As incidents of violence and harassment against women and other minority groups by members of the Georgetown community continue to emerge, the university administration must communicate a clear and strong stance against these actions and cooperate with the community toward thoughtful and comprehensive solutions to these issues.
The most recent case, a Twitter spat last week involving former Master’s of Science in Foreign Service Board member Jeff Bernstein (GRD ’85) wishing a “#MeToo moment” on conservative commentator Allie Stuckey after misinterpreting her tweet on the #MeToo movement, demonstrates the need for Georgetown to be more direct and upfront about its policies.
Stuckey tweeted the insensitive remark at Georgetown directly, and community members noticed the story being reported by media outlets on and off campus, including The Washington Post. Yet, School of Foreign Service Dean Joel Hellman’s statement in response was only posted under the “media advisories” section of Georgetown’s website and not accompanied by any form of community wide communication, making it nearly unfindable.
One could argue this development did not warrant such a degree of attention — after all, no student was directly affected by the tweet, and it was committed by a member of an advisory board that has little relationship to the university as a whole. But this argument fails to grasp the significance of the issue — it was committed by a member of the Georgetown community.
While Georgetown succeeded in responding to the affected party, the issue nonetheless raises issues of the coherence and transparency of the standards the university holds its members accountable to.
Even though Hellman wrote that “encouraging, threatening or condoning violence and harassment against another person, in any form and on any format, is deeply inconsistent with the values of the program, our school and our university,” the statement fails to concretely present the consequences community members face upon engaging in similar actions, as Bernstein made his own decision to resign.
To avoid a repeat of this situation, Georgetown must broadcast such standards and guidelines to the entire community: students, faculty, staff and affiliates.
Moreover, this incident is not the first to demonstrate that this type of response is needed. After swastikas and threats of violence agains women were drawn and carved into the walls of LXR Hall and Village C West residences last semester, University President John J. DeGioia and representatives from Campus Ministry and the Office of Student Affairs sent campus wide emails condemning anti-Semitism, sexism and intolerance in general.
Despite the prompt response, the emails failed to fully convey Georgetown’s institutional policies toward incidents of this nature and to direct all the affected parties to support services on campus. University spokeswoman Rachel Pugh later confirmed that female residents of LXR received separate emails from their chaplains-in-residence indicating resources they could turn to, such as the Women’s Center.
Because the magnitude of the event, the administration’s campus wide emails should have properly addressed the concerns of both Jewish and female students on campus, directing them to support services and assuring them that the perpetrators would be severely punished.
Direct and widespread communication is a goal that the administration should continue working toward. But it should not be its ultimate goal. In the end, emails condemning the discrimination exhibited by these incidents are insufficient to address the fact that community members are behind them.
After establishing clear, widespread communication, Georgetown should pursue a community-oriented approach, encouraging non partisan dialogue within the student body and administration that prioritizes the experiences of groups affected by hate. Fortunately, the university has already established a good precedent for working toward this aim. After the appearance of bias-related vandalism, student groups and Campus Ministry staff organized discussions and reflections for affected and concerned parties.
If the university could support these efforts more directly and take advantage of the forums to receive feedback for its policies and strategies for dealing with these incidents, it would be able to design and implement better approaches for responding to problems and situations that concern the student body.
After all, our strength as a community lies in our ability to stand up for one another, to name and address the issues that affect us — particularly groups who have been victims of discrimination and violence throughout history — and to hold accountable the institutions intended to protect and empower us.