Two years ago, former Georgetown University Student Association President Joe Luther (COL ’16) and Vice President Connor Rohan (COL ’16) ran a satirical campaign with only two serious platforms on mental health and sexual assault reform. Last year, Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Chris Fisk (COL ’17) entered the race with a platform consisting of over 44 policies.
The two campaigns reveal two disparate visions of GUSA’s role in serving the student body. As this season’s GUSA executive election heads into full swing, The Hoya looks back at how student government has changed on campus in recent years.
Stemming from the Senate
What began for Luther as a satirical campaign to make fun of GUSA soon turned into a real campaign to change GUSA. While parts of GUSA may seem pointless, Luther said he believes in GUSA’s ability to spearhead change.
“We fought for and achieved a campus plan that stopped encroaching on students’ right to be equal members of the community. We gave students New York Times subscriptions. We tried to make GUSA a little less buttoned up with videos, ad campaigns and an ‘Aw shucks’ attitude,’” Luther wrote in an email to The Hoya. “But also, the senate is a pretty silly idea.”
Abbey McNaughton (COL ’16), who served as GUSA chief of staff under Luther and Rohan following her own campaign for president the same year, said that working in the senate was much more individualistic than she originally anticipated.
“Initially I probably thought there were more senate projects, but that depends on who’s involved,” McNaughton said. “The senate does not make you contribute to Georgetown or make something better — it comes on you to take it on yourself.”
According to Khan, the senate under previous administrations was structured in a way that made it largely redundant. Khan served as senate speaker before she came president and advocated for the replacement of the senate with a proposed assembly during a referendum in December.
“My experience with the senate is you get what you put in,” Khan said. “In an institution like the senate, pre-restructuring, I did recognize our work was redundant to what the executive was already working on. Where I was helpful were areas that executives at the time were not putting enough attention into.”
Luther said that GUSA is at its most effective when it engages with the student body.
“GUSA should understand and reflect the priorities, concerns and zeitgeist of the student body and effectively communicate and advocate these positions to the administration,” Luther wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Keep fightin’ for students! Keep engagin’! That’s what GUSA’s gotta keep doin’!”
Insular Yet Representative
Alex Bobroske (COL ’17), who was chief of staff under the Khan-Fisk administration before resigning his post in August, said his first interaction with GUSA as a member of the campaign for Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15) and Jimmy Ramirez (COL ’15) illustrated the gaps between the student body and the student government.
“Thomas was the president of [G.U.] Pride and Jimmy was in GSP and they had a very different perspective than most of the campaigns that were just white guys in GUSA,” Bobroske said. “That campaign really opened my eyes to how there were two Georgetowns, if not more, that just never interacted with each other.”
Khan said she thinks GUSA has struggled to accurately represent the student population in the past.
“In past years, GUSA was not successful in connecting with different communities on campus,” Khan said. “We are supposed to be the voice of the student body. I don’t think GUSA cared enough to represent those voices. That’s why Chris and I ran, because we recognized that representation matters.”
Matt Gregory (SFS ’17), who ran the Wisemiller’s Hot Chick and Chicken Madness campaign against Khan and Fisk in 2016, said he ran the campaign to underscore the difference in perspectives between the student body and GUSA. The write-in ticket came second in the election, with 725 total votes in the first round and 878 votes in the final round.
“It’s very evident that GUSA does not represent the viewpoints of the vast majority of the Georgetown population,” Gregory said. “GUSA is something that the vast majority of students do not care about at all.”
Gregory said he is not optimistic that the insular nature of GUSA will change any time soon.
“GUSA has made attempts to reach out to a broader base, but I don’t think it has necessarily succeeded,” Gregory said. “Because GUSA keeps hearing the same voices and same ideas, they advance what they believe to be best, but not what the actual student body believes to be best.”
According to Khan, this representation gap is due in part to a lack of opportunities beyond key elected positions.
“When you have elected positions, the issue is certain communities don’t run or they may run and not necessarily win. For example, that happens with women,” Khan said. “If you didn’t win, I think clearly your viewpoint isn’t being represented in GUSA.”
Moving Toward Diversity
Looking back on their team so far, Khan said she and Fisk have tried to create a more diverse GUSA by increasing the ways to get involved.
“We really pushed to our cabinet members to bear in mind intersectionality,” Khan said. “In terms of the executive and policy teams, it’s definitely the most representative that I’ve seen. We tried to recruit people from outside communities and build coalitions.”
According to Khan, a representative student government is vital to address the needs of Georgetown’s diverse student population.
“When you have vulnerable populations on campus, the nature of the work we should be focusing on is different,” Khan said. “I hope the student body elects moving-forward people who care about more than just one demographic on campus.”
Luther said that while efforts made to create a more representative GUSA are commendable, it is not a change that can happen overnight and is instead dependent on the people who choose to get involved.
“No organization will ever exactly reflect the student in its make up or opinion, but, in my time at GUSA, one of our top priorities was engaging with students and especially with groups that had been traditionally turned off by GUSA,” Luther wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Some administrators are more keen to work with students and have students help guide policy. Others are not.”