In both the presidential and vice presidential debates for the 2014 Georgetown University Student Association election, the topics of free expression and rights for unrecognized student groups, specifically H*yas for Choice, to access university benefits were key topics of discussion.
The future of groups such as HFC remains at the forefront of the free expression debate after the group was controversially removed from Healy Circle by the Georgetown University Police Department on Jan. 20.
H*yas for Choice Vice President Abby Grace (SFS ’16) noted that most of the campaigns for GUSA executive support the initiatives that her organization desires, namely the expansion of free speech zones and reform for access to benefits policy. According to Grace, three out of the four teams, Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15), Zach Singer (SFS ’15) and Dan Silkman (COL ’15) and Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15) and Jimmy Ramirez (COL ’15) reached out to her organization to discuss how best to promote free speech policy on campus.
Grace noted that her organization has chosen not to endorse any one particular ticket this year because it agrees with the policies advocated by the three tickets that have reached out to her.
“We interviewed three candidates and actually decided that because they all had access to benefits reform in their platforms, and they really focused on the free speech memorandum of understanding, making sure it gets through the speech and expression committee,” Grace said.
According to Grace, however, the campaign of Ben Weiss (COL ’15) and Sam Greco (SFS ’15) chose not to reach out to HFC for collaboration during the policy development process.
“They did not come to us for our opinion, they were the only ticket that didn’t email us,” Grace said. “They’re also the only group that doesn’t have access to benefits reform in their platform, so there’s a policy difference between that ticket and the other three tickets.”
Greco acknowledged that he was unsure whether his campaign reached out to HFC for input during the development of its platform.
“We instructed our staffer who was on this to contact every group on campus, from club sports to solidarity to political groups to fraternities, to everything,” Greco said. “I didn’t send the emails myself, obviously, but our intention was to reach out to every group on campus.”
Greco refuted any possibility that his team purposely chose not to engage HFC during the development of their platform’s policies.
Weiss chose not to comment on this issue, but he stated that Greco’s sentiments represented the official stance of the campaign.
Weiss and Greco’s campaign platform includes reform to the university’s access to benefits policy, but in contrast to the three other teams that emphasize policy reforms that allow unrecognized groups to gain equal rights, their ticket stresses increasing the ability of individuals to host events and rent space and equipment.
“It’s the only platform with a reasonable attempt to address groups on campus without access to benefits, and it’s something we know we can accomplish and do it quickly,” Greco said. “H*yas For Choice would be able to have the access to benefits through individuals in the group that any other organization has.”
While Greco did not address the possibility of unrecognized groups gaining rights as organizations under his proposed system, he expressed support for HFC’s continued presence at Georgetown.
“H*yas for Choice is a group on campus that we care about extensively, and we feel is critical to the culture at Georgetown, just like every other student group here is,” Greco said.
Additionally, Weiss and Greco include in their platform the creation of a campus-wide free speech zone, a proposal that HFC also supports.
Weiss and Greco’s campaign has been endorsed by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, one of Georgetown’s officially unrecognized Greek societies.
SAE President Matt Castaldo (COL ’15) noted that the team’s policies regarding free speech were a large part of his decision to endorse the ticket.
“From being able to reserve space for events to tabling outside of Red Square, SAE’s voice is significantly curtailed at Georgetown,” Castaldo said. “Like Ben and Sam, I believe every student and club has an absolute right to free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of association not only at Georgetown, but in any community.”
Castaldo noted that Weiss and Greco’s proposed Special Representative for Free Speech, as well as initiative allowing individuals to rent space and equipment, would be particularly helpful to unrecognized organizations like SAE.
“Their feasible plan for access to benefits reform will allow any student, and therefore unrecognized groups, at Georgetown to reserve any space, anywhere and at any time,” Castaldo said.
Greco is a former president of the SAE Fraternity, which, as of writing, is the only student organization, non-official or otherwise, to officially endorse the Weiss and Greco ticket.
Tezel and Jikaria believe the current system is outdated and want to convene a working group to review policy.
“We want to reform the access to benefits and student organization standards policies, which are the real policies that affect whether or not groups are able to table at the Student Activates fair, or whether or not they’re able to utilize storage space,” Tezel said.
According to a campaign statement, Singer’s ticket seeks to expand upon previous GUSA efforts to enhance free speech on campus, in addition to enacting access to benefits reform. “Zach and Dan will build off Nate and Adam’s work on free speech to ensure that all Georgetown students are able to respectfully express their opinions on the Hilltop,” the statement said. “GUSA will collaborate with unrecognized groups to ensure that their work on campus is unimpeded by onerous regulations.”
Lloyd and Ramirez’s platform includes a tiered system of funding that would allow currently unrecognized student groups access to some university benefits, in addition to opening up campus space for rental by individual students.
“Currently, new student groups, fraternities, sororities and other organizations are barred from accessing benefits,” their platform states. “Access to free speech, space and spending cannot be restricted to any individual or group.”