Tickets for the Georgetown University Student Association executive election discussed their proposed policies to support communities of color at The Blaxa Town Hall on Monday night.
Hosted by The Blaxa, a campus media organization that focuses on amplifying Black voices on campus, and moderated by Monique Wilson (COL ’23), editor in chief of The Blaxa, the discussion centered around each campaign’s proposed policies to tackle key issues affecting BIPOC communities at Georgetown. Topics included reform of the Georgetown University Police Department, advocacy of the descendants of the 272 enslaved people sold by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in 1838, and reformation of the structure of GUSA.
The two tickets in attendance included Nile Blass (COL ’22) and Nicole Sanchez (SFS ’22), and Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22) and Leo Arnett (SFS ’22).
Blass currently serves as provost of the Student Advisory Committee under current GUSA President Nicolo Ferretti (SFS ’21) and Vice President Bryce Badger (MSB ’21). Nicole Sanchez serves as a senator for the at-large class in the GUSA Senate, a member of the student activism team and the senior policy advisor for the GUSA executive staff.
Blass and Nicole Sanchez highlighted their plans to advocate for structural changes to several university facets to benefit not only Black students but also Black faculty and the local Washington, D.C. community. Their plans include centering minority-owned businesses in D.C. at the GU farmers’ market, diversifying academic studies programs, and ensuring Black deans receive long-term positions in the university.
Additionally, GUSA must actively incorporate and add to the work of BIPOC communities instead of just providing support, according to Blass.
“A lot of times, communities — when GUSA meets with them, it meets with them with intentionality — they know what they need. They can say it in very specific terms,” Blass said during the town hall. “I think it’s important to just have that immediate buy-in — make GUSA a place where you’re not just building a bridge to activists, but activists are incorporated.”
Daniella Sanchez and Arnett focused on their plans to introduce a student bill of rights, which would protect students against any university overstep that would limit student autonomy, they said at the town hall.
Daniella Sanchez previously served as speaker of the GUSA Senate and currently serves as the co-director of student inclusion, the director of COVID-19 response and a senate liaison for the executive staff’s engagement team. Arnett is the current director of campus affairs for Ferretti and Badger.
The ticket also plans to change the fundamental structure of GUSA in order to reform the relationship between students and the administration, according to Arnett.
“Policy decisions are one thing, but restructuring is the other,” Arnett said. “We’ve created a process, not a plan, that actually builds the entire institution of GUSA from the ground up relying on students’ voices.”
Sanchez and Arnett’s ticket restructuring plan is a four-step process that involves disbanding the senate, creating a new club funding process with Georgetown’s Council of Advisory Boards and drafting a new governing document.
Three hours before the town hall, a former third ticket, Olivia Kleier (SFS ’22) and Jon Pejo (COL ’22), suspended their campaign, citing allegations that they plagiarized policy ideas from another executive campaign, which they denied.
Wilson also asked candidates how they would advocate for the implementation of the GU272 referendum. The referendum, which students voted to pass in 2019, called for the establishment of a semesterly fee that would go toward a reconciliation fund for descendants of the GU272. The university has since committed to supporting the descendants but has yet to officially implement the fund.
While the reconciliation fund is important, the university needs to go further by honoring the enslaved people with monuments and other formal recognitions, according to Blass, who is currently a member of the GU272 advocacy team, an on-campus group of students that advocates for descendants.
“It’s also ensuring that the memory and legacy of the GU272 of all the enslaved people that Georgetown owned and then buried under the buildings and the dorms is highlighted and acknowledged,” Blass said. “That has to be incorporated into our New Student Orientation so that when you’re coming onto campus you understand that your presence there is an extension of a history.”
Daniella Sanchez and Arnett said they plan to center the voices of advocacy groups involved in the GU272 referendum.
“Recognizing that we are not part of this group, we don’t want to take over the advocacy,” Daniella Sanchez said. “Our plan would be to work with the advocates and activists that are part of the group to make sure that their needs are met and that we are working for them in whatever way they see fit for us to be working for them.”
The candidates also discussed their plans to combat racial bias from GUPD officers following months of student concerns about the department’s role on campus. Last June, following nationwide demonstrations against police brutality, a student petition demanding the university cease all relationships with any police department garnered over 8,000 signatures. On June 7, the GUSA Senate passed a resolution that called for the university to cease its relationship with the Metropolitan Police Department and later created a student advisory committee to oversee GUPD.
Blass and Sanchez’s platform aims to advocate for increased student involvement in GUPD decision-making and better communication between GUPD and students to improve community interactions, according to Blass.
“I think perhaps we need to reestablish our communications with those who are involved with structuring and leading GUPD to see exactly where they are and where their consistency is,” Blass said.
Although many students have shared stories on social media of encountering bias with GUPD, there is little data currently available for anyone to use for making a change, according to Arnett.
“One of the big issues with the GUPD relationship is that there, so far — other than people just telling their stories about how they’ve been harassed or abused by GUPD — there’s just no tangible data,” Arnett said. “Our administration will hopefully use that data once it’s available to us as students and point directly to the experiences of students that have experienced harassment from GUPD so that the administration can’t just brush it aside.”
Sanchez and Arnett’s administration plans to use data collected in the Cultural Climate Survey to hold the university and GUPD accountable. As a senator, Daniella Sanchez was a member of GUSA’s Cultural Climate Survey committee, which advocated for the inclusion of more questions in the survey, including questions about GUPD.
Sanchez and Arnett’s campaign also plans to advocate to end the university’s use of a portion of the Student Activities Fee to fund GUPD, according to Daniella Sanchez.
“The student activities fee, everyone pays that, it goes to clubs and clubs who have events are forced to pay for four hours of GUPD, even if their event is not four hours,” Sanchez said. “Leo and I are going to be working toward making sure that no student money actually goes toward the GUPD salaries.”
In addition to advocating for members of BIPOC communities, the next GUSA executives must plan beyond the extent of their term and advocate for long-term change within GUSA, according to Blass.
“I think sometimes GUSA regulates first-years to smaller assignments, but the reality is if we want the culture of GUSA to change, even outside of the structure, but the people who are drawn to it and how people commit to it, we actually have to extend those changes and incorporate the people who are coming in after you, who will have these leadership positions after you, into those changes,” Blass said.