We are Georgetown!

In these words, Georgetown students exclaim their enthusiasm at Hoya sporting events. But it is more than just a cheer. The chant says something profound about who we are. Georgetown is a “we”: a diverse community of students, faculty and staff who call the Hilltop “home.” A Georgetown education, in other words, is not a singular pursuit. We are in this together, living and learning not simply for ourselves but for others. We are, as the Jesuits say, men and women for others.

To proclaim, “We are Georgetown,” is to join a chorus of voices much larger than this university. We are proud to be part of the centuries-old tradition of Catholic and Jesuit education. Amid the splendid diversity on campus, this tradition binds us as a community, giving us a common language and unifying purpose. To be a Catholic and Jesuit university is to recognize that God, whom we call by different names, gathers us together in a scholarly community of adult learners and teachers.

No ordinary response to this summons will do: We commit ourselves to excellence, developing our talents for the glory of God and the good of others, especially the marginalized and voiceless. By embracing each person as an image of God, we treat each other with profound reverence. We affirm the gifts of the other, take care of those who are struggling and challenge those who are not living up to the expectations of our community.

Since the beginning of this semester, these ideals of learning and living have been directly challenged by the actions of a few. I need not recount the much-publicized events that raised the specter of religious and racial intolerance as well as criminal activity on campus. Good people make bad decisions. Mature people accept responsibility for their actions. Wise people learn from their mistakes. For a university in the business of education, these are teaching moments and opportunities to shape character for the long term. Still, harm has been done to individuals and to the community as a whole.

At a recent meeting of Harbin residents, a first-year student asked the question: “I’ve only been in college for a couple of months. Is this what college – what Georgetown – is about?” Each year, I have the privilege of addressing all incoming students at New Student Orientation about the vision of Catholic and Jesuit education. I approached the young man after the meeting, wanting so much to assure him that the vision I shared a couple of months ago still holds. As an alumnus, administrator and teacher here, I shared the embarrassment of many on campus, who were forced to address questions asked by bewildered family and friends near and far. My answer was the same: This is not who we are. We are Georgetown.

For communities like ours, this is not the moment to demonize others – our fellow Hoyas who made bad choices – but to reflect again about who “we” are. This is a time for a renewed commitment to civility. The cities of ancient Greece and Rome were held together by a commitment to common virtues, both personal and civic. I want to encourage a more intentional, campus-wide conversation about civility – what virtues do we live by here in our community? What, for example, do the classical virtues of patience, humility and generosity look like on the Hilltop in our time?

Our Jesuit heritage can help us begin the conversation. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola urges that when we deal with others, we presume the best of intentions. We try to give a positive interpretation on what they say or do. If that is not possible, then we should correct them with charity, seeking their own good. This virtue is benevolence – thinking and wanting the best for the other. By opting for benevolence, we disavow vindictiveness and revenge; we abandon petty speech and back-biting; we let go of prejudices that easily dismiss others. At the same time, we acknowledge that high standards of behavior and clear boundaries of conduct are good for all.

What would our classrooms, residence halls and playing fields look like and sound like if together we fully committed ourselves to benevolence, or in religious terms, to reverence for one another? Such attitudes and actions summon the best of each other. Together, we can evoke the God-given beauty, uniqueness and potential of each Hoya.

We are better together than we are alone – better friends, learners, believers, citizens, athletes, artists, writers and leaders. We are a better Georgetown.

Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J. (COL ’88) is executive director of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at obrienkfgeorgetown.edu. AS THIS JESUIT SEES IT . appears every other Tuesday with Fr. Schall, Fr. Maher and Fr. O’Brien alternating as writers.

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