Georgetown students are calling on the university to condemn alumni and honored guests facing accusations of sexual assault and misconduct as the national wave of allegations against public figures prominent in politics and news media grows.
Alleged perpetrators with ties to Georgetown include journalist Charlie Rose, who received an honorary doctorate from the university in 2015, and actor Kevin Spacey, who was invited by the government department to an event about politics and ethics in 2013. Former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68), who has received renewed criticism over multiple misconduct allegations since serving as president, was also recently honored with a three-day symposium by the Georgetown Institute for Politics and Public Service.
Since an Oct. 5 New York Times article and an Oct. 10 New Yorker piece revealed the numerous instances in which film producer Harvey Weinstein engaged in sexual misconduct, several high-profile men, including Rose and Spacey, have also been accused of improper sexual conduct and assault. Many of these men have been fired after organizational and journalistic investigations.
Georgetown has yet to release any official or public response to these events, despite previously honoring Rose and hosting Spacey. Since the news of Rose’s allegations broke, both Arizona State University and the University of Kansas revoked honorary degrees Rose received. Montclair State University in New Jersey is considering a similar decision.
Rose served as a morning news anchor for CBS and a newsmagazine host on PBS and delivered the College’s commencement address in 2015. In 2013, the government department invited Spacey to discuss politics and ethics with Ron Klain (CAS ’83), former chief of staff to former Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden.
Both Rose and Spacey urged students to prioritize living ethical lives. In recent weeks, 16 men have accused Spacey of inappropriate conduct according to Business Insider, while eight women have accused Rose of sexual misconduct according to The Washington Post.
The new national scrutiny on sexual misconduct has also raised criticism of how allegations are handled in the political realm. Both Clinton and President Donald Trump have been accused of multiple cases of sexual assault. Regardless, the university celebrated Clinton’s legacy Nov. 4 to 6 at GU Politics’ “Clinton 25” symposium, which lacked any scrutiny of Clinton’s alleged misconduct.
Both Georgetown University College Republicans and Georgetown University College Democrats reiterated their opposition to sexual assault and perpetrators, emphasizing efforts on their parts such as creating survivor-centric spaces and working with SAPE for training sessions on sexual assault prevention.
Allie Williams (SFS ’19), president of GUCR, said students must make active efforts to speak out against sexual assault even if the university does not condemn alleged assaulters like Spacey and Clinton.
“It is now on us, as Georgetown students and future leaders, to ensure that this abhorrent behavior is not tolerated and that we create a supportive community for survivors on the Hilltop and beyond,” Williams wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is concerning that the university has not been more vocal in condemning prominent alumni, honorary degree recipients or honored speakers.”
Maria Cornell (SFS ’20), the incoming chair of GUCD, acknowledged that despite efforts by the university, GUCD believes more improvements could be made, such as beginning to provide rape kits at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
“We hope the administration will become more vocal on issues of sexual assault, and we hope that as a Catholic university, Georgetown will also use its position to elevate dialogue within the Catholic Church about sexual assault and abuses of power,” Cornell said in an interview with The Hoya. “It is not enough to simply take down the picture of Kevin Spacey that used to be on the second floor of Healy Hall.”
Avery Moje (COL ’19), special projects chair for Sexual Assault Peer Educators said she has seen more students want to speak about sexual assault on campus following recent allegations against prominent men. According to Moje, SAPE has been responding to the desire from students for SAPE to address the allegations by hosting a discussion on #MeToo, a Twitter campaign aimed at raising the awareness about the pervasiveness of sexual assault and an event on how to support survivors of sexual assault earlier this semester.
“Between myself and my other co-board members, we heard a lot of people requesting a space to have a conversation about what they were feeling, what they were seeing, and just some of the things they’d also been hearing, and so we thought to create that space, and, fortunately, we were able to,” Moje said.
Rachel Pugh, senior director for strategic communications, said the university is dedicated to preventing sexual misconduct.
“Georgetown stands against any form of sexual misconduct and remains committed to comprehensively preventing and responding to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and relationship violence,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The university implemented mandatory bystander training this fall for all entering undergraduate students. The Sexual Assault and Misconduct Task Force also published its report Sept. 12 outlining bystander education recommendations. The university is now working on implementing those recommendations, including mandatory bystander training for all students and updated training for faculty and staff.
Moje said many students are looking to SAPE to build on the foundation provided by bystander training and other university initiatives.
“We’re seeing that SAPE’s role is shifting into a space where we can really do more to get into these deeper conversations and to really look to what the community is asking for,” Moje said.
Professor You-me Park of the women’s and gender studies program at Georgetown said she observed a change in the attitude of her students in recent months.
“This is one of those moments when students really begin to feel that all this ‘legislative’ debates or mainstream discourse actually is about their own lives and intimate lives,” Park said.
Moje hopes that SAPE can continue to capitalize on students’ motivation to continue its efforts in the coming months.
“We’re hoping that going forward and into next semester, we can continue the momentum of looking to students for what they’re hoping to hear and what they’re expecting from SAPE and to have more events along the lines of the Me Too event and the supporting survivors event,” Moje said.
Leanna Syrimis (SFS ’18), president of mental health awareness group Project Lighthouse, said she hopes to have a more open climate and more dialogue on sexual assault in the coming months.
“With the current increase in media discourse about sexual assault, I sincerely hope that those who have experienced sexual assault will feel increasingly comfortable and believed when reaching out and seeking support,” Syrimis said.