Three GU Fossil Free members are pleading against charges by the Office of Student Conduct issued March 25 on unauthorized access to restricted spaces and failure to comply with university and law enforcement officials.
They received the sanctions after protesting at World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim’s lecture on global warming at Gaston Hall two weeks ago.
After Kim finished his speech, GU Fossil Free members Elaine Colligan (SFS ’15), Patricia Cipollitti (SFS ’15) and Chloe Lazarus (COL ’16) walked onto the stage with a banner quoting a statement Kim had previously made on climate change. Director of Student Conduct Judy Johnson and several Georgetown University Police Department officers physically escorted the three students off the stage.
On Friday, Colligan, Cipolliti and Lazarus met with Johnson to discuss the alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct. The charges could result in a $25 fine related to unauthorized access and housing probation for the failure to comply with university officials.
Johnson declined to comment on the specific incident, but emphasized that student resistance to university officials and law officers is a violation of the Code of Student Conduct. The group vocally resisted requests to step down from Johnson, and after five minutes of dialogue, left the stage.
“The student code of conduct outlines behaviors, consistent with community standards, that are considered violations of the code. For example, engaging in behavior that does not adhere to the directives of a university official or a law enforcement officer is a violation,” Johnson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The three members are currently challenging the charges on the grounds of free speech rights that are guaranteed by the Speech and Expression Policy. The charges made by the Office of Student and possible punishments are “adjucated based on the nature and severity of the behavior and the sanction, which typically may be imposed for a first time violation of a single regulation,” according to the Student Conduct Sanctioning Guide. Disciplinary decisions and sanctions can be appealed. In the appeals process, an administrator or Hearing Board reviews the original record and supporting documents. A sanctioned group can only appeal once.
Section II, Part E of the policy states that, “expressive activities planned and executed with the intention of protesting an event, policy or other concept can take place in all campus locations, regardless of whether the space has been reserved for that purpose, as long as the actions do not violate other university policies, disrupt university business, or curtail the free speech rights of others.”
Cipollitti said that she maintains that GU Fossil Free abided by the university’s speech and expression policy, which states that students may protest events, “as long as the actions do not violate other university policies, disrupt university business or curtail the free speech rights of others.”
“[Johnson] kept indicating that this was an issue of student conduct and not free speech and we kept replying that we were abiding by the university policy, the free speech policy, and therefore these charges based on the Code of Student Conduct were inapplicable to us, so it was kind of a back-and-forth,” Cipollitti said.
According to Cipolliti, the three will continue to argue against the charges, in hopes that the university would comply with its free speech policy.
“We are prepared to defend our right to free speech, which has been a topic of conversation in the past year at the university and because we hope that the university will uphold this right and we hold it in good faith that they genuinely abide by the university’s mission and commitment to the free interchange of ideas,” Cipollitti said. “We think that the consequences will be consistent to that.”
Speech and Expression Committee member Sam Kleinman (COL ’16), who was present at the meeting, said that Johnson did not seem interested in hearing the three students’ defense. Kleinman, as a member of the committee, was at the meeting to serve as a witness and advocate for the group througout the process.
“[Johnson] was pretty dead set and pretty convinced that [the students] were ‘guilty.’ She seemed rather upset and vexed that those three folks from GU Fossil Free didn’t admit that they had done something wrong,” Kleinman said. “At one point, she said and I quote, ‘I don’t want to get into a debate with you,’ toward the end of the meeting.”
Kleinman said that he supports GU Fossil Free in expressing their beliefs through the freedom of expression.
“This is clearly a matter of expression and not code of conduct,” Kleinman said. “This is a free speech issue and I am still staunch in my belief along with [GU Fossil Free] that [they] had every right to be on that stage.”
Hoya Staff Writer Jack Bennett contributed reporting.