In HOYA lore, DAYS ON THE HILLTOP has a personality. The goal of the column, traditionally written by a senior member of THE HOYA who served in one of the senior editorial positions at the newspaper, is to bring to light important campus issues and, hopefully, foster debate.

DAYS’ voice is a weird hybrid of a man’s (or woman’s) ability to take a side and DAYS’ strange compulsion to take it.

DAYS is doing its job well only when it encourages others to speak out – whether they agree with DAYS’ writer or not. That writer gets to watch as DAYS continues its long conversation with the Georgetown community. So, in the words of DAYS writer Moises Mendoza (SFS ’07), let’s “take a peek into DAYS’ e-mail mailbag.”

This round of DAYS columns began in September with a column about the legacy of former university president Patrick Healy, S.J. DAYS said that it might be wrong to remember Healy only as the first “black” president because he didn’t openly identify with that label. Many people took issue with the idea.

“Regardless of whether Healy openly acknowledged his black identity or whether he identified with his African roots, he broke down barriers,” wrote three students.

Others seemed to agree with DAYS.

“Your article is right on the money,” wrote one of the Healy family’s descendants, now a professor at another university.

Of course, the Healys could always be wrong about their own family’s experience.

Perhaps the best-remembered column that DAYS wrote this year made mention of the Jena Six as an example of how it’s difficult for many people to talk about race. Most letters that DAYS received agreed with the column’s sentiment, while some were strongly opposed to what DAYS said.

Still others seemed to simply misunderstand what DAYS was trying to say. Responding to others’ letters about the topic, two students seemed to miss the point altogether.

“None of the letters addressed any of the substantive claims Nixon made in the second half of his column: that the Jena Six should be charged with assault and battery, regardless of race,” they said.

Dead wrong.

The “substantive claims” of the column were that society will continue to have trouble solving problems of racial discontent until people stop being afraid to talk about “race” for fear of being labeled as a racist and that racism exists but “race” doesn’t. Dividing people according to the artificial categories that our society describes as races contributes to the perpetuation of stereotypes and breeds hate.

It was, and still is, dumb.

For DAYS’ discussion of the teenagers’ charges, please review the subjunctive mood.

DAYS didn’t mean to talk about race so much, so it took a break and wrote about Thanksgiving and small towns. No one had anything exciting to say about those topics. So DAYS decided to weigh in on the university’s Intellectual Life Report. Again, no one seemed to care. But in the middle of the deafening apathy, one professor pointed out that DAYS left “the perhaps inadvertent impression that grades are the only thing that matters in the fellowship process.”

DAYS hopes this wasn’t the case. DAYS’ writer once researched the fellowship application process as a HOYA reporter and came away with a full understanding of the type of work that the candidates do outside of their coursework – a grueling commitment to research and a curiosity that commands their every thought. Neither can be fully understood by looking at a transcript, and both must be solidly established before a candidate’s consideration.

Judging from DAYS’ mailbox, Georgetown cares a lot less about Intellectual Life than it does about basketball.

“As an alum and former 25-plus-year employee of Georgetown University, I totally agree with you about the treatment of Mr. Esherick,” said one university staffer when DAYS said that former men’s basketball coach Craig Esherick deserved better respect from a university where he earned two degrees and coached for nearly three decades.

ost people disagreed but were too scared to do it publicly. Many objected anonymously on DAYS’ favorite Web site for banal social commentary, HoyaTalk.

“How bad can the D be if you’re going by Pierce?” wrote one thoughtful reader. (It stands for “Donald.”)

“Pierce beats a dead horse/Esh was bad, but we are back/St. John’s will need help,” Haiku’d another.

Eventually, reason got the better of one of DAYS’ critics on the site.

“You probably shouldn’t base your life-long dreams on the skills and good fortunes of complete strangers who take part in ventures that you have absolutely no personal control over,” they said.

At times, everyone is jilted by good fortune. And frequently when it’s least convenient.

For better or worse, DAYS will soon find a new writer. This one hopes that THE HOYA’s readers will hold that writer accountable for his or her opinions as they did this one, and sustain the long conversation about what should matter to the Georgetown community.

And feel free to send this writer more letters. After a few more weeks, you won’t have this Nixon to kick around anymore.

D. Pierce Nixon is a senior in the College and Contributing Editor for THE HOYA. He can be reached at DAYS ON THE HILLTOP appears every other Tuesday.

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