Pay attention, because this isn’t a sentence you’re going to find in every issue: There are better things than THE HOYA that you could be reading right now.

In a 2004 report entitled “Reading at Risk,” the National Endowment for the Arts found that literary reading is declining in America and that this downfall stretches across every section of society. Perhaps most painfully, this decline is accelerating. The report is not an elitist rant about citizens picking Dan Brown over Hemingway; instead, it laments that the reading of any fiction for pleasure at all has lost its luster. Everyone and his mom is reading less than ever before, and we’re all simultaneously getting better at not giving a damn about it.

The report is indicative of a general trend of apathy toward art that currently plagues our country. When the slow-witted federal government decides to maneuver its bulk into position over an issue like reading, we have a pretty good indication that things have gotten serious. This is precisely what’s happened: The NEA has, since last year, been running a coast-to-coast program simply entitled “The Big Read,” designed to restore the concept of reading as a sociable and worthwhile activity in communities across America. The Librarian of Congress has recently appointed – for the first time – a “National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature,” an author by the name of Jon Scieszka, whose concern over the state of literary engagement in the country is so strong he argues that if kids started reading just about anything, they can find it would be an improvement. As if to answer this cry, Scholastic Publishing Company is unleashing another rampage of the uninspired-but-at-least-popular Goosebumps series you remember rolling your eyes at in your childhood, and people are actually hailing it as a good thing. We have, irrefutably, reached breaking point, and as a group of leading young intellectuals, Georgetown students can be part of the solution.

In a distinctly serious April Fools’ Day session this week, a motley troupe of artists, elected officials and economists testified before the energetically titled House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on why neglecting the arts is a death sentence for democracy.

Advocacy heartthrobs John Legend and Robert Redford explained the essential role arts programs and encouragement from teachers played in planting the seed of creativity within them. Chairman of the NEA Dana Gioia – an acclaimed poet and holder of a MBA from Stanford – focused upon the unique capacity of the arts to encourage a multitude of skills in young people. These go well beyond expertise in their chosen form of creative expression: lateral thinking, problem solving and innovation – all of which help them become people who can “think outside of the box,” instead of being the kind of fodder who use that particular cliché. Pitching the fiscal argument was Jonathan Spector, CEO of The Conference Board, a highly respected global business membership and research organization. He argued that the benefits of cultivating literacy, literature and arts in general are of great consequence in the economic realm, a claim he backed up convincingly with the results of Americans for the Arts’ research demonstrating that each year, the non-profit arts sector alone generates $166.2 billion in economic activity. Think The Wall Street Journal is the only necessary reading material for number-crunchers? Think again.

All voices pointed toward one thing: America needs literature. Yet this year, the president’s proposed budget slashes arts funding by $16 million, a cut that will force cutbacks in the very programs created to maintain literary life support. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) has demanded the budget return to its former $176 million peak, and, from there, increasingly higher – and he’s not alone. This is consensus: American art is on the floor, and if we don’t whip out the literary defibrillator quickly, mourning it will soon be our only option.

Two Georgetown mantras speak directly to this issue: cura personalis and community outreach. Students and the administration have a duty to make sure that those on campus are able to enjoy and engage in reading. And we can help our country by making use of our literature, theater and other arts resources and departments to spread the benefits of art to a wider area. Curling up with a good book is no longer just a way to give your liver an evening off – it’s your patriotic duty.

If the administration takes this problem as seriously as it should, it would do well to get together with faculty, GUSA and other student groups and think long and hard about incorporating some kind of literary reading into the framework of various majors. For many students with their fingers in a few healthy extra-curricular pies, the sheer volume of course-related materials distributed for weekly consumption is already too much to digest – the time (or desire) to pick up a novel leaves reading off the menu. As it stands, college is often a four-year ban from reading for pleasure, and somehow, this has to be solved. This isn’t a plea for less “work” – it’s just another reminder that broader priorities are not necessarily weaker ones.

Immediate actions can be taken, too. “The Big Read” offers a great opportunity to engage with the wider D.C. area. The Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. is already on the ball, engaging in a “Big Read” of “The Great Gatsby” this year; Georgetown, either as an institution, a venue or simply as represented by individuals and societies, could and should be a presence and help make the scheme work. There are opportunities on campus to incorporate literature into other events. This month, our own Lannan Literary Program promises a great example in the “Let Freedom Ring” symposium and festival honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which will showcase the interaction of great art and democracy during “the King years.” With the Hoya talent base frequently seen in theatre, music, dance and (cough) writing, there should be no shortage of crossover events like these.

We need to read more. Current efforts to increase literary readership are admirable, but there is always room, and presently a dire need, for more. A stable economy is useless for a culturally bankrupt nation, and Georgetown University is in prime position to energize and elevate the drive to make reading the national pastime it always should have been.

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