Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Vice President Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15) have made efforts at reform and advocacy across a wide span of issues throughout the first half of their term, but have often found their efforts impeded by Georgetown’s administration.
The duo, who gave themselves a B-plus for their term thus far, have prioritized free speech, sexual assault advocacy and Code of Student Conduct reform and plan to continue to work on these issues throughout the second half of their time in office.
Sexual Assault Policy
Tezel pointed to GUSA’s advocacy work on sexual assault policy and awareness as his administration’s greatest accomplishment thus far.
This fall, the university created an additional position for a sexual assault specialist in Health Education Services, filled by former LGBTQ Resource Center Special Projects Coordinator Bridget Sherry, and hired a trained investigator to handle sexual assault cases. Other changes have been implemented in the university’s sexual assault policy, including allowing closed circuit video testimony for survivors — to prevent them from having to come face-to-face with their assailants — ensuring that a survivor’s past sexual history is not used in a hearing and shrinking the size of the hearing board from five members to three.
GUSA proposed policy changes to the administration based on suggestions from the White House’s Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
“The clear message from the White House and from the [Office of Civil Rights] was that we universities need to act,” Tezel said. “We were able to come in and say [to administrators], ‘These are things that advocates have been pointing to for a long time … and these are tangible steps that could be made.’”
Tezel and Jikaria were both facilitators in discussions about sexual assault that were held during New Student Orientation this year. This was the first time that NSO featured such discussions, which focused on the definition of affirmative consent and strategies for bystander intervention.
Haley Maness (NHS ’15), a sexual assault peer educator and a board member of Take Back the Night, said she has been impressed by Tezel and Jikaria’s active work in sexual assault advocacy.
“The one thing that I really admire about Trevor and Omika is that they’re taking it very seriously, not only to make it a big item on their platform, but also to make it something that they’re working toward,” Maness said. “They themselves are really involved in it. They are going to a lot of events and they are participating in a lot of these discussions. It’s really wonderful to see that support not only in terms of reform, but also in terms of physical, visible support.”
Code of Student Conduct Reform
Tezel and Jikaria have advocated for several reforms to the Code of Student Conduct and are working on getting others approved.
In response to GUSA’s efforts, the Office of Student Conduct approved a policy that will allow first-time alcohol and noise violations that occur during freshman year to be removed from a student’s disciplinary record, provided that the student has no additional conduct violations.
Later this semester, the Disciplinary Review Committee will consider policies to limit the amount of time that students can be charged through the Office of Student Conduct and policies to equalize alcohol paraphernalia penalties on and off campus, both of which were goals for the fall semester that they outlined during their campaign.
Tezel and Jikaria have also identified expanding free speech rights for students as a major issue for their administration — one that has gained importance throughout the semester, as the university’s speech policy has had consequences to students and groups outside of GUSA. At the start of their term, Tezel and Jikaria collaborated with former GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) to finalize an updated Speech and Expression Policy, which was released at the end of the spring semester.
Since then, Tezel and Jikaria have worked to create a map of where students are allowed to table, which they recently released to student groups.
The free speech policy was put in the spotlight this semester when the Georgetown University Police Department mistakenly removed H*yas for Choice from its spot outside of the university’s front gates, where it was protesting the university’s bestowal of an honorary degree upon Donald Cardinal Wuerl.
Hoyas United for Free Speech, an independent coalition of students, has spearheaded the response to the incident by creating a petition addressed to the university and calling for additional free speech reform.
“We’ve been in contact with a lot of the members of that coalition that are advocating on those issues,” Tezel said. “Each point that they touch on … has different areas that we need to approach.”
H*yas for Choice President Abby Grace (SFS ’16) said that she feels that GUSA’s free speech reforms have been well-intentioned but have faced setbacks because of the administration.
Additionally, Grace expressed frustration that the opinion from the last Speech and Expression Committee meeting, which was held Sept. 26, has not been released.
“I recognize that this might not be a failing of GUSA itself because this committee is technically convened by Student Affairs. However, seeing that this committee hearing was held over a month ago, I find it rather unreasonable that no official decision has been released yet,” Grace wrote in an email. “That said, individual members of GUSA are always more than willing to speak with me about H*yas for Choice’s concerns.”
Tisa, who spearheaded efforts for the updated free speech policy, said that he thinks that many of the associated issues extend beyond GUSA’s reach.
“The problems with free speech at Georgetown are cultural, and we can make the words on paper be whatever we want it to be, but until the administrators and DPS officers and everyone else enforcing the policy embraces the spirit behind it, it doesn’t matter,” Tisa said. “Georgetown is struggling to decide what it is with relation to Catholic identity, with relation to free speech.”
Jikaria said that by this point in her term, she had planned to work more on reform of Georgetown’s access to benefits policy for student groups, allowing for easier access to services such as room reservation, inclusion in the Student Activities Fair and funding from student activity fees.
