The 2015 fall semester has been marked by powerful examples of student activism and a campus-wide commitment to social justice in a myriad of forms. Over the past few months, passionate students and student groups have taken to social media, Red Square and even the president’s office to confront many issues. Though every issue is of importance, this editorial board would like to focus on the events that occurred this semester pertaining to race relations and sexual assault. Although each of these movements has encouraged dialogue and succeeded in enacting meaningful policy, more systematic reforms need to address race relations and sexual assault education must be expanded.
On the heels of last spring’s decision to implement an academic diversity requirement beginning with the Class of 2020, this semester saw renewed energy on campus surrounding issues of race. The events unfolded in part because of a larger, national and international movement across institutions of higher education. Georgetown students joined the ranks of those at Yale University, the University of Missouri, the University of the Western Cape and numerous others by protesting against racial campus climates, the honoring of problematic historical figures and the underrepresentation of minorities among faculty.
The #GU272 campaign focused specifically on acknowledging the legacy of slavery that built and sustained our campus. After a demonstration in Red Square and a one-day sit-in in University President John J. DeGioia’s office, Georgetown changed the names of Mulledy and McSherry Halls to Freedom and Remembrance Halls, respectively, on an interim basis.
The Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation, comprised of students, faculty and administrators, convened in December and held a teach-in last week to acknowledge Georgetown’s historical ties to slavery. In addition, this semester saw a student-organized petition to establish an African-American studies major that will ensure a vote that could approve the major by the university’s board of directors, which was proposed years before with little headway.
These campaigns illustrate clearly the level of dedication from student advocates and alumni in support of racial justice, along with backing from DeGioia and the administration to incorporate substantial policy changes. Georgetown students have invigorated an important conversation — about racial identities, privilege and institutional racism — that becomes ever more relevant in light of national events. It also remains to be seen whether Georgetown will make an explicit effort to address more systemic concerns, such as the small number of professors of color on campus or whether the administration’s racial consciousness ends at the doors of Freedom and Remembrance Halls.
This summer, sexual-assault policy reform moved to the fore of student dialogue with the launch of the #IStandWithWilla op-ed published in The Hoya in July 2015. The pro-survivor movement that would come to follow made numerous calls for administrative action, some of which were answered. With the fall semester in the rearview mirror, students and staff should be proud of the strides made in cultivating a more survivor-centric campus; however, as this editorial board previously mentioned in “Expand Consent Education” published September 2015, the university must commit to providing ongoing consent and bystander-intervention education.
One of this semester’s greatest victories came with the six-point memorandum of understanding reached by the Georgetown University Student Association and administrators in September. The MOU outlined an agenda of specific, measurable and time-bound objectives to be met over the course of the 2015-16 academic year, ranging from the formation of a campus-climate questionnaire on sexual violence to the expansion of student health resources and staff. The MOU is a significant step in the right direction, demonstrating both the responsiveness of administration and the initiative of student leaders in the service of survivor well-being.
Despite the MOU, certain hurdles still remain. A study published in The Washington Post – Kaiser Family Foundation poll, as previously cited by this editorial board, revealed that 40 percent of college students remain divided on the definition of consent. Though this confusion is not unique to Georgetown, instituting mandatory sexual assault education during the New Student Orientation program for incoming freshmen and transfer students through the I Am Ready program is not enough to develop a campus-wide understanding of consent and change students’ behaviors and attitudes in the long-term as effectively as consistent programing.
With more education, survivors and advocates would have the opportunity to stimulate healthier and more productive dialogue, furthering the aims of the students advocating for sexual assault reform and helping to foster a safer, more nurturing environment for all Hoyas.
This semester has seen a great amount of growth for Georgetown on many issues. Georgetown administration has recognized issues regarding race and sexual assault on campus and worked with students to move forward. While this progress is admirable, there is always more work to be done and we hope that the administration will continue to work with students on issues that are so close to their hearts.