Skip to main content


ICC 650
Box 571014

37th & O St, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20057

maps & directions

Phone: (202) 687.6400



The Nurturance of Groups, Large and Small

There were two events this week, juxtaposed in time, that reminded me of the importance of human interaction to nurture the spirit. They were of quite different character, but they shared one important feature.

The first was a small gathering of researchers from throughout the world who are actively working to understand human migration. Our world now suffers from more displaced persons than perhaps ever before. Much of the migration is not voluntary, but forced by conflict and environmental damage. The group was a glorious mix of different backgrounds. Both research and action were represented. Georgetown’s work is attempting to predict the movement of people across nation-states, with the aim of better siting of relief encampments with food, health care, and shelter resources.

The novelty of Georgetown’s work is its use of social media and other digital media, to extract words and phrases that predict the movement of people. This is quite complicated work, requiring deep understanding of the mechanisms that cause movement, and how they might be indirectly indicated in digital media.

Most academics have professional affiliations with large associations numbering in the thousands of scholar (e.g., the Modern Language Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science). The conferences of these associations tend to have scores of concurrent sessions in which people present their latest work for critique by their peers. It is common that the diversity of the sessions is so great that not all attendees can understand the work that is being presented in all sessions. There is little ability for deep interaction.

It’s quite different small gatherings of researchers, like that of the migration researchers this week. First, at their home institution each may be the only researcher working in the field. So the excitement and joy in interacting with other researchers who are facing similar challenges is itself rewarding. Second, small gatherings allow deeper interaction and sharing of perspectives, much more informally manifested. Friendships and new collaboration often result. The small group exits to their home institutions with renewed energy to push forward their research. Small is beautiful in that sense.

The second event, the Iftar that was organized by Muslim Life and the Muslim Student Association, was a gathering of current students and alumni of the association. Breaking the fast of Ramadan with a nice meal, honoring alumni and graduating students, was the agenda. The Muslim population of Georgetown is small, relative to other faith-based groups. Many of the students may be the only Muslim in their academic program. One real value of the gathering was being with those whose shared experiences at Georgetown, to gather sustenance from the bonds with those shared experiences. Again, just like the migration researchers, sustenance was obtained by being with those with shared experiences.

In this time of limited face-to-face gatherings, it was easy to see how being with those sharing one’s values and interests was appreciated. When the group shares key attributes of their identity, immediate interpersonal connections are attained. When the group is small enough to foster real social exchange, the participants leave renewed and their identities reinforced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202)

Connect with us via: