Welcome to Georgetown.
It’s not our habit at the Voice to take ourselves too seriously. We believe in being aware of our own weirdness and our flaws and seeking out the weirdness in others. That’s the advice this Editorial Board gave the last incoming class, but as true as it still is, this year we have something more serious we’d like to say.
Nazi symbols, racist and anti-Semitic slogans, and white nationalist rallying cries flooded the University of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville this summer. A culture of hate fought for recognition and validation and received it as we all waited for a presidential condemnation that came late, weak, and insincere.
This hate has surfaced in and around our own campus deplorably often over the past year. At the close of last semester, someone hung bananas by nooses around American University’s campus after the student government elected its first female African-American president. Fliers for a white supremacist group circulated Georgetown’s campus in April of this year, and in November of last year racist fliers targeted our Latin American Studies and Spanish and Portuguese language programs. Just weeks ago, anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on a D.C. public school building commonly used by our track team.
Even with all this, it might still be tempting to try and separate Georgetown from the events in Charlottesville. There is no statue of Stonewall Jackson looming over us on Copley Lawn, and there are no Confederate flags over Healy. But Georgetown as a historical institution and as a modern university is not separate from the legacies of slavery and the Confederacy. One needs to look no further than the 272 slaves sold to pay off the university’s debts in 1838. Our own school colors carry a legacy of the Civil War, as they were chosen to unite the 200 union and 900 confederate soldiers from Georgetown’s student body and faculty who wore blue and gray on the battlefield.
During protests in 2015, students called for Mulledy Hall, whose namesake sold the 272 slaves to pay off the institution’s debts, to be renamed. Today, that building is Isaac Hawkins Hall, named for the first slave listed on the document of sale. Georgetown has also now extended preferential admissions to descendants of those slaves as part of a still ongoing effort of reconciliation. Slavery and racism’s ugly legacies are not just footnotes in our history, and this campus has been and continues to be confronted with them every day.
About two weeks ago, University President John DeGioia sent out a letter calling on us all to remember and renew our commitment to our values as we re-enter campus. “This moment in our nation demands the very best of each of us and all of us, and ‘the best’ is what we should demand of ourselves,” DeGioia wrote.
We have something less visible than a statue to dismantle, something which spans beyond our campus but has roots here just as it has roots across the country. In his message to campus, DeGioia called on us to remember to care for the whole person, to be men and women for others, to “become a people.”
As students, it’s up to us. Our responsibility is to remember that these values mean nothing if we do not bring them to life. The hatred we need to shut out is ubiquitous: White supremacy, islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and bigotry of all forms are existential threats to our campus. We are here as more than just a school; we are here as a community, the safety and integrity of which depend on our commitment to each other.
So as you start your year at Georgetown, of course, reject hate. Reject passivity in the face of hate. And always demand the best.
As always, much love,