Georgetown University prides itself on providing a “world-class learning experience … [where] students are challenged to engage in the world and become men and women in the service of others, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community.” The School of Foreign Service proudly proclaims itself a “program with a legacy of academic excellence combined with a devotion to humanitarian service.” I — and I’m sure many of you — chose to attend Georgetown because of the university’s commitment to social justice, along with its commitment to preparing the next generation of global citizens to lead and make a difference in the world.
My professors at Georgetown preached compassion and understanding and emphasized the paramount importance of defending the most vulnerable among us. Having received this education, I struggle to understand how Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (SFS ’94) — who proudly exalts her Georgetown credentials in her Twitter bio — reconciles her Jesuit education with an immigration policy that has already separated at least 2,400 children from their families and drove one distraught father applying for asylum to commit suicide.
Did Nielsen never sit down with a Jesuit professor or her residency chaplain to discuss the role of compassion in leadership? What about her Georgetown experience galvanized Nielsen to implement a policy that literally tore babies from their mothers’ arms?
Widespread violence and gang activity have driven tens of thousands of children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the United States since 2014. However, it wasn’t until April 2018 that Attorney General Jeff Sessions implemented a “zero-tolerance” policy at the border and detained families were separated in an effort to deter asylum seekers. There exist various cheaper, more humane and just as effective alternatives to universal detention. However, Nielsen chose to hold children hostage and coerce their parents to sign voluntary deportation orders — even though deportation is effectively a death sentence for many of the fleeing families.
As I reflect on the grave reality Nielsen has imposed on thousands of families, I struggle to understand how she and I — a first-generation immigrant who came to the United States as a young child — could attend the same university. I struggle to understand how Georgetown, which reinforced my values of social justice and community service, served as a prelude to Nielsen’s defense of a policy that pediatric and child trauma experts warn risks long-term negative impacts on the separated children’s immune systems, the development of their brains and even the shape of their personalities.
The only answer I have is that Nielsen is a Georgetown graduate, but she is not a Hoya.
A Hoya does not enable harm to immigrant children and their families. A Hoya does not facilitate racism, prejudice, bigotry and xenophobia. Being a Hoya is belonging to a community of people devoted to social justice and making the world a better place through steadfast leadership and action.
Georgetown has remained silent on Nielsen’s actions as an implementer and defender of President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” border policy, even as Pope Francis has publicly condemned the policy, and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities along with several Jesuit universities — including Fordham University, Loyola Marymount and Loyola University of Chicago — released individual statements condemning the practice of separating families at the border.
Nevertheless, the Georgetown community is more than the institution, and those outside of the administration have voiced their disgust with their fellow alum.
To date, over 1,300 Georgetown alumni have signed a Change.org petition demanding that Nielsen resign from her position; if the election of Trump has taught us anything, it is that racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, prejudice and bigotry grow and fester if left unchecked by members of a community. And we the Georgetown community — current Hoyas, alumni, parents, faculty and staff — cannot be complicit in Nielsen’s actions by remaining silent. We have a responsibility to speak on behalf of the vulnerable families and children seeking refuge in the United States — even when our school does not.
Being a Hoya means more than merely graduating from Georgetown: It means opposing racism, condemning opportunism, protesting xenophobia and denouncing Nielsen.
Andrea Guerrero graduated from the School of Foreign Service in 2015.