The beginning of the semester has been a turbulent time for black students at Georgetown, with racist graffiti and a climbing rope that was initially deemed to be a possible noose found under Healy. The incidents and the university’s response have only intensified the discussion about diversity on campus. THE HOYA sat down with Carolyn Chambers (COL ’11), president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Georgetown chapter, to discuss the incidents and broader issues of diversity on campus, as well as the NAACP’s role as a political organization defending minority opinions on campus
What do you feel the university has done well and poorly, in terms of diversity, in recent years, including the implementation of the Diversity Initiative?
The Diversity Initiative is a big step, but there’s a lot of things that the university could improve upon to make it a stronger program. I recognize that it’s here, and a great thing, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy in the whole process [that needs to be traversed] in order for the initiative to pass. Thus, it hasn’t happened as quickly as I would have liked it to.
I think we would appreciate a greater push for recruitment of minority faculty, and the encouragement of faculty to acknowledge diversity within their educational spheres. New classes don’t need to be added, but since there’s limitations, we have to work with what we have. We’d all appreciate it if the faculty would help students hear the unique, diverse voices in the classroom.
Georgetown hasn’t done as much as it could do in developing a diverse class. It seems that the incoming class is very diverse, but I’ve heard that statistically, the percentage of students from diverse backgrounds has been about the same. Georgetown could do a lot more in terms of fostering interest from different groups of students.
What do you think is the most prominent issue facing minority students in the United States of America?
Economic empowerment is the largest issue facing the people represented by the NAACP. For minorities, the issue of finding a job that pays enough income to support a family and suitable lifestyle has been a struggle not only decades in the making, but centuries, maybe even millennia. I feel like economic empowerment can manifest itself in different ways. It can be thought of in terms of the environment in which people grow up, such as the young children who grew up in weak neighborhoods that don’t have good schools, or in terms of education, stretching from kindergarten all the way to college.
I feel [that] money and the lack of it, as well as the lack of opportunity to participate in our consumerist, capitalist society and economy, proves difficult. For many minorities, they find that they’re not located on the same playing field as the rest of the nation.
I think the university does a good job of providing jobs, opportunities and work-study programs to minority students. The university does offer a decent amount of financial aid. In my own opinion, it’s not as much actually attending school that proves difficult to many students. It’s paying for all the things that at first seem little, until you find yourself trying to pay for all of them, such as the extra quarter added to doing laundry, and other random things. These things are extras, but they’re amenities that are hard to pay for. . There’s an assumption here that everybody just simply has money in their pockets, that they can afford all of these things, while the basic fact is many students here cannot.
How do you feel about the university’s response to the discriminatory graffiti and the rope that was described as a “possible noose”?
I applaud the university for announcing the noose, and then creating a community meeting in order to discuss it, almost as soon as the noose got announced. I had never seen anything like that before in my years here at Georgetown, or experienced the university admit something, or reach out to the community. Now unfortunately, that meeting was not well attended, but that’s a whole other issue – the lack of attention and care provided by the student body.
The students don’t necessarily become complacent, but they become comfortable in the situation surrounding them. Despite that, I think the university did a good job in hosting the event. A lot of things were, however, left intentionally vague, in the name of security, which I guess theoretically makes sense.
I think that the university might have been able to do other things, in order to handle the situation better, but I think the bigger situation is that we as a campus need to change our focus from being reactive to being proactive. I think that in order to prevent situations like this from happening again, to be more proactive, we need to try to pass all of the Diversity Initiative. Despite the fact that the noose proved not to be a noose, there is no excuse for the graffiti that already existed down there, near the rope.
Some academics believe that modern social activism manifested online doesn’t carry the same weight as the hierarchical structuring of the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s, which operated through churches and other organizations. How do you respond to that?
We have to realize that times are changing. We can’t do things in the same manner and capacity that we could do things in the past. We can still do grassroots programs, and work through church networks as the NAACP did in the past, but it’s a different era, with amazing new technology – and we’d be silly not to take advantage of it. We can take advantage of things such as social networking, while using grassroots networks, and be even more effective. Social networking can help you reach people that you couldn’t possibly reach before.
Think about nowadays, when groups work together between California and New York. With social networking, planning between the different parts of this nation, and throughout the world, is so much easier than it ever was in the past. All those things can be coordinated, just by making a status, and having Twitter accounts re-Tweet it. People can send a message just by changing their profile pictures, and that’s the beautiful thing about social networks. It connects people around the world in a second, in a way thought impossible before.
We need to realize that times have changed, and we need to use all of our resources. With the black community in general, it makes sense that organizations like the NAACP could only work by working through churches, because that was the most effective way to reach out to the black community. It was, and is, a big value, but as you know, people don’t go to church as often as they used to. We can motivate all of those people, as well as people that didn’t go to church, all by using social networks to rally people.