Building Inclusivity On the Hilltop

I came to Georgetown anticipating to be on a campus where social life revolved around clubs and activities that were not necessarily exclusive. Yet this expectation was shaken after my first days on the Hilltop. Extracurricular activities at Georgetown possess a culture of rejection, making students feel like outsiders disconnected from their peers. However, after attending nearly 30 ESCAPE (new window) retreats over the last three years, my experiences have convinced me that we can do better at creating more inclusive spaces on campus in order to broaden and deepen our social lives.

At a Jesuit institution, students have likely heard the words “consolation” and “desolation” at some point during their four years here. St. Ignatius described consolation as a deep connection with God and others in contrast to the feeling of desolation, a disconnectedness and dissatisfaction that occurs when relationships do not reach the level we desire and need. ESCAPE Director Madeline Vitek paints desolation as being at a party surrounded by other people but realizing you feel completely alone.

I felt my share of desolation during my first year here. I dove headfirst into social life at Georgetown in an attempt to forge meaningful relationships early on, yet consistently encountered roadblocks. My New Student Orientation group and I did not connect as deeply as I wished we would, and my common room on Village C West’s fourth floor was consistently filled with packages, which limited floor bonding. I quickly became exhausted with trying to insert myself in established friend groups while feeling like an outsider.

When I took the opportunity to go on an ESCAPE retreat in my freshman fall, I met other students who shared similar feelings of desolation stemming from Georgetown’s culture of rejection. Many planned join Students of Georgetown, Inc. or an a cappella group yet felt as though they had no alternatives when they failed to meet their goals.

But such desolation was absent in ESCAPE. Everyone was united, not by some obligatory activity or qualification, but rather by a common desire to reflect and meet new people. Conversations among ESCAPE leaders and participants were based not on just what somebody had done or could do. ESCAPE taught me the value of asking someone “What do you like doing in your free time?” instead of “What do you do?” Simply asking what a person loves gives them the freedom to answer with whatever they want, whether it be jogging, reading or serving on the board of a club.

After becoming an ESCAPE leader my sophomore year and going on every ESCAPE retreat the past two years, I have seen the power of bringing others into an inclusive environment where people are valued for who they are instead of what they do. Even as early as the first night of every retreat, the barriers between “ESCAPEes” start to come down and masks are gradually lifted when everyone, still strangers to one another, sing the lyrics to “I Want it That Way.” Such inclusivity allows everyone to open up to each other and develop deeper relationships — the ones I craved during my freshman year. The diversity of interests, backgrounds and identities I encountered through ESCAPE always baffles me when I realize how I would have probably never met such amazing people otherwise.

Reflecting on ESCAPE pushed me to seek inclusive friend groups that made me feel welcomed and accepted for who I am. While I did find such groups in my dormitory and choir group, there is still room for improvement in creating inclusive spaces on campus like ESCAPE.

It can be as simple as grabbing one of those new “Dining alone?” signs to place on a table at Leo’s, which encourages strangers to join if they do not want to eat by themselves. Inclusivity could mean striking up a conversation with strangers on the front lawn and asking about their broader interests rather than merely the activities one would find on a resume. More student groups could be created and committed to being as inclusive as possible, like the Opportunes, an a cappella group that holds its auditions after other groups to encourage a wider range of singers who were not initially chosen to get involved.

I acknowledge that some club exclusivity is natural on a campus filled with students who want to do it all. Yet I still see potential to create more inclusive spaces on campus, to nurture feelings of consolation and connectedness. Crafting such emotions and understandings among students of different interests and backgrounds should not seem out of reach. It takes only a single conversation to foster consolation and inclusivity.

This article was written by Christian Yon (C’17) (new window) for The Hoya (new window) and posted online April 26, 2017. The original article can be found here (new window).