During the Georgetown University Student Association executive election in March, Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Chris Fisk (COL ’17) ran their campaign with a focus on making GUSA more accessible and increasing socio-economic and racial inclusivity on campus.
Midway through their term as GUSA president and vice president, Khan and Fisk have addressed an array of issues, following through on their campaign slogan of “breaking barriers, building bridges” by launching initiatives that connect student government with the wider student body. Their leadership has seen reforms that impact the daily lives of students as well as subtler changes that have longer-term implications for Georgetown.
In an interview with this editorial board, Khan and Fisk reflected on the nature and extent of their accomplishments while keeping an eye on future initiatives. The executive gave its current performance, and that of GUSA as a whole, a grade of A-minus. This is a well-deserved self-assessment given its achievements in restructuring GUSA and tackling the issues of sexual assault, dining reform and socio-economic inclusivity. However, to make greater strides as a representative body, Khan and Fisk must work to engage even more students and invest in addressing issues of race and mental health.
TOWARD A MORE INCLUSIVE CAMPUS
Throughout their campaign, Khan and Fisk emphasized inclusivity as an overarching theme. Their success so far in this area is highlighted by both structural reforms within GUSA and their collaborations with the university.
In the past half year, GUSA has undergone a restructuring that now holds 20 policy teams, which, with the addition of the cabinet, advisory boards and various committees, expanded the size of GUSA to 400 students. Having such a large group of students has allowed for greater student input in a range of issues.
Khan and Fisk have also maintained a strong relationship with the university administration, having hosted numerous joint events and initiatives together. For instance, they launched the first Advisory Board for Affordability and Access, a group comprising students, staff, faculty and administrators who evaluate resources for low-income and first-generation students.
The signing of a 20-year memorandum of understanding on housing between GUSA and the university is another laudable achievement. The university is now committed to publishing a timeline for much-needed housing renovations, while promising not to build a new residence hall on Harbin Patio as well as ensuring that seniors have a right to live off campus. These efforts demonstrate how the GUSA leadership is successfully leveraging its versatile policy teams to bring GUSA, students and the university together.
In the remainder of their term, Khan and Fisk should look beyond the 400 students in GUSA and seek to involve the wider student body. During this year’s senate elections, the average participation rate among nonfreshman districts was 19.8 percent. The short-lived victory of a Chicken Madness ticket also showcased how some students do not take GUSA seriously.
GUSA is responsible for initiatives that play a large role in all students’ lives, yet many of them remain disengaged with campus issues. Through renewed marketing efforts and improved communications with the student body, GUSA can ensure that students understand what GUSA is doing for them and feel comfortable sharing their perspectives on issues pertinent to them.
MAKING PROGRESS ON POLICY
Some of the most important policy gains under the Khan and Fisk administration have been in the area of safety and sexual assault. This semester, they have worked with the Center for Student Engagement to require student organizations to send three members of their leadership to undergo bystander intervention training. GUSA has also pushed forward an initiative to cover the costs of counseling services for sexual assault survivors at Counseling and Psychiatric Services.
Khan and Fisk’s plans for next semester will enable even greater progress in addressing sexual assault on campus. By creating a set of recommendations concerning future sexual misconduct reforms and policies for the Office of President John J. DeGioia office, while working with University Information Services to create an online reporting portal for incidents of sexual assault and misconduct, GUSA will work toward making Georgetown a more survivor-centric campus.
In the area of dining, there has also been significant reform, including the expansion of a meal exchange program in Hoya Court and the ability to use the Tapingo app to preorder meals. Khan and Fisk were also key in working with the university to solidify a new 10-year dining contract that will include major renovations to O’Donovan Hall. Such reforms stand to benefit all students while tackling long-standing dining issues.
Advancements in socio-economic inclusivity should also be noted as both Khan and Fisk have made it a priority to not only establish the aforementioned Advisory Board for Affordability and Access, but also institutional funding for winter break housing. This initiative will ensure winter break housing for students who may lack a stable place to go home over break. The reform reaffirms GUSA ‘s and the university’s commitment to the well-being of all students, no matter their background or socio-economic status.
Throughout the semester, GUSA has also provided platforms for the community to discuss mental health issues on campus. By hosting numerous open forums, it has allowed students to raise their concerns with existing resources, while highlighting the advancements that have already been made. Khan and Fisk’s plan of continuing to engage current groups and programs like Project Lighthouse and the Mental Health Advisory Board is also a welcome plan of action.
With five months to go, Khan and Fisk must refocus their attention on two main issues: mental health and racial and cultural inclusivity.
While open forums are valuable, the GUSA executive and policy teams should allocate more time and resources into drafting concrete policies that seek to improve students’ access to mental health resources. With over 10,000 visits per year, CAPS remains a service highly used by students, yet lobbying for even more staff can ensure that the services will be efficient and able to serve students as effectively as possible.
In addition, as an institution that values pluralism, GUSA needs to address issues of race and cultural inclusivity beyond the usual programming. Its plan to partner with the Black Leadership Forum and the Office of the Provost to host open forums is valuable, but efforts to craft specific policies regarding this subject area are lacking. In their interview, both Khan and Fisk that GUSA is looking into a climate survey dealing with race and cultural inclusivity. This could provide valuable data to guide future policy, and should be one of Khan and Fisk’s priorities going forward.
The A-minus grade that Khan and Fisk gave themselves is fitting for their performance, especially in sexual assault, dining and restructuring GUSA. However, there needs to be an increased focus in making sure the overall student body is engaged with campus issues through more strategic communication efforts. While past GUSA executives have tried to address this to varying degrees of success, Khan and Fisk’s accomplishments thus far suggest that they have the capability to engage students in ways that prior GUSA administrations have not.