On Friday, March 30, The Guide published an article about the evolution of Georgetown’s Catholic identity (“At a Crossroads,” G8 – G9, March 30, 2012). Examining how Georgetown currently portrays its Catholic roots reveals an interesting contradiction: The university is often conflicted on how to enhance its competitive position relative to others while maintaining its Jesuit identity. At times, that conflict becomes starkly evident. Georgetown ought to examine more closely how much it wants to integrate — or not integrate — its Catholic heritage into the everyday life of the university.

All students — especially those at top universities — value the flexibility to choose their own experience in college. Increasing Georgetown’s emphasis on its Catholic principles would likely mean instituting more specific and stringent requirements for religious studies and the practice of Catholicism in particular. This could result in some students who do not want to be pushed towards one particular faith’s favoring other universities over Georgetown.

Currently, engagement with the university’s Catholic heritage is largely dependent on individual student preferences. A student can complete his education at Georgetown without ever having a Jesuit professor, taking a class on Catholicism or learning about the founding principles of the university. On the other hand, he can choose to major in theology and spend their time on the Hilltop completely immersed in religious dialogue.

Right now, Georgetown tries to have it both ways: The university portrays itself as deeply grounded in its Catholic and Jesuit traditions, while at the same time making those traditions nearly invisible — if a student so desires — around campus.

There are several advantages for Georgetown in moderating the prevalence of its heritage. First, it helps avoid making students of different faiths feel alienated or unimportant. Second, it allows for a range of diverse viewpoints, including those that run directly counter to the Catholic faith. In effect, Georgetown is prioritizing the broadest range of students and increasing its standing among the top universities in America over providing an education that centers on the Jesuit and Catholic identity.

Georgetown must be explicit about the qualities that define it as a Catholic institution and how those qualities differentiate it from non-religious institutions. On its website, Georgetown states that its Jesuit tradition “promotes the university’s commitment to spiritual inquiry, civic engagement and religious and cultural pluralism.” The goal of a Georgetown education is to promote the value of “men and women in service to others,” as well as to bind “people across backgrounds, faiths, cultures and traditions.” These are all just and honorable aims, but it is not clear how they are unique to the Catholic and Jesuit traditions. Regardless of its faith affiliation, any university can make intercultural engagement and religious diversity part of its goals. They are also goals that every university should aspire to, not just those with a Catholic heritage.

Using this approach, the university provides a less dogmatic and more competitive education in terms of attracting the best high school students. However, Georgetown is merely paying lip service to the traditions that it says are so central to its spiritual and intellectual life. The unfortunate reality is that in its attempt to be a “global research university rooted in the Catholic faith,” Georgetown must choose to emphasize either the research or the Catholic element of that sentence.

Dan Healy is a junior in the College.

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