What does the average Georgetown student have in common with a fifth grader from a coastal French town? Not very much, most would say at first glance. But the dozens of letters brought over by a teacher from Marseilles, France currently on display outside the French department on the fourth floor of ICC would challenge such a notion.
Upon learning the events that struck the United States on Sept. 11, the students of the Elementaire des Lilas and the College Edmond Rostand decided they wanted to let American students know that we were in their thoughts during this time of crisis. Middle school teacher Monique Timsit already had plans to come to Georgetown to speak on the diversity of Marseilles before Sept. 11. In the aftermath of the attacks, however, she offered to serve as their messenger on her trip. And the messages she brought are both touching and humbling.
“We are very scared for you, and we think of you often.”
“I hope you are well during this difficult time … We are very shocked that this happened and wrote to show you our support. Good luck.”
“In your tragedy, we also suffer.”
“Hold on to your hope.”
These are all the words of fifth-graders from the Elementaire des Lilas and eighth, ninth and tenth graders from the College Edmond Rostand. Not only are these students from a French port city, but a significant number of the letters displayed are from Muslim students or those of Arab descent. As a coastal urban center, Marseilles serves as one of the largest welcomers of immigrants arriving in France from North Africa. The dynamic that exists between the huge wave of immigrants each year and the natives of Marseilles is what Americans would term a true “melting pot” phenomenon. But there are no racial tensions, and one’s “Frenchness”?despite one’s ethnicity?is never questioned
When I stopped to read these letters the other day, I could not help but question why it was so easy for these students halfway across the globe to express such solidarity with the United States, while it has been so difficult for some Americans to express this same sense of inclusiveness among people in our own population. What do we lack as a Georgetown student body if our own Muslim and Arab students are being harassed and discriminated against? Why can’t we all, like the students of Marseilles, be scared for each other and show support for one another?
Though the backlash against Muslim and Arab students at Georgetown may be of a lesser extent than what has occurred at other universities or in the U.S. society as a whole, the fact that they have taken place at all is preposterous and unacceptable. If international elementary-aged children can understand the need for Americans to unite in this of difficulty, and our very own peers cannot, we may want to question the benefits of this $30,000-plus college education that we are receiving.
So in the next few days, if you looking for encouragement or inspiration, go peruse the window display outside of the French department. There you can see firsthand a true demonstration of unselfish love. Isn’t it amazing how much we can still learn from children?