The Anti-Defamation League awarded its 2017 Achievement award to University President John J. DeGioia on Monday, the highest award bestowed in Washington, D.C. by the Jewish advocacy and civil rights organization.
ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt and D.C. Regional Director Doron Ezickson noted the opening of Georgetown’s Center for Jewish Civilization in 2016 and his collaboration with the ADL to establish the Bearing Witness program, which trains Catholic school educators to teach students about the history of anti-Semitism.
They also acknowledged DeGioia’s public stances against two of President Donald Trump’s major policies: An executive order banning refugees and travel from six Muslim-majority countries and the termination of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
DeGioia has openly pushed back against the Trump administration’s elimination of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protected 800,000 young students without documentation from deportation. DeGioia called the terminiation of DACA “unconscionable” in a campuswide email, and has personally lobbied members of Congress to pass a permanent legislative replacement for the program.
The university is also offering legal support for students applying for protected status before the October deadline and called for students and alumni to join the push for a legislative fix.
In January, DeGioia led the university’s efforts against the travel ban, currently being challenged in the Supreme Court by refugee rights organizations and others affected by the temporary ban. The university signed onto an amicus brief arguing against the ban March 6 in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, with oral arguments set to begin next month.
Speakers also commended DeGioia’s work convening the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation in 2015 to reconcile with the university’s historical involvement with slavery. At the working group’s recommendation, the university apologized for its connections to slavery in April, renamed two residence halls for slaves formerly owned by the university and offered legacy status to slave descendant applicants.
The ADL awards prominent members of the Washington, D.C. community for their involvement with civil and educational rights issues and their work that furthers the mission of the ADL. Past recipients include President and CEO of Medstar Health Kenneth A. Samet and David Trone, CEO of Total Wine and More.
The organization was founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism and infringements on civil rights, with the intention of carrying out the mission “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people” and “to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”
Ezickson said the ADL has enjoyed a lasting partnership with Georgetown, particularly under DeGioia’s leadership. DeGioia has been “committed to dialogue in a very serious level about differences in our society, about pulling people together,” Ezickson said.
The Bearing Witness program was cited at the reception as one of the first collaborations between Georgetown and the ADL. The program was created in 1995 by the university, the ADL and other partners to provide training and resources to Catholic educators on the history of anti-Semitism. The program has trained more than 1,900 educators since its creation, according to the ADL.
Ted Leonsis (COL’77), owner of Monumental Sports and Entertainment and a child of Greek immigrants, commended DeGioia’s active response to DACA, saying the effort struck a personal chord.
“Some of the things that have been happening in the last month have made me go from being apolitical to having a loud voice. When I spoke to Jack and told him that we should talk about this, he goes ‘I got it. I’m representing higher education. We are working spiritually, legally. We got it,’” Leonsis said. “Whenever there is a person that you need to do the right thing, the right way, instinctively, we all look to Jack DeGioia.”
Greenblatt also praised the university’s response to anti-Semitic bias-related incidents on campus and in the District, including two incidents of swastikas found in residence hall elevators earlier this month. University officials responded to each of the incidents in campuswide emails condemning hatred and anti-Semitism.
“Now unfortunately in this moment, we’ve seen an outbreak of anti-Semitism across the country like a virus,” Greenblatt said. “Anti-Semitic incidents are up here in the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital. Then rare is it that I find a university president who moves as swiftly and as strongly as Jack to denounce these incidents on campus.”
Accepting the award, DeGioia said there is always more work to be done to improve the experiences of marginalized members of our community.
“There is no more urgent question facing our world than this: How do we understand our responsibilities to one another? We look at the ADL to guide our way,” DeGioia said. “You have provided an enduring model of what it means to seek an ever-more just society and you have empowered a set of resources from which all of us can draw as we seek to address manifestations of injustice in our world.”
Greenblatt ended by saying DeGioia was being honored not only for his actions, but also for his vision, values, honor and humility.
“The ADL Achievement Award is given not to those who have just made an impression, but to those who have worked for a larger impact, to contribute to our nation, to our society, to shape our communities, to touch our lives and those of our children,” Greenblatt said. “Because the world in which we live is so haunted by intolerance, it’s still plagued by injustice, it’s still infected by inhumanity.”