“We see a disconnect between students and the university’s administrative decision-making processes,” reads the first sentence of Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Vice President Omika Jikaria’s (SFS ’15) campaign platform. Seven months after the pair’s election, roughly halfway through their term, that disconnect still exists, with only some progress made to close the gap.
During their hour-long interview with this editorial board, Tezel and Jikaria demonstrated a solid understanding of the issues that students care about, as well as the steps that must be taken in order to effect change in those areas.
However, with regard to the tactics and urgency that they bring to their positions, Tezel and Jikaria have failed to mobilize student interest and make trailblazing progress in any of the primary topic areas of concern that propelled them to the front of last year’s GUSA executive race.
With the improper removal of H*yas for Choice from a location where it was entitled to table this September, issues relating to free speech and expression took on renewed importance for campus, and for Tezel and Jikaria. In recent weeks, a proactive grassroots student coalition, Hoyas United for Free Speech, has emerged independent of any pre-existing student group to solidify students’ right of expression on campus.
Speaking about GUSA’s role in the HUFS campaign, Tezel said, “I think there are some issues where the issue is better spearheaded by students who aren’t connected to GUSA, and I am never hesitant in assigning GUSA the role as supporter of another cause, or leading it, depending on the situation.”
His statement is sensible in the abstract and an important recognition that GUSA need not be at the focal point of every issue. Even so, it seems strange that Tezel and Jikaria would choose to take a backseat on free speech of all issues, given that its importance has only magnified over the course of their term.
To be solved, free speech is an issue that demands working relationships with administrators, and for that reason, an increased role for GUSA would be welcome. There are certainly times when it is best for GUSA to be a support group, but free speech — a high point of contention this semester — is not one of them.
Student Rights and Access to Benefits
As Tezel and Jikaria proclaimed in both their campaign and in this interview, a major goal of their GUSA administration has been to achieve fair access to university benefits for all student groups. One of their most concrete and admirable campaign promises was that all student groups would — at the very least — be able to table at the fall and spring Student Activities fairs.
However, at this fall’s SA Fair, student groups with no access to benefits — notably Georgetown University Fossil Free, HFC and unrecognized Greek organizations — were absent, signaling a lack of definitive progress on this front for the GUSA administration.
The bureaucratic difficulties of changing these school policies lie with changing the regulations regarding access to benefits. Before a campus group can be financed or recognized by the university, the group must fulfill several prerequisites, one of which is compliance with all university policy.
When questioned about this yet unfulfilled campaign promise, Tezel and Jikaria underscored both the importance of the issue and their unparalleled commitment to solving it.
However, they also acknowledged that at a school with a strong Jesuit tradition, one should expect any new agreement to hold Georgetown’s historical values in high esteem.
While the goal of having all student groups table at the fall SA Fair may have not been met in time, the executives confidently claim that they are working on a way to provide support for these unrecognized groups within reasonable boundaries to protect the concerns of the administration.
Only next semester’s SA Fair will indicate whether those efforts come to fruition.
On the issue of diversity, Tezel and Jikaria have not shown the same levelheaded foresight that was exhibited in their approaches to student rights and access to benefits.
The most notable diversity enterprise of the incumbent GUSA administration is by far the newly conceived and implemented Multicultural Council, a key campaign point that is intended to help coordinate advocacy and programming among cultural student groups. However, Tezel and Jikaria indicated that they intend the Multicultural Council to eventually adopt funding responsibilities and operate independently of GUSA.
Yet these goals have not been made clear to the organizational leaders involved, nor were they made clear during the campaign. For this idea to succeed, it will need a strong coalition of campus leaders and administrators, which must start with open information and public support.
Tezel and Jikaria do emphasize that widespread support from students played a key role in spearheading the Multicultural Council, citing strong attendance of students at council town halls this semester as evidence of this support. But mere bodies in seats are not indicative of true support for the council, and it is important that the current executives understand this logic.
The current executive has done a mediocre job working with existing resources that promote diversity and multiculturalism on campus — notably the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and the Students of Color Alliance. The fact that GUSA has put in so much effort to get the council off the ground, but hasn’t yet shored up the firm support from students in existing organizations shows little sustainable achievement in such an important area.
However, their courage to put forth an idea for an institution like the proposed Multicultural Council is laudable. Going forward, the GUSA executive should more effectively seek out student opinion and ensure that their most notable achievement regarding campus diversity reaches its potential.
Campus Plan and City Issues
Going forward, relationships between the students of Georgetown and the city of Washington will become more and more important, as the 2010 Campus Plan agreement — the cause of so much change and complaint on campus — fades from memory, and the 2017 Campus Plan negotiations move to the foreground.
Both Tezel and Jikaria correctly recognize that this is an issue that requires proactivity on their part. As the university moves toward developing a master plan this summer, ensuring that students are able to express their priorities is something that must be done during the earliest stages of the master planning process.
The 2017 Campus Plan and the subsequent agreement with Georgetown’s neighbors will shape the development of Georgetown for the coming decade. Just as the 2010 Campus Plan agreement is the ultimate impetus for burdensome campus construction this year, the 2017 plan has the potential to have equally detrimental ramifications for future generations of Georgetown students.
It is an area where student input is crucial and on such a complicated, policy-based issue, GUSA’s role in informing the student body is essential.
Through the formation of a Master Planning Working Group that will draw input from other student committees such as the Provost Advisory Committee and the Athletics Advisory Board, this GUSA administration seems to understand that the campus plan is not simply a top-down project, but one that affects all Georgetown students in their day-to-day lives.
When Tezel was asked to assess his performance, he gave himself and Jikaria a B-plus, but promised that they could earn an A by the time their term is complete. The two are correct that there is work to be done, as they have left many of their stated priorities for the second half of their term.
Tezel and Jikaria have shown a strong start, but they are so far lacking a signature achievement and the momentum that motivated their campaign ticket. By more fully engaging student activism and working to counter university obstinacy, they will be be better equipped to achieve the long-term hopes and goals that so effectively captured the Hilltop’s attention in March.