In 1965, Herbert Marcuse called for a new, repressive kind of tolerance. In 1987, Allan Bloom declared that relativism had closed the American mind. In 1991, The Georgetown Academy sprang into life between the slender legs of their powerful conflict. And now, it’s back.
The Academy, which has oscillated between print and online incarnations depending on both its era and funding, represents something essential about Georgetown. In its own words, its mission remains committed to: “independent journalistic enterprise dedicated to preserving and celebrating the intellectual, cultural and religious traditions particular to Georgetown University, including … Georgetown’s authentic Catholic identity.” It is thus a conservative enterprise in the most literal sense — dedicated to preserving and conserving elements of Georgetown’s past.
The Academy has been rumored to have ties to the Stewards, a notorious secret society on campus, and has often emerged in response to understood “threats” to Catholic identity at Georgetown. Throughout the 1990s and early-2000s, a period when students lobbied for condoms on campus in the shadow of AIDS and when LGBTQ students cemented and expanded upon hard fought gains in access to resources and programming, the Academy’s presence surged and declined according to the strength of student and administrative activism on issues of reproduction and sexuality.
The Academy rubbed many students the wrong way. In fact, some students wrote constantly to complain about the Academy and usually with reason: The Academy has developed a distinctively biting brand of punch-drunk contrarianism. In November 2003, one student wrote to the Hoya to call out Peter Reynolds’ lines on queerness in an October 2003 Academy article:
“Now look at a male and a male. The two do not complement one another. Physically, they do not fit, except in a disordered a backwards way. Lastly, look at a female and a female. Once again, no fit, not even in a disordered way. This may seem like kindergarten ontology, but I think, nowadays, it needs to be said.”
That same year, a former Georgetown Academy “man-of-the-year,” John Soucy (COL ’99) wrote that he wished he had not taken part in such a hurtful exercise, that he wished he had “spent less time saving Georgetown’s Catholic identity and more time trying to come to terms with [his] own identity as a gay man.” Soucy hit upon one of the more salient moments in queer history at Georgetown when he wrote, “I took it upon myself to openly mock Professor Ingebretsen’s class ‘Unspeakable Lives: Gay and Lesbian Narrative,’ while secretly longing to take the course.” Ingebretsen, whose course was constantly targeted by Georgetown’s defenders of the fair, once shared with me that he had to arrive early to his courses to erase what people wrote on the blackboard to demean his students.
But the Academy received some of its strongest criticism in spring 2001, when it joked that the next editorial in The Hoya, which the Academy viewed as extremely liberal, would call upon members of the Stewards to wear yellow stars. The comparison the besieged journal was making was, of course, between an element of conservative life at Georgetown and Jews during the Holocaust.
Naturally, letters poured in and the reaction grew more severe. When the March issue of The Academy hit print, one staffer quit and wrote an open letter announcing his disgust for the organization. The GUSA senate voted 14-2 to demand an apology from the Academy. Students asked the university to review its media policies. In November of that year Terrence Boyle (SFS ’63, LAW ’72) wrote to highlight the ways in which personal attacks, even when true, had become increasingly and dangerously the norm in a campus media climate of hostility. Students began stealing one another’s publications — 5,000 copies of the Voice disappeared and the Academy disappeared multiple times from distribution sites. This prompted the Academy’s lawyer, Manuel Miranda (SFS ’82), who also serves as counsel to William Blatty, and to an effort to strip Georgetown’s Catholic identity or compel reform via canon lawsuit, to write an incensed op-ed in the Hoya.
The next years in this climate of angst and anger would see a rash of hate crimes on Georgetown’s campus.
What the most recent revival of the Academy will provoke is, of course, unclear. Already it has resumed some of its old tropes — taking individual students to task and assailing racial and sexual progressivism that it views as detrimental to Georgetown’s Catholicism. It is unclear whether the present will spiral into theft and cacophony as in the past.
Georgetown’s conservative culture warrior is back, punchy and paranoid as ever, but this time without a masthead or bylines. To those who ask, “Why now?” the editors of The Academy have made their position clear. They view its revival as a specific response to outcry over a cartoon published by the Voice last spring, which depicted black GUSA candidate Chris Wadibia (COL ’16) being beaten in a horse costume, as well as to perceived hostility against Christina Hoff Summers, who spoke last spring, and at last January’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference — Georgetown’s annual conference for the pro-life movement.
History suggests that we ought to doubt the ability of the Academy to succeed at anything other than igniting a firestorm. Ratcheting up the incivility of conservative discourse on campus, then and now, seems a more effective way to attract polemics than adherents or engagement. For now, we’re all waiting to see just what The Academy will do next.
Matthew Quallen is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Hoya Historian appears every other Friday.
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