Champions, Not Talkers, Needed Ethnic Studies and Other Initiatives Only Work When Students Act

By Dave Heaton

Ethnic studies. It sounds rather innocuous. In fact, it sounds pretty good. It sounds like something we would have at Georgetown. But we do not.

Because Georgetown does not have an ethnic studies program, people like Steve Glickman (The Hoya “Ethnic Studies Needs a Home at Georgetown” Sept. 7, 2001, p. 3) begin writing viewpoint columns in this newspaper. In so doing, it allows them to tap all the buzzwords and catch phrases that are thrown around this campus like a wet rag: diversity, tolerance, plurality of ideas, to name a few.

I am not trying to suggest that diversity, tolerance or even a plurality of ideas are bad. Quite the contrary. I think collectively they are a feature of Georgetown’s strength. It is, in fact, one of the reasons that I chose to attend Georgetown. However, words like diversity lose their meaning when people trivialize them by making demands without significant action to back them up. In so doing, the entire campus community is done a disservice.

If a student seeks administrative change, that student has to dedicate himself or herself to getting the job done. The clearest example of this has been GUSA. For several years, the GUSA Assembly, comprised of all the ego-packing class representatives, would pass high-minded resolutions and then wonder why the administration would not react. Reformists demanded (and continue to demand to this day) that the administration be held accountable to GUSA.

Of course, the real reason that most faculty, administrators and staff of this school did not react was simply because they did not know. How could they? It was neither their obligation nor their job to attend GUSA meetings – or for that matter, the meetings of any other group seeking to promulgate change.

Over time, most of the self-inflated egoists in GUSA have either graduated or realized that the real nitty-gritty takes place in its advocacy boards and committees. Only once class representatives and bureaucrats began tackling issues head-on and started meeting with those people at this university who could affect change did issues finally start to be resolved. The reality is that most administrators at this school are falling over themselves for student input.

So you ask: How does this relate to an ethnic studies program?

Those who seek an ethnic studies program should quit writing viewpoints to The Hoya, should quit lamenting how their experience at Georgetown has been tarnished in The Voice and should quit holding rallies in Red Square. None of these – not one – will make an ethnic studies program spring into existence like some sort of leprechaun. Words, no matter how loudly they are yelled, mean nothing without action.

Am I against an ethnic studies program at Georgetown? No. Do I think we should have one? Definitely. But is it something that I am going to devote myself to obtaining? No. Yet, that is exactly what the ethnic studies advocates need: a champion. Someone who will not eat or sleep until they have forced the administration to accept their demands. Only then – once the provost, the dean of the College, the dean of the School of Foreign Service, the Faculty Senate, the Executive Faculty, the university president and the vice president for Student Affairs have unanimously denied the need for an ethnic studies program to this champion – only then should the ethnic studies advocates change strategies.

However, there have been instances where the administration was adamantly opposed to student input. Yet, even in these cases, students were ultimately successful in forcing the university to act. The Georgetown Academy and others were successful in pressuring the university to install crucifixes in the classrooms. The Georgetown Solidarity Committee was successful in forcing the university to adopt fair labor standards. In each of these examples, students used their resources and did what they had to do to effect change. But in the end, change did occur.

If the ethnic studies program is condemned to mediocrity, take action. But do not under any circumstances whine when the ethnic studies leprechaun does not appear after you write opinion pieces in The Hoya and pressure the GUSA Assembly to pass a resolution.

Dave Heaton is a senior in the College and the editorial page editor of The Hoya.

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