Larry Calloway just wanted to sing.
Calloway is a driver for the Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle and is known on campus for singing during bus rides. He also gives short motivational pep talks to passengers as they depart.
His words are often laden with Christianity, praising God and Jesus, but Calloway — who last December fulfilled his dream of singing the national anthem at a Washington Wizards NBA game — always focuses on being positive with every student, staff member and any other rider he sees, he said in an interview with The Hoya.
“We’re supposed to encourage each other, lift each other up,” Calloway said in an interview with The Hoya.
Last month, a GUTS rider sent a complaint to Diann Smith, the director of Georgetown’s Office of Transportation Management. The rider was offended by his songs and speeches; after receiving the complaint, Smith instructed Calloway to stop singing, according to an interview with Calloway.
By silencing a man who has only ever sought to inspire those around him, Georgetown is not only doing its students and community a disservice — the university is violating its own rules and values.
Georgetown’s bar for muzzling speech is high, certainly far beyond well-intentioned song.
A relevant section of the university’s speech and expression policy reads: “It is not the proper role of a University to insulate individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”
OTM’s instructions to the driver would have violated Georgetown’s policy even if the individual who complained found Calloway’s singing deeply offensive. But in this instance, Calloway’s speech does not even reach that threshold. The university’s intrusion on freedom of expression is, in this instance, unwarranted and counterproductive
Smith was not available for comment on this editorial. If her instructions to Calloway were dictated by the terms of his employment with Georgetown, she was well within her rights; however, no university contract should allow the silencing of an employee on such minor grounds.
Georgetown’s handling of this incident also violates our core principle of interreligious dialogue.
In a September 2008 speech at the Queens University Belfast Honorary Degree Ceremony in New York City, University President John J. DeGioia emphasized the importance of listening to the perspectives of other faiths in our day-to-day lives.
“As globalization has made our world smaller and smaller, the fact that we are living side by side demands that we come to understand one another at ever deeper levels,” DeGioia said.
Georgetown’s website currently advertises the value in interfaith communication.
“Religious pluralism and the promotion of interreligious dialogue is a core area of study at Georgetown,” the page reads.
Following through on this obligation requires the willingness of the entire Georgetown community to listen to one another in good faith. Interreligious understanding must be driven not by mistrust and hesitation but rather by a desire to promote the voice of a man who has found strength through his own practice of religion.
Georgetown has a shoddy reputation on free speech issues, such as refusing to formally recognize pro-abortion rights group H*yas for Choice and designating only certain areas, such as Red Square, for speech unconstrained by the university. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a leading nonprofit focusing on individual rights in education, rates Georgetown “Red,” which indicates an institution significantly lacking in free speech.
In these cases, Georgetown typically cites its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization or its adherence to Catholic doctrine. However, the university has no clear basis for asking a GUTS driver to stop singing encouragement to passengers and should reverse this decision immediately.
Calloway’s particular case gives Georgetown an easy opportunity to promote interreligious dialogue while staying well within its own parameters for speech.
In an April 2017 video posted as part of the Unsung Heroes series, which aimed to share the stories of Georgetown’s employees, Calloway says his singing voice was gifted to him by God. In the same interview, Calloway explained his desire to spread joy in his day-to-day life.
“I just want to put a smile on somebody’s face, you know? Give somebody something else to think about for a few seconds or so,” Calloway said.
Georgetown cannot take the opportunity to hear uplifting encouragement — religious or not — away from an member of our community. Let Larry sing.
The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion Editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.