It’s a frigid Saturday afternoon in the middle of a January snowstorm, and I just convinced myself that it would be a great idea to walk 25 minutes in near 15-degree temperatures to Georgetown. I planned on meeting one of my hometown friends who’s a senior at Georgetown University for coffee, and she informed me that she was bringing along another mutual friend who attended American University. He majored in international relations, and I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to yap about the ignominious failures of Kevin McCarthy.
Social philosopher Travis Kelce once mused that “my best first impression is the worst impression ever, so I can just build from that point on.” I may have taken that too far.
My obligatory hyperbolic jokes aside, I enjoyed reconnecting with familiar faces and meeting new ones. Sitting at the chairs around the stained coffee tables were Georgetown students hard at work, already burdened with term papers. It wasn’t even the end of the first week and my Georgetown friend already told me that she was swamped with paper assignments due the following week.
All three of us talked for what felt like hours about anything and everything. From classes and internships, to outrageous study-abroad stories involving the Azerbaijani government, to relationship dramas I had no personal investment in but didn’t mind sharing my feedback on, much like Wendy Williams. Having been in D.C. for a week, I felt normal in the social scene.
In the middle of our conversation, I decided to ask a question that had lurked in my head for months out of morbid curiosity: “How do American, George Washington [University] and Georgetown students intermingle with each other?”
I assumed that the proximity between the three universities, in addition to the close-knit environment of D.C. fostered through political and social networks, would enable all types of people to meet each other and find common ground. And as a new American University student (who refused to identify myself as that because Tufts is way cooler), I felt like I could get acquainted fairly quickly.
Both of my friends responded along similar lines: Everyone here gets along and we’re all in this together. It was a striking show of unity that not only made me feel comfortable but also directly contradicted what I heard from a few friends back at Tufts who herald from D.C.
I heard rumors from these friends about the competitive and, allegedly, petty rivalry among the three universities. According to these sources, American has a bit of an inferiority complex. Georgetown students were stereotyped to be vain and conceited based on their connections through the rich alumni pool of the university. George Washington students held their own, while American students were stereotyped as Georgetown rejects.
It didn’t help that Georgetown student social media pages doubled down on these stereotypes. Student-run Instagram accounts have a habit of mocking American students as inferiors and rejects. One well-circulated meme posted by a student account with over 13,000 followers depicts an AI-generated image of a boy sobbing as he unwraps an American basketball jersey for Christmas.
Despite these tensions, I decided to sleuth to determine whether this rivalry was substantive or meaningless. I consulted only the best sources at my disposal to find my answer.
The same ones that knifed my friends and me in the back with their ungodly rankings: U.S. News & World Report and College Factual.
Knowing D.C., it’s not surprising at all that the three universities uniquely excel at political science and international relations. American University ranks No. 10 among all national graduate public affairs programs and in the top 50 for political science. Their School of International Service is one of the best international relations programs in the country, and American boasts an impressive alumni pool that includes Massachusetts’ own Rep. Jim McGovern.
George Washington similarly achieves excellence. Their political science program consistently ranks in the top 25 nationally. They recently ranked No. 12 among all programs for international relations and national security through their Elliott School of International Affairs, and their highly-rated University Honors Program is known to provide career-defining academic opportunities for students.
And of course, Georgetown. Its political science-equivalent program in its Department of Government was recently rated No. 6 in the nation, and their Walsh School of Foreign Service was ranked as one of the best international relations programs in the world.
Beyond university rankings, D.C. is indeed a competitive environment, including competition for classes, internship spots and future employment opportunities. However, all three universities foster strong learning environments and produce collaborative, caring and exceptionally talented people.
When attending a highly ranked university, it’s easy to get dragged down by arbitrary comparisons based on inconsistent metrics. It’s even easier to use these rankings to tear down other people’s achievements simply because of their affiliation.
What I took away during my conversation, and the many more I’ve had with friends from other D.C. colleges, is that these ‘rivalries’ are white noise, distractions from the real friendships and interactions people are having. Rather than taking the easy route by putting others down, D.C. students see the forest for the trees.
Disillusioned by the pettiness of national politics and D.C.’s own reputation for cynicism, many D.C. students recognize and applaud each other’s talents and want to make D.C. a more inclusive space for everyone who comes through. My own experiences thus far with my friends reaffirm this.
Petty and vain squabbles to gain clout never end well, and they ultimately end up imploding in our faces, leaving us as cynical and spiteful shells of ourselves.
Just ask Mike Johnson.