Corp controversy shows need for more civil discourse on campus

March 15, 2012

In the past few weeks, media attention has fixed on Georgetown as a result of Rush Limbaugh’s slanderous comments against Sandra Fluke (LAW ’12). President John DeGioia came to the defense of Fluke and Georgetown women with a well-received letter to the Georgetown community.

“We have learned through painful experience that we must respect one another and we acknowledge the best way to confront our differences is through constructive public debate,” DeGioia said in his response.

Although DeGioia was referring to civil discourse in the political media front, his words are directly applicable to our campus media coverage; specifically to the Voice’s Mar. 1 feature on the Corp, written by Connor Jones. Indisputably, the article was inflammatory, as evidenced by the massive amount of reader feedback. Many of the commenters demonstrated their frustration with Jones’s position and were quick to point out the flaws in his argument. However, as DeGioia wrote in his March 2 letter, civil discourse must come from a place of respect for divergent perspectives. While I respectfully disagree with the purpose of Jones’s piece, I do feel that the article deserves greater attention as an example of provocative journalism.

In my experience, Corp services have strived to be in line with the mission statement of the university, in that it “aims to form individuals … dedicated to innovation and social justice.” Not only has the Corp done a significant amount for the Georgetown community, but it has innovated and created opportunities for the community despite the constraints of the space allocated to them. As the article correctly states, Corp Philanthropy donated well over $40,000 to student programs and initiatives, while other funds and time are donated to outside causes.

New CEO Michael West emphasizes philanthropy as driving force behind the evolution of the Corp. “Philanthropy and Service are at the heart of what we do,” West said, “and while the people we give to may change, the mission never does.”

Though the evolution of the Corp in this respect is admirable, Jones wrote about some other alleged activities of the Corp. While commenters flocked in droves to decry his selectivity and “unfair” attention to “insignificant” detail, he did not publish illegally obtained quotations. Commenters were justified in pointing out that underage drinking is commonplace on college campuses, especially within social groups. The bonds and family atmosphere that the Corp fosters simply makes it one of those social groups. They were also justified in saying that other student groups should also be examined more closely, and maybe even in saying that the recurring attention to the Corp is seemingly a result of bias.

However, this was not an exposé of the Credit Union nor the B-Frat, as some commenters pointed out. This article was written without malicious intent as a profile of an evolving corporation, not an attack. While the article might have included new information for some readers, the information obtained from the anonymous source did not reveal anything newsworthy. The real story worth publishing, albeit perhaps not in a feature spot, is that one or more employees wanted to expose certain practices he, she, or they witnessed and perceived as wrong or flawed. However, in the process of trying to expand the piece, a decisive stance was lost for the article itself, and readers’ opinions ran the gamut. More regrettably, students from the Corp were shed in unflattering lights, especially in promoting illicit activities in emails.

West assumed the role of CEO on Mar. 1, the day of the publication. For a leader just stepping into office and for a retiring board which has sacrificed countless hours for the corporation and community, the article was both unlucky and unfair. But West is positive about the criticisms, and looking forward to taking on his new role, improving the Corp, and giving back to the Georgetown community by “shaping a place that has been my home for the past three years,” as he put it.

So instead of arguing and picking sides, I think we should heed the words of our president. DeGioia, to the glee of Jesuit professors across campus, quotes St. Augustine in his closing: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us.”

While he wasn’t channeling St. Augustine to reason the dialogue on the Voice article, his intent is still applicable. The article was open for comments, allowing the community to respond and converse, and share their thoughts. And isn’t that aligned with the mission statement of the University, the Jesuit values on which our school was founded, and the respective aims of the Corp and student media? Fostering conversation and engaging a community are noble pursuits. While the article was undeniably incendiary, it accomplished both of those goals.

Both the Voice and the Corp have something to gain from this experience. I disagree with the purpose of the original article, but I think that reading the piece in light of DeGioia’s address allows for growth. Jones’s journalistic practices were denounced and Corp baristas were called out for not wearing hats when they prepared everyone’s favorite Pygmalions. But as evidenced by the Corp motto, we’re all students, and if we listen to DeGioia we can all try to be civil, and maybe even grow up a little.

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