We all know the image of the typical Georgetown student. He comes from a northeastern prep school. He wears flip-flops when it’s warm and boat shoes at all other times. He—and I say “he” intentionally because the stereotype is usually cast as male—is a model of the majority. He is white, rich, and Catholic. He came from a place where everyone else is white, rich, and Catholic. He is thoughtless about his circumstances and fails to grasp his own privilege. He identifies only with those who are like him and barely tolerates everyone else. He’s the one lobbing ping-pong balls across a table on the weekends, and he’s the one who stays quiet during that social justice class he got placed into because everything else was full.
There are plenty of people on campus who fit part of this description, at least on the surface. I am one of them. I come from a comfortable, suburban setting. My hometown was, by the count of the latest census, the most Irish town by percentage in America. Growing up just south of Boston, I had only a few friends from minority groups. I went to a private Catholic high school. I don’t wear boat shoes, but much of my wardrobe is preppy enough to be just as incriminating. With all this in mind, I am uncomfortable with the idea that, for many, these attributes go along with close-minded elitism.
I find the thought that some actually do fit this image of thoughtlessness troubling, but I also dislike the willingness of some to ascribe these qualities to those they don’t necessarily match. I don’t consider myself to be this caricature of a Georgetown student that the student body has drawn, but I feel as though I need to prove this to people. I feel as if I need to pick a side: with the Sperry-wearers or against them. In associating the clothing and the background with an elitist attitude, we risk reducing a part of the student population to basic cartoon villains. And that strikes me as dangerous.
If we attempt to define ourselves as something other than this negative, “typical” Georgetown student, we give the image of the stereotypical Hoya more power than it deserves. It becomes the standard to which we all must be compared, evaluating how close or far we are from this set of preppy qualities. In our vigilance for the those who match this stereotype, we may see somebody who matches 75 percent of our preconceptions and add the final quarter without bothering to inquire any further. To do so, and assume that someone is intolerant and uncaring because of their dress or economic background, is wrong, regardless of what that background might be.
I believe that there is great value in acknowledging our weaknesses as a community. One of those weaknesses is the lack of diverse backgrounds within the student body. This problem needs to be addressed. Nobody should want to be a part of a student body that is defined by an image of thoughtless elitism.
I see many among us reacting against such exclusivity in our culture, but I think we need to be careful of the form this reaction takes. There is a danger of missing the ultimate goal, which should be to address the root problems of careless elitism. When some students identify as “atypical” Georgetown students, we just end up with two opposing, exclusive groups. If combatting elitism aims to promote a more inclusive student body, then this factionalism is counterproductive.
The way in which we talk about these things matters. As members of the student body, we are tasked with defining a Georgetown student, and I would like to redirect that discussion.
There are legitimate problems with elitist attitudes on campus, and I am all for confronting them. But instead of using a negative stereotype as the cornerstone of our identification strategy, we should define what it means to be a Hoya in a way that makes these negative images irrelevant. If the process of forming our self-image were a basketball game, then the boat shoe-clad caricature should be no more than a drunk fan heckling from the stands. We are all better off if we ignore him. To let him get on the court and influence our choices is an embarrassment to the entire process.