As the new first-years arrive this week and move in, signs are posted on dorm doors designating where each new member of the Georgetown community has moved from. Within hours of arrival, students meet others from competely different religious, economic and ethnic backgrounds. For some, it will be the first time that they have encountered anyone much different from themselves.
Amid all this diversity, Georgetown has received national press in recent years for incidents of intolerance. During the 1999-2000 school year, a menorah was vandalized; last year the Muslim Prayer Room was damaged. Other minor, but nonetheless upsetting, incidents include last year’s signs attacking The Vagina Monologues, (a play addressing women’s issues) and the destruction of a pro-life display on Copley Lawn. Many students expressed feeling a general hostility, manisfested in incidents such as the egging of the Black House last year and threats directed towards a Resident Assistant because he was gay.
In an effort to foster a sense of a tolerant community from the moment students enter Georgetown, New Student Orientation has increased efforts to educate about diversity. New this year is a information session and open house for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students during Welcome Week and a scene dealing with sexual orientation added to the “Politically Incorrect” skits (concerning issues facing new university students) during NSO.
One of the largest changes is Pluralism in Action, a new program designed to help incomming students learn about the issues of race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation and nationality in a diverse environment. The project is supported by a $150,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation that is to be used over three years to bolster diversity programs. These programs will occur during NSO and during the year in residence halls.
A highlight of the Pluralism in Action program is a speech given by Juan Williams, host of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” on Aug. 28, followed by discussions led by faculty and students who have received diversity training.
These efforts by the University are commendable. Hopefully, Pluralism in Action will be a success in avoiding incidents of intolerance that the University has encountered in the past. For the students of Georgetown to live up to the potential for education that we have, we need to learn from each other. A tolerant Georgetown community would give us a chance to do just that.