15. Why does the Georgetown Voice blog like to hate on their soon to be alma mater. You realize that prospective read this stuff and are affected by it? I’m not saying you should not express your frustrations with the school. But it just sounds like you’re all a bunch of whiners. Build up your school. You will only have one alma mater. Don’t you want it to attract top applicants so to increase the value of your degree? Jeez, get a clue guys.

  16. Oh and about the food in Leo’s. I was a freshmen during New South’s last year as the main cafeteria, and when Darnall still had a caf. The food SUCKED back then. Leo’s is a huge improvement. Stop whining when you don’t realize how good you have it (especially when you compare Leo’s to other schools’ cafeterias that have horrid food).

  17. oooh, look at me… i’m the voice. georgetown sucks so much and i can be so witty at the same time! look at me!

    Too bad flufkin’s hilarious tweet didn’t pan out to be responsible, reliable journalism, or even actually funny.

    Maybe you guys should be a little more objective when doing reports like this. you knew what you wanted to write before you even went on that tour. lame.

    what would the king say?

  18. Oh pish-posh. Vox Pop regularly skewers all facets of campus, from the Catholics’ response to Sex Positive week, to the Philodemic Society’s trying to be ‘cool’ to GUSA’s doing anything. These groups take it in relative stride.

    The point of the article is clearly that B&G tour guides paint a bit too rosy a picture of Georgetown life. I remember on my pre-frosh tour Darnall wasn’t even mentioned — quite the rude awakening when I actually got there.

    So yeah. No one’s asking tour guides to spout off all the things they dislike about the school, but it’s a fair critique to say they’re airbrushing out some aspects of academic and student life.

    I mean, if anyone isn’t going to go to Georgetown solely on account of the wireless access, well, do we really want them?

  19. What can I say? We screwed up. This was a failure of objectivity on Molly’s part and a failure of editorial oversight on mine. While I have no problem in our criticizing and poking fun , our criticism has to stem from accurate reporting, and the original version of the post didn’t have that.

    We have a policy of not deleting posts, but we’ve updated it to make it more accurate. Disappointed readers are welcome to continue eviscerating us in the comments (we know we dish it out pretty thick here, so we should be able to take it, particularly when we deserve it), but we wanted to make clear that we know we fucked up, and we’re sorry. We’ll try to do better in the future.

  20. Full disclosure is needed here: Will Sommer and Lynn Kirshbaum, the only people who have backed up this post in at least some respect, are Voice staffers.

  21. Thank you for editing the blog post, I think it is a far more fair critique to say that the tours paint Georgetown in a rosy manner and some prospies might get an inflated image of the school…though, I have a couple of opinions that I’d like to express.

    First of all, as already mentioned, the deletion of Georgetown “taking the cake” in exaggerations is appropriate as all tours at other schools that I went on paint a rosier picture than reality and also name drop all over the place. I remember Yale’s tour stopped at a statue on the freshman quad and said that every student rubs the shoe of the statue for good luck—I’ve since learned that drunk Yale students regularly urinate on the statue and sober undergrads absolutely refuse to touch the shoe (although urine is sterile and the “tradition” could be worth the potential luck…).

    The goal of tours is to attract students to attend your university and tell them why they should COME, not why they shouldn’t come. The information session is absolutely essential for giving out the facts while tours should be entertaining, candid, student-life oriented, and most importantly, memorable. At the beginning of every tour I remind prospectives that “I am a volunteer for B & G and can give you candid responses to any question that you ask, and promise I won’t feed back information to the admissions office.”

    So when they ask how is wireless, I say it’s a pain sometimes, but more or less just an inconvenience. I even bring up that its a running joke on campus (ie The Hoya headline UIS installs wireless in 2030). If they ask how the social scene is here, I say its really fun depending on what you get involved in and what you want out of your social experience. When social prospies fear there are no frats I tell them that there actually are some other options like BFrat and AKPsi, which two of my roommates are in. Those two frats are a key part of some students’ lives here on campus and I don’t hesitate to bring them up for prospies who appear to be interested.

    On every tour I encourage, almost beg, prospectives to ask me what my life is like on campus. I want them to know what student-life is actually like although most times they aren’t even as interested as you would expect. I tell them funny stories about my day-day life and I think that is what they remember the most (ie how we maneuvered through the housing system into a Village A and how in New South we’d frequently heckle our friends by projecting our voices through a huge orange traffic cone that we stuck out our window and towards the New South lobby)

    As for name dropping, some prospectives are attracted to it and it would be foolish not to mention such celebrity appearances. Tours should be entertaining, interesting, and keep the attention of the group. How can you sell student-life to prospectives if you can’t keep their attention? Name-dropping is not the only way to keep attention, but prospectives and their parents generally enjoy hearing random trivia, making them want to listen to the more substantial information given throughout the rest of the tour. And by the way, who wouldn’t want to come to Gtown with such an impressive list of speakers? I really enjoy getting to see all types of speakers on campus (two of my roommates make fun of me sometimes for going to so many) and these events are a reality and a part of daily student life. One of the most enjoyed parts of my tour is when I describe Ben (or Jerry’s) speech at Reiss last year about Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. They smile when they hear that Ben brought Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey, etc. ice cream and then went on to explain why there are so many chunks in Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (for those interested: Jerry can’t taste and therefore needs texture to enjoy the ice cream. They decided to insert more chunks into the ice cream, which turned out to be very popular-a lucky and profitable choice)!

    I’ve heard many people say a tour can make or break an applicants decision. In fact, I know of one student that attended my highschool that refused to apply to Georgetown because his tour guide was unbelievably boring. I refused to apply to that school in Cambridge (not that I would have been accepted) because their tour was so boring and just rehashed info session material. I’ve also been told by most applicants that they could care less about the history of various buildings. Why forcefeed information that nobody is interested in and won’t listen to anyways?

    So I say why wouldn’t you want to pimp out Georgetown? Telling stories from my time here and trying to keep the group entertained is one of the most important things I do as a tour guide. And this is all while actively discussing student life on my tours. When the tour ends I answer any last questions and go into more detail on student-life for those who have particular questions. I even encourage them to take my email if they want answers about student-life when they are applying. And when I finish my tour, most of the time people clap.

    I think the majority of B & G guides go above and beyond the call of duty. Sure, some are boring and some don’t discuss student life, but most are very accurate in their depiction of Georgetown and also very informative. They are certainly optimistic, and probably sometimes overly enthusiastic, but they really do make an effort to show what student life is like on campus, while doing it in an entertaining, candid, and memorable way.

    So, I appreciate the edited version, which is more factual and fair. Its definitely interesting to know what a B & G tour is like for those who aren’t tour guides. But I’d just ask you to temper your opinion (a widespread student myth) that the tour is a false representation of Georgetown.

    I don’t think the Voice should worry about and cater to particular groups’ opinions (that’s what newspapers and op-eds are for) but I think you can have some fun w/ what was initially seen as a debacle. Maybe an op-ed, right next to this one on funny stories told on tours? Or amusing tricks played on tour guides? Or better yet, why the tours are good and should attract prospies? Maybe then everyone could know how much effort is put into these tours and how much truth there actually is to a Blue and Gray tour.

  22. Why does no one ever seem to point out that the bigger problem with Leo’s is the completely inane layout? Like, you know, the inability to place chairs in a way that reasonably accommodates movement. Or sitting.

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