I graduated from Georgetown Prep this past May having seen Neil Gorsuch, who graduated from the school in 1985, become a Supreme Court Justice in a process generating no memorable controversy. We lauded him as an example of the deliverance that would come through the traditional metrics of prep school success. When Brett Kavanaugh was nominated, I was in between my lives at Georgetown Prep and Yale. Watching this confirmation process unfold from New Haven, I’ve been asking myself what it is about Georgetown Prep that enabled and continues to cultivate a Brett Kavanaugh.
Georgetown Prep is the nation’s oldest Catholic institution. According to its mission, it aims to instill Jesuit values of competence, conscience, commitment and compassion unto its students so that they may become men for others. In the school’s recent statements to the media, the administration has defended itself as a bastion of those values regardless of how the media might portray its environment. Father James Van Dyke, Georgetown Prep’s President, issued a letter in which he acknowledged the elite and privileged nature of the school. He continued to deny, however, that Georgetown Prep students are entitled.
To preface my response to his letter, I should explain the two worlds that exist at Georgetown Prep. The majority of us are those Van Dyke identifies as “chosen for his personal potential regardless of financial need.” I am incredibly proud of the community that subverts the narrative of a booze-fueled safe haven for the ultra wealthy. Georgetown Prep is the place I know better than anywhere on Earth. It is my home, my family and the foundation of who I am as a person. I identify with the Georgetown Prep that embodies the values of the Jesuit work ethic and the struggle to become a man for others. I love the version of my home that is a humble brotherhood, whose insignia is tattooed on my right ankle. The defining characteristic of Georgetown Prep is the moment in mass when we belt out the lyrics to “We are Called (to act with justice),” hearts heavy with the desire to “go to work,” to quote a late headmaster.
What obstructs the realization of that ambition is the sense of entitlement Van Dyke insists does not exist. The other Georgetown Prep is not necessarily “chosen for personal potential,” but more accurately, has never spent a day in its life uncertain that it would go to Georgetown Prep. Some Georgetown Prep students have made it a tradition to sport their middle school graduation ties every Thursday. They fetishize the tribalism that defines their world view rather than adhere to the standard that Georgetown Prep students should be “dressed in accordance with good taste.” Others actively resist the acts of social justice and solidarity held dear by Jesuit institutions. They chalk up our simulation refugee camp, compulsory ethics courses and a service for victims of the Parkland shooting to “liberal bullshit.” Above all else, they believe that they are entitled to a culture of complacency when it comes to toxic masculinity. When Kavanaugh said, in jest, that “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep,” he was referring to that entitlement.
In my experience at Georgetown Prep, any Jesuit-oriented social justice initiative I ever engaged in prompted the question “How are they going to stop us?” When I say “they,” I’m not referring to the administration but to the donors and parents who pay enormous sums of money to preserve their ideal image of the school.
If we wanted to have a service in the quad for victims of gun violence, administrators never criticized the content of our program, but the proximity of our feet to freshly planted daffodils. As editor-in-chief of the Little Hoya, the student newspaper, I was explicitly forbidden from publishing content that could read as critical of the school.
As a tuition-driven environment, I understand how, pragmatically, it would make sense to keep the dogwoods manicured if that’s what the donors want. I have no doubt in my mind that Van Dyke and all of the administration do not tolerate or encourage “recklessness, illegal conduct and lack of respect for persons.” I have every confidence that their goal is to foster a community of love and justice. But when the administration looks the other way at the clans that pervade elements of the school’s culture, I disagree with Van Dyke when he denies “institutional indifference.”
Van Dyke said that “it is a time for us to continue to evaluate our school culture.” I ask him and all of the Georgetown Prep community to consider where we draw the line on Jesuit values. Do not let donors hold the inherent goodness of my home at gunpoint because social justice is uncomfortable. Grow an institution with the maturity to withstand criticism. To the Brett Kavanaughs of the world, read this op-ed with the competence and courage of a Jesuit student before dismissing it as “treason.” Beat your lacrosse sticks into plowshares, middle school ties into pruning hooks and create a Georgetown Prep without entitlement.
John Besche is a first year in Morse College. He graduated from Georgetown Prep in 2018. Contact him at email@example.com .