All of the Georgetown University Patrick Healy Fellows publicly resigned from their fellowships through an Instagram post Nov. 1 after months of attempting to get the board to fix an atmosphere the fellows characterized as hostile to marginalized communities.
The Patrick Healy Fellowship, a program at the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, was founded in 1997 to bring together leaders who want to advocate for issues affecting communities of color through on-campus programming and education. The PHF consists of the Alumni Board and student fellows who are selected through an application process.
Student fellows experienced elitism, classism, sexism, queerphobia and racism in the program, according to the fellows’ resignation letter.
“The fellowship asks for a strong relationship between alumni and fellows, and through our ‘Letter to the PHF Board’ we asked for extremely reasonable changes in the fellowship to be made after experiencing repeated instances of racism, queerphobia, sexism, classism, etc,” the social media post reads.
The fellows attempted to address these issues in an Aug. 27 letter to the fellowship’s leadership, according to Briana Thomas (COL ’21), a former fellow who resigned over the summer before the rest of the group but helped the fellows get in touch with administrators and organize their requests.
Among the letter’s requests were the removal of a board member who had made racist and classist comments, the removal of certain unnamed fellows facing sexual misconduct allegations, the removal of a GPA requirement for applicants and more transparency between the board and fellows.
The fellows’ concerns focused on power imbalances within the fellowship, according to Rimpal Bajwa (SFS ’22), one of the fellows who resigned.
“Even though there aren’t that many white alumni in the fellowship [board], they were still more centered in the fellowship, which to me didn’t make much sense because the power dynamic was very off,” Bajwa said in an interview with The Hoya.
Although the fellowship is intended to be a safe space for students of color, Bajwa said the language used by the board members was sometimes offensive. For example, one of the board members, a white woman, told a Black fellow that she came off as aggressive during her interview, according to Bajwa.
“Hearing that language of an angry Black woman, that’s such a stereotype, and it’s such a trope that’s been used to mitigate the voices of Black women,” Bajwa said. “It was definitely a very racist and sexist thing to say to a Black woman.”
Bajwa said the same board member advocated for keeping the GPA requirement for acceptance into the program, choosing to prioritize academic achievement over community work and activism, which the fellows viewed as both classist and elitist.
“Which just plays into this whole entire notion of respectability politics that says that you should be striving for academic excellence while completely neglecting this activism work, which is equally as important,” Bajwa said. “Hearing that she wanted to value academics more than the work that we’re doing and mitigating the stuff that we’re doing on campus was really hurtful because we place great value on the work that we do, and we think that it’s really important work.”
The fellows who resigned were not the first cohort to have concerns about the fellowship program, according to Thomas.
“The fellowship has never felt like a safe space for me,” Thomas wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Everyone who came before us never really advocated for a change at the level we are currently doing because the fellowship breeds that professional networking and contacts are more important than moral integrity and actually supporting the voices of students of color.”
Bajwa said the PHF board did not reply to the original August letter.
“We just thought it was strange that we would write a letter and there’s no response — dead silence for two weeks,” Bajwa said. “We don’t even get the respect to get a response.”
After the fellows sent a follow-up, one board member told the fellows they could reach out via email or phone if they wanted to have a conversation with the board. The fellows rejected the board member’s invitation to talk, however, requesting a written response to their initial letter.
The board deemed the fellows’ manner of communication in this exchange to be inappropriate, according to the letter shared in the fellows’ social media posts.
The board’s inaction to redress the fellows’ concerns prompted their public resignation, according to Bajwa.
“When we voiced our concerns, they basically told us that we could just resign. I feel like that says a lot about how little they value our voices and how little they actually value our opinions and input,” Bajwa said. “The fact that they’re not willing to change to address these concerns and changing needs of students on campus just shows that they’re not there for students of color. They’re just there to maintain this image that they’re there for students of color.”
Diversity, inclusion and community are still top priorities for PHF despite the conflict with this year’s fellows, according to the PHF Alumni Board.
“The PHF Board is committed to dialogue, and made multiple attempts to engage with our Fellows in discussion in the spirit of our founding principles,” the board wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We will continue to hold space for dialogue around issues our Fellows raise, especially those related to transparency, inclusion and respect.”
The fellowship plans to continue its work and remains committed to its pillars, according to the board’s emailed statement.
The board consistently disregards student voices and opinions, so the fellows hope their public resignation makes potential applicants reconsider their interest, according to Thomas.
“I hope anyone who wants to apply simply does not,” Thomas wrote, “and that is the main reason for our public resignation to really inform students on what we’ve experienced and model that you never have to stay anywhere where you are not respected no matter the benefit.”