A tentative plan to combine Georgetown’s LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center and Center for Multicultural Equity and Access has drawn criticism from students opposed to any sort of merger.
According to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, the administration has not made any concrete plans to consolidate these offices. Olson discussed the issue with students during his open office hours last Friday.
“We are considering ways to create more coherence in the programming and work of these offices,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are committed to preserving the distinctive identities and ‘safe spaces’ of these three important offices. We are looking at opportunities to locate all three offices near each other. … No decisions have been made about this, and we will continue engaging with students and listening to their perspectives.
The LGBTQ Center, the first of its type at an American, Catholic university, was created in 2007 after University President John J. DeGioia convened a working group in reaction to a rash of hate crimes against LGBTQ students.
The CMEA aims to serve students who have traditionally faced discrimination due to race or ethnicity by providing multicultural programming, diversity education and academic support. The Student of Color Alliance, the Community Scholars Program and the Black House are among the programs and services provided by CMEA.
The Women’s Center was founded in 1990 and offers a number of programs to support women on campus, including the Are You Ready sexual assault awareness campaign, the Women and Gender Equity fellowship program and programming for Women’s History Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The centers all have dedicated staff members who run programming and services for their respective audiences. Olson did not specify to students or to The Hoya whether a merger of the centers would eliminate staff positions or cut costs.
CMEA Director Charlene Brown-McKenzie, Academic Resource Center Director Jane Holahan, Women’s Center Director Laura Kovach, LGBTQ Resource Center Director Sivagami Subbaraman, and Associate Dean of Students and CMEA Director Dennis Williams released a joint statement about the consolidation at the beginning of the month, and said that they are still in the early stages of discussion.
“We are just beginning conversations on how we can move forward in supporting the communities we serve in a much more collaborative and purposeful way,” they wrote in the statement. “At the core of our re-thinking is student experiences and needs, and how best we may address these in a changing demographic in higher education.”
Although the ARC was involved in the creation of the joint statement, it is not currently being considered to be part of the consolidation.
Some schools do have similar combined resource centers targeted to these disparate groups, including the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at American University, which encompasses LGBTQ, multicultural, first-generation and female students, and the Multicultural Resource Center at Oberlin College and Conservatory, which supports “historically underrepresented” students. Several universities combine resources for women and LGBTQ students. Nearly all of the top 20 universities Georgetown typically considers its peers have separate resource centers for each group.
The university has discussed the possible consolidation in focus groups made up of students who utilize the centers and would be affected by the change. At these focus groups, Olson has also discussed alternatives to the merger, such as putting the three centers on the same floor and creating larger, more up-to-date spaces for each group. The LGBTQ Center and Women’s Center are currently on the third floor of the Leavey Center, while the CMEA is on the fifth floor of the Leavey Center.
According to GU Pride President Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15),the focus groups have clearly shown that students are not in favor of a consolidation.
“There is not a single student leader who thinks that a formal unified office is a good idea. At the meeting, every single [one] was strongly opposed to the idea,” Lloyd said. “While a common lounge space, or a new advisory structure separate from student affairs might signal a renewed commitment to our diverse communities, merging the centers would only undermine their mission.”
A consolidation would be of particular detriment to the LGBTQ Center, Lloyd said, given its history as the first of its kind at a Catholic university.
“As the most frequent collaborator of the LGBTQ Resource Center, and as the organization that facilitated its founding, GU Pride would not want Georgetown to water down or muddle the historic institution that is the first ever such resource center at a Catholic school,” Lloyd said.
A student petition against the initiative on Georgetown’s IdeaScale platform, has reached 599 upvotes in a little over a week. The petition, started by GUSA Undersecretary of Gender Affairs Mariel Jorgensen (COL ’16), says that each group serves a unique purpose that caters to students’ personal identities.
“While students recognize the value of intersectionality, there is even greater value in an individual’s ability to access safe spaces on campus created to support their personal identity,” Jorgenson wrote in the petition.”An aggregate center would be less able to understand and perform the sensitive work done by current centers, which are more intimately familiar with the specific needs of the students who reach out to them.”
Many students involved in GUSA have spoken to Olson about the proposal and are against it.
GUSA Deputy Chief of Staff Megan Murday (SFS ’15) attended Olson’s office hours on Friday to express her concerns with the plan.
“I went to Dr. Olson’s office hours out of concern for and solidarity with several of my friends who benefit from the resources offered by the Women’s Center, LGBTQ Resource Center and the CMEA,” Murday wrote in an email. “These centers should be a point of pride for Georgetown, not a point of contention.”
GUSA Undersecretary for LGBTQ Affairs Lexi Dever (COL ’16) also attended the event, and said that Olson welcomed conversation with students.
“I, along with a number of other students from GUSA, GU Pride, the Queer Women’s Collective and other groups directly affected by any changes to the centers, went in order to directly express our need for the basic structure of the centers to remain unchanged,” Dever wrote in an email. “Dr. Olson and Dennis Williams were quite responsive to our concerns, allowing a strong conversation to develop between the students and the administrators about what should be done to benefit the Georgetown community the most.”
Jayme Amann (COL ’15), a Women Advancing Gender Equity fellow in the Women’s Center and the ally representative on the GU Pride executive board, said that that the idea belittles each group’s unique and individual identity.
“Stop trying to marginalize these groups of people at Georgetown just because heterosexual male white privilege dominates the university administration,” Amann wrote in an email addressing the university. “It’s offensive and belittles the struggle groups represented by these three centers face on a daily basis. If this is about minimizing bureaucracy, the university could have found a heck of a lot better outlet.”
Hoya Staff Writer Katherine Richardson contributed reporting.