New opportunities for dialogue at the community level
Awarded to students with financial need
Aimed at reducing the amount of student loans that School of Medicine students will need to finance their education
75.8 percent of School of Medicine students receive financial aid
In his 2016 best-selling memoir Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance writes about growing up in Rust Belt Ohio and visiting family in Appalachian Kentucky. Vance describes Appalachia as a stalled, store-shuttered place with dropping employment and high school graduation rates, its people plagued with addictions.
“What I really liked about #HoyasandHighlanders is that we were given tangible skills to approach difficult cultural, social, and personal situations,” says Cordelia Bell (C’20), one of eight Georgetown students who visited Radford University this summer.”
Vance’s family history is real, but what if that image was all you knew about Appalachia? What stereotypes get in the way of a deeper understanding between rural and urban Americans?
This summer, the Baker Center for Leadership & Governance at the McCourt School of Public Policy took eight undergraduates to Radford University in Radford, Virginia, nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the gateway to southwestern Virginia. #HoyasAndHighlanders was a weekend of skill-building opportunities with Radford students that exemplifies the Baker Center’s mission to foster dialogue, and shows that the center can have an impact at the community level as well as the federal policy level.
Through programming at the center’s Georgetown Baker Negotiation Network (GBNN), students “learn to deconstruct contentious issues in a constructive way,” says Victoria Canavor, Baker Center director. “Respectful leadership involves empathy and listening,” she adds.
The weekend was made possible through current-use funds generated by a $10 million gift from Jon (C’64) and Patricia Baker to create the center in 2014.
What started as a political divide—take a look at a map of recent presidential election results—has also turned into a cultural divide, says Rachel Milner Gillers, GBNN faculty chair and Appalachia trip leader. “The rural/urban divide is incredibly complex,” she explains, and persists within Georgetown itself. “We have students who feel unable to talk with each other about timely and important issues.”
GBNN co-designed the trip with Don Martin of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Professor Theresa Burriss of Radford, both natives of southwestern Virginia.
Breaking away from their opinion echo chamber, students in the program talked openly and constructively about navigating challenging conversations. Activities included role-play exercises, small-group reflections, outdoor adventures, and a visit to a local music festival.
“These students were not looking for a destination trip,” Gillers says. The application process was competitive, and the resulting group was an intentional mix of backgrounds and views.