Imagine that one of the worst decisions you had ever made was suddenly common knowledge and playing across every screen. Imagine that memes mocking your mistake were amassing hundreds of likes, loves and laughs every day. Imagine that the people in your community were the ones with the most hurtful things to say.

For a select number of people across the country — and on this campus — there is no need to imagine. This is their reality.

Last Tuesday, news broke that fraud and bribery had tainted the admissions processes of multiple elite institutions. Georgetown’s inclusion in their ranks rocked this campus, and an outpouring of indignation continues to sweep across the Hilltop, engulfing classroom and common room conversations.

But in the wake of this scandal, we should not be relishing or contributing to the shame of the implicated students or their families.

Unfortunately, as the scandal has unfolded, that is exactly what has occurred.

As a Hoya and a person of faith, I have been incredibly disheartened by the overwhelmingly vitriolic and smug responses being splashed across social media and promulgated among the student body. The satisfaction that so many seem to find in seeing these students and their families brought low depresses me, but at the same time, I understand why people are angry. I understand that some feel this is proof that money means more than merit. I know that this has left the sour taste of cynicism in the mouths of students here and across the nation. However, addressing inequality does not require a derisive smear campaign, and ensuring justice is done is not dependent on maximizing the guilty party’s shame.

I am not saying that what these individuals did wasn’t wrong or isn’t worthy of penalty, but the punishment — whatever it may be — ought to be delivered with a sense of sobriety and respect. Our aim should never be to heap more pain on an already painful situation, and the fact that some people seem to be finding pleasure in doing exactly that makes me ashamed to be a Hoya. In all likelihood, this is probably one of the most embarrassing moments of these people’s lives, and to relish it is, to me, unconscionable.

And yet that is what we have done.

We have spent the last week lambasting these students, and it simply cannot continue. Not if we want to retain any sense of respect for ourselves or others.

Going forward, three things need to happen. First, we must immediately put an end to any and all mockery — be that publicly, privately or personally. Someone’s life imploding is not funny. Period. Second, for those who have been trumpeting in vindication, take time for self-reflection. While you and those close to you might not be guilty of admissions fraud, we are all guilty of something, and I sincerely doubt that the treatment currently being meted out would be a treatment you’d enjoy being turned on you. Finally, I ask that we remember certain things that ought to inform our responses going forward.

To my fellow Christians, I would ask you to remember that grace and humility are meant to be our first and best responses to every circumstance. Condescension and condemnation have absolutely no place in the body of Christ.

To my fellow Hoyas, I would ask that we remember to be “people for others.” These people, our peers and their parents, didn’t stop being people when they did something we didn’t like or didn’t approve of, and we are meant to be for them still.

To any of the students that have found themselves embroiled in this scandal, I would like you to know that I am sorry that the responses to your circumstance have largely been glee and callousness. Whether or not you had any part in the decisions that brought you here, you deserve more than being the brunt of jokes and mean-spirited jibes. As your community, we have failed you. Given the opportunity to show you compassion, we have shown you contempt. Given the opportunity to be gracious, we have been graceless. Given the opportunity to be kind, we have been cruel.

Georgetown, I know we can do better, and I firmly believe we can come together and address this without giving into knee-jerk epicaricacy. So please. Let’s stop the memes and really think before we speak.

Sarah George is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

14 Comments

  1. how come rich white kids (who are mostly straight by the way) get a call for forgiveness when literally everyone else who is not rich and/or white (and who worked authentically and hard for where they are) are met with disdain and criticism aimed to make them feel unworthy? That’s white (wealthy) fragility, and it needs to stop. There needs to be an confrontation with what’s real, needs consequences (in the form of many things, namely hard and clear community conversations), and is equal in terms of how folks who are not rich and white would be penalized. A black woman was put in jail for manipulating a system to get her kids in a better children’s school so they can have a better life in this fucked up social system. She was not met with compassion. AND, more importantly, she was not met with articles immediately calling for more compassion. So instead of crowding out this current space with calls for compassion instead of criticism, de-center your view and voice, focus and center the voices and criticisms of those who deserve to be centered, and realize that silent listening is perfect in a time like now when folks can LEARN and not just call for a quick compassion decree to assuage the hurt feelings of the guilty. This is like when a white (often wealthy) boy is caught sexually assaulting people, or when a white (often wealthy) person is caught and convicted of a marijuana charge, and then we clutter the web sphere and community conversations about how we shouldn’t ruin that person’s life and that the perpetrator is still a human deserving of certain respect and compassion … when literally virtually every other person convicted (and wrongly convicted) of these same things are metaphorically stoned to death (And in some cases actually murdered). Good god girl, wake up.

