Op-ed: An Alum Perspective on the University
By an Anonymous Alum
When deciding between which college to attend, I weighed a lot of factors—price, location, ability to help me get a job, and quality of professors and programs. At Catholic University, I found all of these in addition to that “at-home feeling” that your family tells you about. I knew that I had found my new home.
I heard about Catholic University from musical theatre friends I met in high school who loved the music school and living in D.C. I specifically asked “how Catholic is Catholic?” and they assured me that religiosity is what one makes of it during their time on campus. I grew up as a non-Catholic and felt welcomed on Odyssey Day when I met student organization leaders for groups I wanted to join. I was excited to audition for the a cappella groups and get involved in the 2008 election, which was about to be one of the most historic presidential elections in history, in the most political city in the world. D.C. and Catholic University had a lot to offer. And I was ready to take advantage of all of the opportunities I was about to have access to.
My time at Catholic University, of course, had its average ups and downs every student experiences: problems with classes or professors I didn’t enjoy, dealing with standard roommate issues, and dating, of course–let’s not kid ourselves. However, after getting to Catholic my freshman year, I did find some people who were not as open-minded as I thought they would be coming to college. Some of these students grew up going to Catholic school K-12. I figured my public-school upbringing just provided a different perspective. My mother works at a liberal arts college and always instilled in me the idea that education is about discussion, debate, and learning all views so you can decide what your own views are and create your own values. Obviously at a religiously affiliated institution, some values were already set, and that is to be expected. But at CUA, I appreciated that some of those values were to be accepting of others, serve the community, and be kind to others. Not all students acted through these values, but I wasn’t going to blame the university for those students’ actions. That changed my junior year.
The university hired a new president which I was delighted about. We were going to have a lay president who came from a background in academia—an expert in First Amendment speech and religion. As someone who cared about improving the quality of educational programming and professional staff, I knew this was my guy to root for. And I did. Until the ideal of accepting others was compromised.
I know for some CUA students, single-sex dorms isn’t a big deal. I requested to live in an all-female dorm in Centennial Village my freshman year so I wouldn’t have to worry about communal showers. I loved my hallmates and had an amazing freshman year. But after my freshman year, I wanted a change. I liked the idea that people had the option to live where they felt comfortable. I liked that adults had the right to decide where they wanted to live, since they were paying for it, after all. That right was taken away my junior year with the incoming class of 2014, and since then, more conservative student life policies seemed to have taken priority over all else.
Since 2010, I have been disappointed in the overemphasis of a religious litmus test that has been put on students to attend CUA. I was frustrated that my opinion on single-sex dorms or general political issues influenced my ability to voice my opinion to the administration, even though I was paying the same tuition everyone else was paying. I felt left out of programming I was paying into with the same student activity fee and felt like my voice on student government or my position as Chair of College Democrats wasn’t taken seriously because I didn’t share specific views with stakeholders. I felt like the only thing I could do was run for student government, and so I did.
During my senior year, I was elected the Academic Affairs Chair for SAGA and was the direct liaison to the Provost, a voting member on the Academic Senate, and a non-voting member on the Board of Trustees Academic Committee. I was thrilled to be discussing important issues like enrollment numbers, implementation of the First-Year Experience, and the granting of tenure to worthy professors. I finally felt like I had a platform to voice my opinions— not complaining about these issues, but presenting solutions to fixing these problems. But now that Dr. Brennan is no longer the Provost and I am a non-Catholic alum, all of that power has gone away again, so I now find myself turning to The Tower so people will listen. When speaking to the university president at the opening of Murphy’s Pub, the conversation ended quickly after I mentioned the political campaign I had most recently worked on. I would think a D.C. university would be proud of the achievements of a young alumni, but apparently things still have not changed.
I am also disheartened by articles written about faculty workloads significantly changing to increase course loads, and time for office hours and research being taken away. Our reputation of seeing professors as expendable will not help the university recruit the best professors possible. If staff do not feel valued, they won’t stay—it’s that simple. The university and Academic Senate will have no choice to settle for less. Students will see that and start choosing Villanova or Loyola.
When people ask me why I went to Catholic University when I am not Catholic, I often say I had a “love/hate” college experience: I adored my professors, my academic program, the student activities, and of course my friends and D.C. mentors off-campus. But I struggled with the administration’s priority on proving its old-school policies to the higher ups of the university and other outside people of power. None of it had to do with Catholic teachings, but more so with catering to power over what was seen as best for all students. I had no defense for my alma mater.
Catholic University has struggled with standard university problems like diversity, inclusion, or enrollment for years. But you know what CUA struggles with more than diversity, inclusion, or enrollment? Alumni donations. In 2012, my senior year, only twelve percent of alumni gave financial contributions to the university. Of course, I do not have access to more recent data. But as alumni, we hold the power to demand change not only with our voices, but with our wallets as well. We have the resources to open Murphy’s Pub, fund programming for student organizations, or interview prospective students, and we also have the power to withhold resources if we do not agree with the direction the university is heading.
After reading The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article last week, I had two major thoughts. One, “I told you so, President Garvey”, in reference to the town hall regarding single sex dorms in 2010. And two, “I am glad Catholic University has finally figured out there is a problem.”
I urge the university to deeply reflect on the feedback given in this article. This advice comes from experience and admiration for my alma mater. I want the students to connect with alumni more and be proud of the school they chose to attend. I also urge the university to take better care of the university faculty. They are the backbone of the university and were our mentors and advocates, and for me, some of them still are. I also urge the university to continue its improvement on diversity, inclusion, and preventing implicit bias and sexual harassment–not just for students, but for staff as well.
I’d hate to see alumni contributions drop in addition to enrollment levels.
A Concerned Alum