At the end of last summer, I caught up with a close high school friend who goes to Williams College. As we were talking about the differences between our college experiences, she told me about her favorite club, Storytime. The club meets every Sunday night over cookies, and club leadership selects a student or faculty member to tell his story. Students sometimes speak about growing up in war-torn communities. Other times, they spoke out about ways their university could be improved. Professors sometimes take the opportunity to lecture about fascinating topics they could not fit into their curriculum. Other times, they speak about their professional life before teaching. My friend explained that the communal sessions, regardless of their somewhat childish name, do a great service to her collegiate community.
When I look back at my three-plus years at Georgetown, above all, I feel grateful. Hearing world leaders and celebrities speak in Gaston Hall, dancing on the Kennedy Center stage at Rangila and taking a class taught by a Middle East peace envoy are just a few things I have done that I never thought I would experience in life. This university is a remarkable place, and a Georgetown version of Storytime could help the community come together to hear about our remarkable school. Students from unique backgrounds could speak about their upbringings. Professors could give talks about the most exciting work happening in their fields. Just like at Williams, they could talk about their experience in business, government, art and science. Georgetown already has something of the sort. From time to time, we receive emails asking us to name professors we would like to hear lecture in an informal setting. TEDx Georgetown also does a great job of providing a forum for student voices. However, both platforms could undoubtedly be strengthened.
When my feelings of thanksgiving pass, I think about Georgetown’s numerous flaws, such as the divided student body, which from sophomore year diverges into four paths culminating in four separate graduations. Beyond the studies that separate us, there are also clubs with admission rates lower than that of Georgetown itself and socioeconomic and racial issues that divide the campus. Many remember the fierce debates the Georgetown Confessions Facebook spurred, demonstrating the deep fissures within the community. Anyone who glanced at a Georgetown newspaper last summer and read the reports on Georgetown’s track team knows that we are far from a perfect institution. Advocates for particular causes are often frustrated by the slow pace of Georgetown University Student Association reform, administrative red tape and the inability to prompt serious discussion campus-wide. A Georgetown version of Storytime with wide student, faculty and administrative buy-in could address these issues head on.
Ultimately, these sessions — whether branded Georgetown Storytime or something else — have the potential to galvanize the student body in a new way. Now and again, we experience it, like at New Student Orientation when we hear students’ incredibly personal essays in Pluralism in Action. But by and large, the conversations and forums taking place are too ephemeral, weak and divided to truly capture, discuss and improve the Georgetown experience.
What is Georgetown? We are first and foremost a Jesuit institution. Religious leaders could speak about what drew them to faith and how religion has changed their lives. We are a strong, geographically diverse academic institution — professors could give talks on the future of their fields as much as students from around the world could speak about their unique upbringings, cultural heritages, perceptions of life in America and so on. We are a hilarious student body — members of theater, film, radio and improv associations could make us laugh about all the things that make us Georgetown. We are also a deeply political campus, fierce advocates for our many causes. Students can bring to light the many structural flaws within Georgetown and propose ways to address them.
While these conversations often occur formally and informally on campus — through GUSA advocacy and faith groups, Georgetown Confessions and Dinner With Seven Strangers — they lack the inclusive, participatory forum that could strengthen and improve our university. A weekly Georgetown session hosted in Gaston Hall could do for our community what Storytime did for Williams. It could bring together students and faculty to learn, discuss what we do best, what we should do better, what makes us unique and what brings us together. And of course, someone would need to provide the cookies. Who’s with me?
Scott Goldstein is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.
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