One of the essential attributes of Georgetown as a university is its location in Washington, DC. At times, I try to imagine what would happen to Georgetown University if one would pick it up and place it in the middle of Iowa or a dozen other places. It is almost impossible for me to imagine the same university thriving, because so much of what motivated the construction of the university and what has contributed to its character is related to its location in Washington. This post attempts to deconstruct and identify the synergistic contributions of the university and the city.
It’s useful to begin with the Jesuit roots of the university, devoted to values of education open to all and service to the common good. So, one attribute of DC that is important is the community in which the university is placed. It is a community consisting of the very richest in the country and the very poorest; with highly educated and those with few educational resources; with those taking advantage of the highest quality health care services and those not able to access those services; with those occupying occupations of the highest prestige and those with no work at all. In short, in fulfilling Georgetown’s mission of building women and men for others, DC offers unrivaled service opportunities.
In addition, DC is a national capital. It, thereby, offers advantages to faculty, students, and staff who are interested in communicating their academic knowledge toward potential application in government policies. For Georgetown students, internships in the very heart of government are easy. Gaining first-hand knowledge about how decisions are shaped by evidence and information is possible. Learning the skills of translating from academic findings to action-oriented results is demanded for those who wish to be effective. Such experiences that are common to students and faculty at Georgetown in assistance to the Federal Government are nearly impossible for universities in other locations.
DC is a global city. Embassies, military attaché units, international financial organizations, and nongovernmental organizations with global missions all have presence in the city. For faculty and students with global orientations, it’s easy to learn about the workings of these organizations, to collaborate when appropriate, and to use them to advance one’s own expertise. Using the DC locations of these organizations facilitates work throughout the world, for those who desire deep experiences in countries outside the US.
DC is also a research and scholarship hub, with the National Institutes of Health, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the National Galleries, and the research units of every major federal agency, present in the metropolitan area. Georgetown has welcomed the instructional expertise of researchers in those organizations, to the benefit of our students. They learn from those on the cutting edge of developments in these organizations. Georgetown faculty find among them collaborators for their own research. Relationships that are built on face-to-face communication and ongoing collaboration possible in DC would be difficult outside DC.
DC is a city of institutions. At this time, when trust in institutions of all sectors seems to be at all-time lows, how is this an advantage? Many in the city still believe that working together, across differences, remains the principal way that positive change occurs. So, the faculty and students of Georgetown, who are disproportionately working to improve the world, find that in DC they can have more opportunities to improve their collaboration skills, enhance their navigating differences of perspectives, and identify positive ways forward. They find people who have devoted their own lives to forming partnerships, finding synergies, identifying common goals, and working through differences.
Georgetown has much to give DC, but DC’s attributes are critical in providing the necessary opportunities for it to do so. I can’t imagine a better fit between location and institutional mission.