I’ve written in the past about how important it is to have effective networking among students who feel different from the mainstream (See: Commencement Memories). These students give to Georgetown a gift of diversity from which the majority students can learn, and they themselves can form strong bonds offering mutual support for succeeding at Georgetown.
I was reminded of this a couple of weekends ago.
I attended a great panel discussion celebrating the opening of a new location of the Black House at Georgetown. The Black House was founded in 1971 and is designed as a gathering place where students of color can gather to talk about issues and celebrate the common bonds they have at the university.
On the panel and in the audience were several generations of Georgetown leaders. I learned how the small number of African-American students at Georgetown in 1971 banded together in those days of active debate and activism. I heard the story of the delegation coming to Georgetown’s President’s Office to discuss concerns of African-American students. They were propelled by a need for institutional support for their strong feelings of identity as well as a need for respect and mutual understanding. They were also concerned about the attrition rate among African-American students; they were concerned with curricular issues and faculty diversity.
The establishment of the Black House on O Street, which grew out of those conversations, provided a home to discuss the issues facing the students, to mentor new fellow students in how to maximize the benefits of Georgetown to them, and to establish life long bonds with their colleagues.
The stories of the steady increase in the numbers of African-American Georgetown students and the changes in the issues facing them at Georgetown were fascinating. There were years of struggle and years of pride in accomplishments. All speakers gave tribute to those who preceded them. They noted that moving a nearly all-white university to one that valued diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural groups was a never-ending task, but the benefits are long-run and widespread.
I learned how the Black House itself morphed over time. It grew from the center of activity for African-Americans to a broader center of activity of many ethnic groups. In recent years those actually living in the house come from diverse groups, not only African-Americans. I learned how the house aspires to be welcoming to all students, to be open to all those eager to engage in dialogue and shared discovery about the diverse backgrounds that students bring to Georgetown.
Some of the founders of the Black House were in the audience and were praised by every speaker for the legacy that they built at Georgetown. The current students wanted to hear about the early days. It was a love affair across the generations. It was a moment when current students truly appreciated those who paved the way for them.
I felt privileged to be witness to it.