Every year, we at the Voice write a letter to incoming first-years, welcoming you to campus. The hospitable sentiment generally seems simple enough. But this year, we felt that our current political climate necessitates an explanation of what the word “welcome” really means. We are excited that you are here and, no matter who you are, you are one of us.
This summer, American citizens were urged to “go back to where they came from” for having dissenting opinions. Some people, including the president, took to Twitter to characterize criticisms of this country’s flaws as disrespectful, unpatriotic, and warranting expulsion. This sentiment, which dates back to McCarthy-era attempts to blackball American communists, targets vulnerable populations and impedes progress. We must stand up against it in our own community.
We want you to enjoy your time at Georgetown, but we don’t believe in “love it or leave it.” In fact, many Hoyas have proven that if you really love a campus—or a country—you will acknowledge its deepest flaws and stay and fight to create a better future for those who are most impacted by them.
As Georgetown students, we are located at the epicenter of the American political world, which could be part of the reason many of you decided to come here. Our university, with its prestigious government department and School of Foreign Service, as well as its political celebrity professors and guest speakers, offers us much to kindle our understanding and awareness of modern politics. But it’s our responsibility, as students and as citizens, to think critically about what we learn here, to form our own ideas, and then to voice them however we can.
It may be tempting to take what you learn in International Relations class or what Bill Clinton says at an event as truth, but it is important to question the perspectives they impart, no matter how established they may be. There are many platforms, from campus journalism, to the Lecture Fund, to activist organizations, that allow students to drive the conversation, and we urge you to join them. Here at the Voice, our staff has written in support of the anti-war movement post 9/11, D.C. statehood, and abolishing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy at our law school. It is empowering and liberating to contribute to the marketplace of ideas rather than to only consume them.
Don’t limit yourself to the front row seats, whether they be in Gaston Hall or the ICC auditorium, when you are so uniquely positioned to get up on stage and make a concrete difference. So act! Dissent is patriotic, and we all have the right and the responsibility to participate. Go to a protest—there is no shortage of them here. Hoyas have marched in solidarity with indigenous people, to urge Congress to declare a climate emergency, and to protest gun violence. Or, join a local activist organization such as the D.C. Statehood Commission, Capital Area Immigrant Rights Association, or Washington Parks and People, and fight for improvements in the city that will be your home for at least the next four years.
When there is no existing community effort through which you can quench your thirst for political change, don’t be afraid to act on your own terms. Last year, a Georgetown student visited the offices of senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski every day to argue against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, urging them to consider his impact on women’s reproductive rights. This type of activism allows you to test your own potential and look for the best way to make change happen. In the past, we’ve written welcome letters about getting out of the “Georgetown bubble,” and engaging with the national political scene is a good way to do that. But sometimes, the most pressing issues could be at the campus level. While your criticism and actions off campus may not be reflected right away in policy, your impact on the Georgetown community has the potential to be more immediate.
You can make a difference here. We’ve witnessed it with our own eyes. In 2012, students founded GU Fossil Free to push Georgetown to sell off its investments in companies associated with fossil fuels, and in 2017, after many sit-ins, protests, and letters, the administration divested from thermal coal and created the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility. Georgetown’s GREEN club has made efforts to increase transparency around the university’s recycling practices, and has started a community garden and a composting service program. H*yas For Choice has been advocating for reproductive health since 1991, and they are integral to the sex education and contraception options available on campus. Oftentimes, global change and community activism are tied to each other, and this is especially true at Georgetown.
In 2016, the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, a campus group dedicated to fighting for workers’ rights, made headlines with a 35-hour sit-in outside University President DeGioia’s office protesting working conditions in Nike’s Vietnam factories, where some Georgetown apparel is made. Their activism paid off, as the administration eventually agreed not to renew the university’s licensing contract with Nike unless the company allowed a third-party labor rights watchdog organization access to the factory.
These efforts and their results prove that our campus is not just a place for learning—it is a platform for political action. We urge you to find what you think is worth fighting for and to dedicate a little part of your life here at Georgetown to realizing the change you think is necessary. We know you can.