More than halfway through their term, Georgetown University Student Association President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) and Vice President Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) say they have fulfilled more than two-thirds of their campaign promises, but the pair has found difficulty in executing some key platform priorities.
Since taking office in April, the executive leaders have cited the 2010 Campus Plan agreement, which mandates that the university house 90 percent of undergraduates by fall 2025, as the greatest challenge of their term.
Soon after taking office in February, Tisa and Ramadan worked closely with the university on implementation of the campus plan, particularly with their appeal for student input in designing the Northeast Triangle residence hall and relaxing a variety of social policies on campus.
However, collaboration with university administrators has become strained since Tisa told campus media of the university’s consideration of a satellite residence.
“What we decided to do was something difficult, which was to call the administration out to hold them accountable on the promises they made after the campus plan,” Tisa said. “Our ability to do that was informed by looking back into the history and talking to alumni from GUSA who have said their biggest regret is prioritizing relationships with the administrators above relationships and duties with the students. We learned from that.”
Severe student backlash, channelled through a student body referendum that administrators condemned, fuelled this tension between the university and GUSA. Cause for dispute extended all the way to semantics, with university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr calling Tisa “absolutely mistaken” when he referred to the satellite residence as a satellite campus.
“Standing up for students but also knowing where to draw the line and where to compromise on things has certainly been a challenge,” Tisa said. “At the end of the day, you did see some negative reactions by a select few administrators, but they weren’t sustained because they didn’t have a place in cooperating to find acceptable solutions.”
Tisa gave Ramadan and himself a B-plus so far for the term, saying that there is still a lot left to do. He said that the executive staff and cabinet deserved an A for their performance.
Despite a delayed start in tackling the centerpiece of Tisa and Ramadan’s campaign platform — the expansion of free speech zones on campus — Ramadan is confident that the executive’s adjusted approach of reviewing the Speech and Expression Policy and revamping the committee that oversees the policy will best serve campus life.
“It will be a long-term plus for students,” Ramadan said.
Tisa and Ramadan also said that addressing access to benefits and space costs has replaced their original plan to divide the Student Activities Commission into specialized boards based on the nature of their constituent student groups.
During the GUSA executive election in February, running mates Jack Appelbaum (COL ’14), a former SAC chair, and Maggie Cleary (COL ’14) proposed to overhaul the entire student activities funding system. Tisa and Ramadan oppose such action.
Appelbaum, who now serves as GUSA’s director of student space, maintains that an overall funding reform could benefit student groups but noted that such reforms would require extensive efforts from the current GUSA executives.
“I think parts of the funding system still need reform. I still think campus-wide there can be significant reform, and it can have a real positive impact on student life, but it’s not something that you can snap your fingers and it happens,” Appelbaum said. “I think it’s just how they prioritized things. It wasn’t a priority for them. That was just a difference in philosophy we had.”
Not all campaign initiatives advanced as planned. Tisa, the first openly gay student body president at Georgetown, made advocacy for gender-neutral housing a focus of his campaign but has encountered strong resistance from the university since taking office.
“It’s been very challenging personally as the first LGBT president to run into the fact that for reasons external to the well-being of the students, the university is very resistant to the idea of mixed-gender housing. That is probably a generational persuasion battle,” Tisa said.
Pushing for extension of “clear and convincing” as the burden of proof for Code of Student Conduct violations in off-campus incidents has also been difficult. As it stands now, off-campus incidents are still judged by the “more likely than not” evidentiary standard that governed on-campus infractions before last fall.
According to Tisa, the neighborhood has pursued harsher sanctions against noise violations.
“Next to gender-neutral housing, this is the only other issue that has been frustrating for us, because the neighborhood-relation and campus-plan situation has not been friendly to us getting this kind of basic protection to off-campus students,” Tisa said.
In addition to checking off several projects, including extending composting and recycling programs in all on-campus apartments, starting development of a Georgetown bike share program, adding the Code of Student Conduct to the Georgetown mobile app and compiling a document with centralized resources for students with disabilities, Tisa and Ramadan have also helped oversee the completion of several initiatives inherited from their predecessors. The Mission and Ministry Report, which began last fall, is in its last stages and the Office of Sustainability, an initiative that former GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) and Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) pushed for, was launched this summer.
GUSA has also seen an expansion of service to a wider student population through new cabinet positions.
Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Peterson (COL ’14) attributed the success of completing numerous projects to the working structures of the GUSA executive.
“Some of the secretaries who have been the most successful are the ones who have roles in other areas. Each of our staff [members] work closely and provide them the resources and connections for the ideas and projects that they already feel empowered to work on,” Peterson said.
Overall, Tisa emphasized that his greatest priority is ensuring the university hears students’ voices.
“The value of student input has proven itself and moving forward we will see a permanent shift where student input isn’t an option or something you do when you’re in trouble,” Tisa said. “It’s something that you do in the beginning.”
Ramadan, who called himself a “GUSA outsider” during the executive campaign last spring, said he has recognized that student government can be relevant to student life.
“Collectively as a block, students underestimate what we’re capable of doing and maybe that contributed to why I chose to get involved in many other things while never choosing to pursue GUSA,” Ramadan said. “I see now what the students have the capacity in doing things. Now, it’s just a matter of getting more students aware of that.”