    • I want to begin my reply by saying I completely agree with your points regarding the necessity of sympathy and compassion for the example you give for the woman attempting to get her kids to better schooling, and the overall need for consequences for reprehensible actions for the white and wealthy. That being said, what really pains me as an alum is simply the cruelty that the Georgetown students have shown at the same time. I (hope) the parents of these students will go to jail, as is the deserved punishment for federal crime. But I would never hope for these students to be mocked, ridiculed, and mercilessly harassed. I think they deserve kindness as anyone making a poor decision deserves kindness. Kindness and punishment are not mutually exclusive. That is a rose-colored view, without a doubt, but it is one that is in line with the Jesuit teachings of this school. We can show some goddamn grace instead of relishing in the downfall of others. Basking in the glory of the fall of the rich is rather bitter of us as a University. These people f***ed up–they will, if the justice system is fair–be punished, and that is where the story ends, if we are really “fair”. The incessant memes and ridicule of these students to their faces, on the internet, in memes, in tweets, in a social-media storm, is just plain bullying. If we want to sit on this high horse of “I didn’t cheat to get in here”, we should stop being assholes too. Doesn’t make us any better than the people we are so horrified by.

      And some last (minor) points,
      Race plays an interesting role here. Most implicated in these scandals were white, those from Georgetown, at least not all, were not. Important qualifier in the cry of “white fragility” (which is real) (but not applicable).

      And also, imagine being 15/16 for a second and assuming you even KNEW this was going on, your parents, who completely control your life, tell you you have to do something shady but nobody will be caught but you have to do it for your own good. How many kids are TRULY strong enough to choose the moral high road? The reason this is incomparable to high school rape cases is that to a child, the greater social constructs are much less evident. To them, its not cheating the system and disenfranchising those of less economic status, it’s listening to mom and dad so they can get into college.

      All in all, let’s still try to be decent Hoyas even when our peers fuck up. Thanks for coming to my TEDTalk.

  2. Kaitlyn Reynolds says:

    I found this article very moving. As a woman of color who has spent her entire life striving for higher education and greater knowledge in order to escape the societal constraints that is forced upon minoroties, I felt disgusted by the actions of these students and their families. Even as I write this note, I can feel the frustration erupting within me – however, the only that I can do with hurt and anger is to ensure that this does not happen again.

    We have all have a responsibility to address this moral conundrum, and it starts with Georgetown. We need to address the administration and make our opinion known that the manner in which they handle the situation will set a precedent for other universities and future Hoyas.

    What we cannot do, however, is target and harass these students. They’re shame and embarrassment (and potential expulsion) is undignifying enough. What I appreciate about this article is that it reminded us to be humane and cognizant of how we treat one another.

    Their actions are a reminder that we live in a world in which hard work means nothing in the face of wealth and power, however, we, as the future of our university as well as our country, have the ability to change this. We can amend the system and fix what is broken, but what Ms. George reminds us is that in doing this, we must do it with dignity and respect. As professed in the Bible, “hate the sin, but not the sinner.”

  3. Hoya_Alum16 says:

    As an alumnus of the College, we have a right to be outraged and ashamed by the actions of the privileged families who made a mockery of the Georgetown admissions process and the integrity of our school. We do not “owe” the families and students who committed these felonies anything – our compassion, our sympathies nor our forgiveness. The only thing that is owed to them is due process.

    You seem to be very unfazed by the actions of these families, and do not understand the severity of these crimes (“we are all guilty of something”) which confounds me. These families stole from the university and prevented students who otherwise would have made it in on merit /talent from joining our school.

    Any person who commits a serious felony generally will have a spotlight shone on their crime and personal life, with according tribulation to follow. No amount of privilege or money will (or should) change that.

