Although the university issued a revised speech and expression policy in May, the Georgetown University Student Association and other student organizations are calling for even more extensive access to benefits reform across campus, and clearer communication of the boundaries of new free speech zones.
The revised policy designates spaces such as Regents Lawn, the lobby of the Leavey Center and the Healey Family Student Center as free speech zones for students to table, stage protests and share ideas, but fails to specify the exact locations of zones outside residence halls.
According to GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15), the Office of Residential Living has not yet produced a map of acceptable free speech zones, despite multiple requests.
“Somewhat unfortunately, the Office of Residential Living hasn’t gotten back to us on the areas in front of residence halls that students can table,” Tezel said. “The free speech memorandum of understanding was finalized in May and this is something we were trying to work out over the summer. I think the delays can be attributed in part to the shifting construction landscape and the lack of certainty of what areas would be cut off.”
H*yas for Choice President Abby Grace (SFS ’16) said that the organization, which is not recognized by the university, has requested a map multiple times. Without a map, Grace said that she is worried about being removed from Sunday’s Student Activities Fair.
“If we’re confronted by GUPD, we want to have something issued from the university clearly labeled, showing that we’re allowed to be there,” Grace said. “As of today, they still haven’t gotten back to us. … I get that things are busy with construction and move-in and whatnot, but at the same time, if you’re going to say that you’re opening new zones, you can’t just say that they’re there but not provide clear guidelines as to where they are.”
According to Assistant Dean for Student Engagement Erika Cohen Derr, student groups without access to benefits can only table in Red Square during the fair, separate from university-affiliated organizations on Copley Lawn. Groups without access to benefits include fraternities and sororities, student businesses, clubs in development periods and campaigns.
“As has been the case every year, individual students or groups without access to benefits can set up in Red Square,” Cohen Derr wrote in an email. “This year in planning for inclement weather the organizers of the SA Fair—the Council of Advisory Boards—has decided to have a rain date instead of a rain location, so in the case of bad weather the SA Fair will move to Sept. 7, and Red Square will continue to be the location for individual students with a viewpoint to express or groups without access to benefits.”
This restricted access to benefits for certain student groups will become a major focus for this year’s GUSA staffers, Tezel said.
“We are about to be engaging the administration on it [access to benefits] in a very serious way,” he said. “What we’re looking to do in some form or another is to ensure that groups like H*yas for Choice, even if they don’t receive funding from the university, still deserve to be able to express themselves as one of many voices that takes place in the campus dialogue.”
GUSA will continue discussions about access to benefits with university administrators, and Tezel said that he hopes to increase access to tabling at the fair, reserving spaces such as Copley Formal Lounge for events, communal storage space and Center for Social Justice van rentals for unrecognized student groups.
“Recognized student organizations should have preference in reserving [Office of Campus Activity Facilities] space, reserving vans and everything else, but especially if we are allowing outside vendors to take advantage of space opportunities at Georgetown, it’s really a shame that we’re not providing that same opportunity to groups of students,” Tezel said.
Grace said that H*yas for Choice will also advocate for access to benefits reform in order to expand free speech on campus.
“There’s still issues with people not being clear on the policy, and I think that what we are going to be demanding this semester is regardless of what a policy says — if its enforcement is not clear, you might as well not have the policy,” Grace said. “We believe that we are here to hold people accountable. We respect that the university does have religious affiliations, but at the same time, we think that the university should respect the innate right of every student to freedom of speech and expression.”