“A really big part of our platform revolved around access to benefits as a part of free speech reform,” Jikaria said. “We’re actively working on that, hoping to have a solution by the end of the semester.”
In a disability survey circulated during the GUSA executive race by disability rights activist Lydia Brown (COL ’15), Tezel and Jikaria indicated that they would work toward the creation of a Disability Cultural Center — a goal that has not seen any progress.
“We recognize that there is a finite amount of resources, but I don’t think that should hamper us in really getting to that goal,” Tezel said.
Brown, who serves as GUSA’s undersecretary for disability affairs, said that she feels that a lack of consistency on the university’s part has hindered progress with disability issues.
“The administration has been remarkably inconsistent and frequently nonchalant about physical access issues resulting from the numerous construction projects this semester,” Brown wrote in an email. “On the upside, Trevor and Omika have been incredibly supportive of my work.”
Tezel and Jikaria have created a Disability Justice Working Group that is tasked with advancing on such goals as getting funds for a full-time interpreter for university events. The group has met once so far this semester.
Tezel and Jikaria also created the Multicultural Council this semester, bringing together cultural student groups with the ultimate goal of creating a cultural funding board, so that groups will not have to rely on funds from the Center for Social Justice or Student Activities Commission.
The council has been met with opposition from some members of the Students of Color Alliance, which Tezel attributed to a lapse in communication.
“What we did wrong on our part is that we didn’t communicate well when we sat down with a lot of groups about how the funding structure is currently set up,” Tezel said. “I think there was a conception out there that our changes would bring cultural groups under GUSA … when in reality the funding is very much divorced from GUSA’s day-to-day operations.”
Creating More Transparency
Tezel and Jikaria have made gains in increasing communication between students and university administrators by adding more students to the Main Campus Executive Faculty Committee, a group made up of representatives from all four undergraduate schools that creates academic policy, and the Capital Projects Committee, which advises the university on capital projects, and establishing open office hours with Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and University President John J. DeGioia.
Nevertheless, the first half of their term has been punctuated by a series of unpopular polices proposed, and sometimes enacted, by the administration.
“We came in with a very comprehensive platform and ideas, but what’s most surprising is that there were a lot off unanticipated issues that come up with the administration, like proposals that you can’t really plan for ahead of time,” Jikaria said. “It’s really important to act appropriately and be ready to address anything that comes up.”
In April, the university announced a third-year on-campus housing requirement, which will take effect next fall as the Class of 2017 enters their junior year.
According to Tezel, GUSA attempted to delay the policy so that it would not affect the Class of 2017, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
“We worked with them and tried to negotiation a deferred implementation of this policy, even though we understood, to a certain extent, that with fall 2015 being the deadline for 385 new beds on campus, there was a reason that the policy was coming when it did,” Tezel said.“In fact, the third-year housing requirement was probably decided at the end of the campus plan negotiations in 2012.”
After university administrators made it clear that they would not alter the policy’s implementation schedule, GUSA adjusted its goals to try and make the new policy more appealing for students.
Tezel and Jikaria worked to ensure that the plan would take into account the status of transfer students and students who study abroad, so that the third-year requirement does not become, in effect, a four-year requirement for students who do not spend their entire undergraduate career on Georgetown’s main campus.
“At that point it became, how do we leverage GUSA acquiescence with something that will happen whether or not we want it to, in order to get some more items out of it,” Tezel said.
Earlier this month, the university proposed mandating a third-year meal plan for students, sparking widespread student opposition.
While the university rescinded its proposal, Tezel and Jikaria do not take credit for the withdrawal.
“A lot of it was really student driven,” Jikaria said. “We were maybe the first ones who heard about the consideration of this policy, but I think it really was a great example of how opposed students were.”
Moving forward, Jikaria said that she thinks that the 2017 Campus Plan, which will be drafted from July 2015 to July 2016, is the biggest issue for Georgetown students.
“We see the effects of the last campus plan right here, right now, very tangibly with all of the construction that’s going on,” Jikaria said. “It’s going to be really important for students to understand their role and understand the ramifications of a negative campus plan negotiation outcome.”
Tezel said that he hopes that students will be motivated to collaborate on the next campus plan due to their frustration with the results of the 2010 Campus Plan agreement, which has been the impetus behind many of Georgetown’s recent changes to student life.
“We’re going through growing pains as a university, and I don’t think that is lost on anyone. A big challenge for us is trying to communicate to students what’s happening with all the new construction and trying to help contextualize all of it,” Tezel said.“We want students to be walking by the construction … and understand why it is there. That will be the way that we are able to have students engage in the next round of campus plan negotiations.”
Tezel and Jikaria also said that they will continue to work on reforming the Code of Student Conduct, advocating for changes to the Speech and Expression Policy and increasing transparency between students and the administration.
“We’re doing everything humanly possible to advocate for students on a lot of these issues,” Tezel said. “We’re going to keep working so that at the end of our term we can walk away and look at our full list of accomplishments with the full 12 months being up and say, ‘We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to do here.’”