A group of 232 Georgetown alumni have signed a letter of concern in response to the Georgetown University Police Department’s removal of H*yas for Choice from a public sidewalk at 37th and O streets Sept. 23.
Erin Matson (COL ’02), former vice president of the National Organization for Women, organized the letter, which was sent to University President John J. DeGioia, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Jeanne Lord, Monday morning.
“I wanted to make sure that the administration knew that it wasn’t just H*yas for Choice, but a strong alumni community that stands behind them as well,” Matson said.
Matson said that DeGioia’s chief of staff already responded, assuring her that the message would be passed along to the university president.
In the letter to DeGioia, Matson wrote about both times GUPD removed H*yas for Choice during peaceful protests this year: once on Sept. 23, while the university bestowed an honorary degree upon Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and once during the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life in January.
GUPD has since apologized for mistakenly forcing H*yas for Choice to abandon their most recent protest, which was outside the front gates, but the policies that led to the removal of the group from Healy Circle last January still stand.
“On both occasions, the students were quietly presenting an alternative view to official church teachings by advocating for reproductive rights, women’s rights and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation,” Matson wrote in the petition.
In the petition, Matson called upon the university to allow for the representation of many points of view in discussions about social issues.
“These issues matter. They are both moral and practical,” Matson wrote. “This is an age of social change and political polarization on matters pertaining to sexuality and human rights on a national scale, as well as an international scale. Georgetown has long played a leadership role in policy debates as the premier institution of higher learning in our nation’s capital. It can no longer be that and do so if only one view may be stated.”
Last Friday, the Georgetown University Student Association Speech and Expression Committee held a meeting to address the incident and the university’s enforcement of the free speech policy. Though the university released an updated Speech and Expression Policy in May, the committee is continuing to develop how exactly these new procedures will be enforced.
“The newer goal, following the work with GUSA and the Committee over the past year, is to see that the Committee is well-prepared to hear and respond to concerns and complaints from members of our community,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya. H*yas for Choice president Abby Grace (SFS ’16) attended the meeting and said the main issue now is a lack of education that results in miscommunications regarding the details of university policy. She said that while she finds the Speech and Expression Policy changes promising, the university must remain committed to following through with its language.
The updated policy, which was released in May, includes the designation of the lobby of the Leavey Center, Regents Lawn and the Healey Family Student center as “public squares” for tabling, permits protests anywhere on campus so long as protestors abide by university policies and outlines a process for the Speech and Expression Committee to overturn misapplications of the policy.
“We think that the administrators are pretty committed to holding that up, but perhaps bringing these grandiose claims down to actual implementation is where we are actually finding the struggle right now,” Grace said.
Chandini Jha (COL ’16), a senior adviser of the Georgetown University Student Association and appointed member of the committee, echoed Grace’s call for increased education and more concrete plans. She added that administrators said they would be relying on student input throughout this process.
“We want to make sure that it goes into effect in order to have an impact on students,” Jha said.
In addition to educating the entire Georgetown community on policy, the committee also has plans to develop a specific timeline of training and maps of designated free speech zones on campus.
Grace added that she believes the successful implementation of the updated Speech and Expression Policy would enhance the Georgetown educational experience.
“It’s important to me that the community that taught me how to think also allows future students to enjoy the same level of expressions,” Grace said.