The Georgetown University Student Association Senate voted to establish new discussion guidelines during its meeting July 19 in light of several intense debates within the organization.
The new guidelines aim to foster inclusive discussion among senators holding different viewpoints and minimize personal attacks against senators during discourse.
“RESPECT all of the members of our group in their varied experiences, perspectives, situations, and identities, even in disagreement,” the document orders. “Separate the people from the issue: Someone may make a statement or behave in a manner that seems insensitive or offensive. Before resorting to personal attacks, try to address the specific incident first.”
While GUSA adheres to the GUSA Governing By-laws and standard parliamentary procedure, these established rules do not address senator conduct during debate. The new community guidelines will formalize rules for respectful behavior and hold senators accountable for their speech and actions, according to GUSA Senate Speaker Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22).
“I hope that our community guidelines serve as a reminder of how to engage in respectful discourse for our body, and I intend to use these guidelines to hold all of us accountable for our comments and behavior within the Senate,” Sanchez wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The creation of behavioral guidelines comes in response to significant disagreement and hostility within the senate during its summer session meetings, according to Sanchez.
“This is necessary as the summer, unlike any summer before, has been full of extremely important, sensitive, and, at times, political issues that have ignited a lot of passion and heated debate within the Senate,” Sanchez wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Disagreement is part of the process yet I have seen that we have had a difficult time respectfully disagreeing which eerily matches the civility within our current political atmosphere.”
Senators have also engaged in disrespectful and offensive behavior during the summer session, specifically in regard to recent racial justice issues and the Black Lives Matter movement, according to GUSA Senator Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS ’23).
“We’ve seen Senators act disparagingly towards people that bring testimony forward about their own experiences with racism and discrimination on our campus,” Bazail-Eimil wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We see Senators refuse to add pronouns to their biographies and Zoom names, call the Black Lives Matter movement all sorts of horrible things, and generally drag their feet on racial justice issues. We’ve also seen that some Senators are willing to make deals around bills that are designed to support FGLI students so that they can enjoy greater power in the Senate.”
Two weeks prior to the decorum reforms, the senate held a heated debate about a student article that condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and denied the existence of systemic racism.
Sanchez emphasized the importance of respectful debate among GUSA senators and criticized the idea that debates within GUSA are a conflict between liberal and conservative students.
“We should not be unanimous every time,” Sanchez said during the meeting. “I understand that there’s a lot of issues that we feel passionate about and we think should be unanimous. But at the end of the day, if you look at the broader Georgetown community that we’re representing, we don’t all have the same perspective. Georgetown University as a whole does not always agree on everything.”
To better promote a sense of communal respect, the Senate Community Guidelines recognize the potentially upsetting nature of the issues GUSA deals with and implement provisions for senators to avoid interfering in one another’s policy areas. The document also acknowledges the potential effects of debates on the well-being of students and encourages senators to focus on the issues that are most relevant to the lives of Georgetown students.
The GUSA Senate functions best when it focuses on issues relevant to the lives of Georgetown students, according to GUSA Senator Chris Ziac (COL ’22).
“Often when we get into more divisive and broader issues that have less tangible connection to our community, that’s when we get into more divisive and uncomfortable territory, and I think that some of the best work we do is when we’re more explicitly focused on helping students have a better Georgetown experience,” Ziac said during the meeting.
The GUSA Senate also voted to appoint Ziac as its vice speaker for the remaining month of GUSA’s summer session.
Ziac edged Senators Zach Volpe (SFS ’23) and Zahra Wakilzada (COL ’23) in a close election for the position June 19.
The previous vice speaker, Eric Lipka (COL ’23), resigned from his position on the leadership team and in the Senate on July 9 to focus on his mental health. Following his resignation, Lipka endorsed both Wakilzada and Senator Leo Teixeira (COL ’21) as options to take his place.
In advocating for his candidacy, Ziac emphasized his experience in GUSA working with Georgetown’s student organizations.
“I have deep knowledge of both student organization leadership, the financial aid system, federal work-study, as well as the committees of GUSA, by-laws, constitution and et cetera,” Ziac said during the meeting. “I believe this deep knowledge will help me more definitely navigate the reopening negotiations, as well as the other issues that we’ve been dealing with this summer.”
Ziac hopes to help further student interests as fall reopening plans continue to develop.
“I hope to use the position to facilitate and advance the great advocacy and other initiatives Senators have been tirelessly working on throughout the summer,” Ziac wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Additionally, I hope to be an advocate for all students as GUSA leadership continues to meet with University administration on issues regarding reopening and ensuring students have the resources they require for the fall semester.”
Wakilzada believes the senate missed an opportunity to foster more inclusive leadership by electing Ziac.
“Unfortunately, I am not surprised by the turnout,” Wakilzada wrote in an email to The Hoya. “[The] Senate has always favored a specific group over others for leadership positions. I really hope that we learn and educate each other on the importance of practicing real inclusivity and representation.”
After moving to change the community guidelines, GUSA unanimously passed a resolution to combat student food insecurity during the ongoing pandemic.
To combat food insecurity, the GUSA resolution urges the university to consider providing food stipends for students facing food insecurity and encourages that the Hoya Hub remains at its current, temporary location in McCarthy Hall rather than its original location in the Leavey Center, where its proximity to the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital could put students going to the Hoya Hub at risk of coming in contact with COVID-19 patients.
“I think that food insecurity was already a fairly big issue on college campuses across this country before the pandemic,” GUSA Senator Joseph Yacovone (COL ’22), the resolution’s sponsor, said during the meeting. “And I think the ongoing crisis has only made things worse, not better.”