Georgetown University Student Association executive candidates tackled feminist issues and addressed shortcomings in university policies on new student-run blog “Feminists-at-Large” this week.
Most of the candidates focused on the high percentage of sexual assault cases that go unreported — approximately 96 percent according to the American Association of University Women — and entertained concrete ideas for change.
Vice presidential candidate Maggie Cleary (COL ’14) stressed the relationship between victim stigmatization and the high percentage of unreported cases each year.
“It’s never easy to start these discussions,” Cleary wrote. “There is too much fear and shame and stigmatization surrounding issues of violence and assault to ever make it easy.”
Cleary called for a safer environment on campus.
“Sexual assault is not even exclusively a university issue; it’s far bigger than that,” Cleary wrote. “However, so long as we are students in a university, we have a responsibility to create solutions for our community, solutions that will start here and expand.”
Overall, Cleary emphasized the universality of the sexual assault issue.
“This is not a women’s issue. This is not a men’s issue,” Cleary wrote. “It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, rich or poor, cisgendered, transgendered, liberal or conservative. Sexual assault has no left or right; it is always wrong and always hurtful both to the victim and the community.”
Presidential candidate Spencer Walsh (MSB ’14) and running mate Rob Silverstein (SFS ’14) also wrote about promoting awareness and facilitating incident reporting.
“We believe that the university must do more to address sexual assault, and we will partner with campus groups like Take Back the Night and GU Men Creating Change to pressure officials from President DeGioia downward to become more forthright on the issue,” the pair wrote. “Specifically, we know that increasing understanding of what consent really looks like among men and women across campus is key.”
However, the candidates diverged on potential solutions in their posts.
Cleary proposed a GUSA committee to analyze the university’s sexual assault policy, which would recommend changes, promote awareness and implement safe-space training sessions based on student input.
“This should not be a partisan issue; this should be about protecting half of our society,” Cleary wrote. “Georgetown is ready for this conversation, for this action, and I believe that together we can start positive change.”
Shavonnia Corbin Johnson (SFS ’14) and running mate Joe Vandegriff (COL ’14), as well as Walsh and Silverstein, suggested a sexual assault risk reduction workshop during New Student Orientation similar to Pluralism in Action. In the small-group setting of NSO, students would feel more comfortable asking questions, which would create a more effective experience.
“The importance of planning such a program for the NSO period is to make sure that students are aware of exactly what is not tolerated at Georgetown and so they can be explicitly aware of their rights,” Corbin Johnson and Vandegriff wrote.
In addition to the sexual assault NSO presentation, Walsh and Silverstein wrote about the current Safe Spaces program, which trains peer leaders to handle bias-related incidents and sexual assaults.
“One of the main things we want people to take away [from our post] is visibility on campus,” Walsh said. “The second step after visibility is recognition from the university, and this is by far the hardest part because no university, especially Georgetown, wants to admit that sexual assault is a big issue.”
Corbin Johnson and Vandegriff also proposed concrete suggestions for changes to university policy regarding sexual assault. The candidates suggested removing the threat of alcohol violations for women if they report that they were assaulted while intoxicated.
“Our goal is to remove every disincentive for women to avoid reporting assault,” Corbin Johnson and Vandegriff wrote. “By preventing women from being written up if they choose to report that they were assaulted while intoxicated, we hope to remove some of the barriers to accurately caring for survivors of assault.”
Similarly, Corbin Johnson and Vandegriff wrote that they wanted to raise the punishment for drunken sexual assaulters from the punishment for underage drinking or disorderly conduct to the harsher sexual assault charge. They stressed that the right to drink is a free choice for college students, but that students must take responsibility for choices make while under the influence.
“To that end, it does not seem acceptable to us that the gravity of the decision to sexually assault another person should be in any way lessened due to the consumption of alcohol,” Corbin Johnson and Vandegriff said. “We feel that the full weight of the punishment for sexual assault should be given, because no exceptions should be made. Sexual assault is unacceptable and there is no room for it at Georgetown.”
While other candidates focused on sexual assault, Cannon Warren (SFS ’14) wrote more generally about women’s issues on campus, affirming gender equality as a basic necessity for society and expressing confusion about the necessity of feminism.
“In a society like ours, that proclaims all as equal, one might think that the natural state of affairs would be equality,” Warren wrote. “So then the word just kind of feels unnecessary, like a big ‘duh.’ But for some reason it’s not? I don’t get it, nor do I get why other people aren’t just getting down with the program.”
Corbin Johnson and Vandegriff agreed, stressing the lack of women in student leadership positions on campus.
Warren proposed an additional screening process on CHARMS, the university’s freshmen roommate matching system. These “bigot boxes,” checkboxes asking if students were racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist or otherwise bigoted, would cause students to be automatically expelled once clicked.
“It sends a serious message that such behavior won’t be tolerated at Georgetown,” Warren wrote.
A post by Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) and Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) will be published Friday. According to Tisa, the post originally focused on the meaning of feminism for Tisa as a gay student, but after reading the other candidates’ posts, he decided to address the issue of feminism more directly.
“Here’s a problem, and here’s what we’re going to do to solve it,” Tisa said.
Tisa added that while feminism is important to him and Ramadan, it does not appear to be a large concern on campus.
“It’s kind of similar to the American dream. You have unalienable rights to do what you want to do,” Tisa said. “[But] there’s a community that really champions [feminist ideas], and then everyone else shies away from it.”
Blog co-founders Erin Riordan (COL ’15) and Kat Kelley (NHS ’14) stressed the importance engaging GUSA candidates in the dialogue about women’s issues.
“They’ve made a really great start at tackling feminist issues, especially sexual assault,” Kelley said. “There’s a lot of momentum around this issue [feminism] right now. Yet, there’s still a really big need for [dialogue about] this issue.”