The Georgetown University Student Association passed a resolution condemning the “racist and ignorant rhetoric” of an article written by a Georgetown University student during a heated meeting July 6.
The article, titled “A Nation of Virtuous Individuals” and self-published July 4 by William Torgerson (COL ’22), criticized the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters and denied the existence of systemic racism in the United States.
“Black Lives Matter is a movement entirely based in unfalsifiable ideological possession, and it does not deserve your support,” Torgerson wrote. “If you support this group, your emotions are being manipulated to push for fundamentally-incorrect solutions to problems that have many moving parts. The United States of America is not systemically racist today.”
During an unusually large meeting that included about 122 participants — the majority of whom were members of the public — GUSA representatives and other students criticized the racist language and message of the article. The resolution, introduced by GUSA senators Sofía Negrete-Retamales (COL ’23) and Leo Teixeira (COL ’21), formally denounced the piece, stating it goes against Georgetown’s core principles and the values of the GUSA Senate.
“The rhetoric in this article is racist, ignorant, discriminatory, demeaning, and hateful,” the resolution reads. “The article’s rhetoric goes directly against University values, notably ‘Cura Personalis’, which calls for caring of the whole person and encourages a healthy campus community by considering individuals as a ‘whole person.’”
The article quickly received backlash from the Georgetown community, with many students of color voicing their outrage at the discriminatory language and hateful message on social media.
Many students, both in support of and against the resolution, voiced their opinions during the GUSA meeting, including Deborah Wey (SFS ’24), who expressed how the rhetoric of the article had impacted her.
“As a Black woman who was an incoming first-year to Georgetown, it’s completely disheartening that certain people would accept the language that was in this article and say that it is something that’s normal or something that should not at least be addressed,” Wey said during the meeting. “This is something that affects my life, and especially at a time as sensitive as this, where I’m seeing people in my community being killed, for people to say that what was said in this article was somewhat okay, or should not be talked about at the very least, is extremely disheartening.”
Several other students and senators, however, said the article was merely an expression of an alternative opinion and that condemning the writing would violate the author’s right to free speech. Some conservative politicians and media pundits, such as former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, criticized the resolution as an affront to free speech.
Some senators, including Joseph Yacovone (COL ’22), argued GUSA should refrain from condemning the article and instead denounce the comments Torgerson received on several social media platforms [Full disclosure: Yacovone previously served on The Hoya’s editorial board].
“He’s received dozens of disgusting messages saying that you should not be alive and even attacking some of his younger cousins and siblings,” Yacovone said. “I don’t think that’s in core with Jesuit values, and with this resolution I think we are misprioritizing what we should be focusing on. We should be condemning large-scale, disrespectful harassment and bullying of individuals based on their right to exercise their opinion.”
Torgerson defended his piece and criticized GUSA’s response as an extension of “cancel culture.”
“I think GUSA is a joke,” Torgerson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This [article] was meant to strengthen my ability to articulate and thus required some ideological and articulative experimentation. Cancel culture removes the ability for anyone to make insightful mistakes which are essential to progress and mastery.”
Interpreting backlash as censorship, however, misconstrues the principle of free speech, according to GUSA Senator Zahra Wakilzada (COL ’23), who co-sponsored the resolution.
“I just think it’s interesting how when people make these comments and undermine people’s experiences and talk about people’s trauma, it’s seen as free speech, but when people respond to it, it’s seen as something that violates free speech,” Wakilzada said.
The resolution also encourages the senate and the campus community to file bias reports in response to articles and journal entries that use racist or offensive language and reiterates the necessity for university administrators to properly investigate and respond to bias reports promptly.
Tensions increased at the meeting when certain senators and members of the public were noticed laughing while students became emotional during their testimonies. Several students expressed their frustration at this kind of behavior, including Jane Cai (COL ’23).
“Especially those senators and members of the public who are laughing while senators of color gave their testimony — you are disgusting,” Cai said during the meeting.
Cai also criticized the notion that criticism can be conflated as censorship.
“Recognizing that Billy has caused harm in our community is not censorship and shouldn’t be confused as such.”