  4. Imagine if your actions suddenly had consequences. wouldn’t that be terrible? it would be just like being one of the poors.

  5. While I generally agree with what the author says, I don’t think that it applies in this particular case. It was not, as the author says, “the worst mistake of their life.” In fact, the Georgetown student gloated about sneaking in. Also, it is highly unlikely that without this scandal, anyone would have admitted their “worst mistake.” What I’m trying to say is that she very likely never felt guilty until people lashed out. Those who participated in this act should feel public shaming and mockery for their actions— it wildely violated the law and all possible ethical standards. Yes, God calls us to forgive and be merciful, but people are justifiably hurt and outraged; God does not call on His followers to immediately and completely suppress their very real and justified emotions. If people were still ridiculing her through memes a year from now, I’d agree but the wound is too fresh to be considered healed. And yes, we can hate the sin and not the sinner (and Kum-bay-yah), but that does not mean she is immediately absolved of her actions. Also, to my knowledge, no one is calling for her head; people are just ridiculing her actions and saying she should be expelled (which is fair in my opinion).

  6. Huey Freeman says:

    if they’re not punished fro their wrongdoings, then they will never learn and these stuck up rich kids and adults will walk around like they can do anything they want; not all rich people are terrible but they people should be shamed, shunned, and ridiculed for thinking they could get away with this.

  7. Forgiveness is a powerful thing, but it demands atonement on the part of the sinner. The students involved in the scandal benefited from an organized criminal conspiracy to manipulate the admissions process for their own advantage, and have had years to come clean in whole or in part. Their failure to do so speaks volumes.

  8. Bill Cummings says:

    Hasn’t any ever seen Game of Thrones? I think one shame walk around campus should suffice as punishment.

  9. Why do these students deserve your kindness and sympathy? They tried to cheat you. You played by the rules to get into Georgetown and they merrily lied and tried to steal what everyone else had to bust their butts and earn. And you are saying that *they* are deserving of sympathy? No. Shame has a purpose. Quietly expelling them does not send the message that needs to be sent: what they did was wrong and a betrayal of the university and their peers.

  10. Well-written. Adults making death threats to 19 year olds they don’t know likely won’t solve many problems.

    To Joe’s comment, maybe it would be a better idea not to metaphorically stone anybody to death. There’s something said about casting the first stone.

  11. A Community College Student says:

    If I were a member of the Georgetown University community, I would be conscious of the merit and effort required to acquire my position in such an elite community. I would have made sacrifices, accrued costs, and directed my energy, time, and work into acquiring my position. If another were to fully and consciously decide to cheat their way into the same elite community, lacking in the aspects required to validly acquire such a position, and not face any consequences when exposed, I would personally feel that my effort and merit was devalued; that the limits to entry were decreased, and the exclusivity of my position lessened. I would feel disrespected, and wronged. On the point on operating rightly as a community in the reaction to insulting, damaging, or offending individuals within such community, I agree with Sarah George’s point on consciously considering one’s owns reactions to be carried out in grace and humility – this is an axiom of daily living. However, I believe grace does not have to exclude dissonance to the subject – righteous response can take form in calls for justice, expectations for confession, in return for forgiveness, or explicating shame onto the offender, to make clear to the offender the negative effects received by such insulting, damaging or offending actions. These negative feelings towards another do not have to be suppressed by a member of the community, and are not necessarily harmful to the offender within the community. Expectations for guilt and confession can lead a person to understand that their offense has cost another, leading to authentic feelings of guilt and a desire to confess. Calls for justice due to personal insults that have been unaddressed can bring harmony and balance to a discordant or chaotic situation. Explicating an individual as being offensive and expressing reactions of shame is necessary for such individual to recognize their actions as harmful. As Sarah George purports, but as I disagree, individuals of a community should not contribute to the shame of implicated individuals. I believe that there is no infraction to being graceful in doing so. I do acknowledge that there can be definite infractions to acting appropriately in light of offense, like reversed criminal action, or expanding insult, or complete exclusion and dismissal of the offender. Name calling, humoring another person’s failure, and meme creating in the Georgetown community is definitely ungraceful, and further contributes to discord and division, but without dispensed shame, how can members of the community expect justice, dispense justice, and repent for insults to justice?

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