(Editor’s Note: From time to time when the Voice is not printing, we post opinion pieces written by Voice staffers on the blog. The following op-ed, in which soon-to-be-graduate Sam Sweeney examines Georgetown’s attitude toward its students, is the author’s opinion only and does not represent the views of the Voice or an endorsement of his opinion.)
Friday morning I stopped by the Leavey Program Room to register for Senior Week. I didn’t have much reason to—I’ll be in New York for my twin sister’s graduation during most of the events, but registration is free and comes with a t-shirt. And I never turn down a free t-shirt.
To receive a Senior Week bracelet, which admits you to a week’s worth of boozy events, you must show your Go-Card and state ID. On the registration table is a piece of paper that begins, “READ ALOUD,” and lists three points: (1) that the bracelet can’t be stretched, cut, or broken and is needed for admittance to all events; (2) that both IDs are needed for off-campus events with alcohol; (3) that seniors haven’t graduated yet and any violation of the student Code of Conduct, on or off campus, could affect our ability to graduate.
In order to get a bracelet, I was required to read the whole sheet aloud right there. “Why?” I asked. It’s the policy of the Center for Student Programs, I was told, and has been for a number of years.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Being a student at Georgetown often means being subjected to such small indignities. And, of course, I did end up reading the statement aloud, slowly and deliberately, the CSP staffer hovering in front of me, ready to reward my obedience with a bright orange bracelet.
That having been said, my reaction is this: What the hell? I am 22 years old, a week away from graduating, and Georgetown feels compelled not only to remind me that my actions have consequences, but to also suggest that I am so thick-headed that I must read a statement aloud in order to understand so. I couldn’t read the statement to myself and then sign it?
If Georgetown doesn’t feel I’m responsible enough to consume alcohol at these events, fine. Don’t serve me alcohol. But if it believes I’m responsible enough to consume alcohol, don’t force me to read a statement with the implicit assumption that, as a college student, I need to be told not to make a drunken, obnoxious spectacle of myself. It’s grossly insulting and entirely unnecessary.
I make this complaint not just because I’m angry about being forced to read a statement—although, clearly, I am. Rather, I think this episode illustrates what has been a reoccurring theme of my Georgetown experience—the institution’s persistent paternalistic attitude towards students.
This attitude is often apparent in the small, day-to-day interactions with Georgetown’s bureaucracy. Bailey Heaps touched on this in an excellent Hoya opinion piece two years ago.
“[S]tudents are far too often rubbed the wrong way by impersonal, even unfriendly, experiences with services like the Student Health Center, Housing, and Facilities,” he wrote. “They feel as though these operations should exist to help students, yet students are treated like an unwelcome burden when they require that help.”
It’s also evident in the University’s broader policies and dealings with students. During the funding reform which took place this year, the most compelling pro-reform argument to me was that the it would finally put power in the hands of students—that students at Georgetown, unlike so many of our peers, have a fraction of the power to control our own college experience that many of our collegiate peers enjoy.
This sentiment was echoed by the former and current Hoya staffers I spoke to when reporting on a story about Hoya independence. For years, the University just didn’t want to give up control of the “Hoya” trademark to students, who, they felt, could not be trusted to appropriately represent the university they attend. In many areas, this attitude from the administration is unfortunately familiar to students at Georgetown.
When I was in the Program Room, a fellow senior came up to me to encourage me to donate to the Class of 2010 Fund. She gave me a flier, which I folded and put in my pocket. I will not be donating to the Class of 2010 Fund, in no small part because of the problems I’ve outlined here. Judging from the Class of 2010′s abysmal 40 percent participation rate, I can’t help but wonder if Georgetown’s paternalism has put off other seniors from donating as well.
This is a significant problem for Georgetown. As Jim Langley, the former head of the Office of Advancement, told me last fall, the key to building a successful donor base is getting to alumni early on so that donating to Georgetown becomes a habit. Get poor 22-year-olds to donate five dollars each and they’re significantly more likely to donate $1,000 later when they’re rich 35-year-olds. I plan on giving generously to my high school when I’m older, but I have no similar inclination to donate to Georgetown.
So, if not for students, then at least for itself, Georgetown should change its ways. If it’s to continue to grow and advance as an institution, Georgetown needs to reevaluate the way it interacts with its students. We’re not perfect, but we deserve better than this.