Throughout the 2015-16 academic year, the Georgetown community saw a range of issues sparking activism and dialogue across campus. From continuing efforts to memorialize the university’s history with slavery to improving programs dedicated to addressing mental health issues, our community’s progress this past year found its stride in certain areas while stumbling in others. As this editorial board reflects on the past and looks to the future, we seek to understand the key issues that still require the entire community’s undivided attention and commitment to action.
Champion Student Health
Building on advocacy efforts in previous years, addressing health and wellness issues became an increasingly urgent concern for the community. Initiatives such as the peer-to-peer counseling service Project Lighthouse and the extension of free, semester-long Counseling and Psychiatric Services to survivors of sexual assault and alleged perpetrators were all welcome steps in the right direction — toward an environment in which Georgetown students receive adequate institutional support and care for issues related to their mental health. What is more, the introduction of these developments were all collaborative efforts by the Georgetown University Student Association, student activists and the administration.
While such initiatives exemplify the ways our community can work together to achieve meaningful progress, we cannot now rest on our laurels. In time, Project Lighthouse is going to need a greater amount of funding and support from the administration in order to achieve its full potential and serve students 24 hours a day. Additionally, the university must meet the long-term goal of GUSA, which is to acquire office space for this program. This office space would demonstrate the structural support that the university would be willing to provide to this online, peer-to-peer service. It is important to have this space because support from the university can only ensure greater efficacy for student efforts to help classmates. Student movements are great, but programs carried out with the full force of the university behind them will always have the potential for greater results.
At the same time, while making a semester of CAPS free for survivors is positive, more students would benefit if the free services were extended past one semester. Instead of allocating capital for projects that do not directly benefit the majority of the community — such as building a new athletic center — the university should direct renewed fundraising efforts to create a CAPS program that gives students greater access to support for as long as they need these services.
Campus Plan and Living Space
Perhaps no other collaboration between the university, the Georgetown neighborhood and GUSA deserves more attention than the 2018 Campus Plan. The campus plan will not only affect current students. Its implications are far-reaching, and students more than a decade from now will bear the burden of any of the plan’s mishaps and mistakes, particularly in regard to infrastructure and living space.
While the final negotiations for the plan have yet to be reached, the administration and GUSA have already laid out primary goals they hope to achieve. One area of concern is construction and refurbishment for existing residential buildings. While the construction of the new Northeast Triangle Residence Hall will increase the number of available beds, existing structures and housing continue to suffer from dilapidation and disrepair. Village A is suffering from a weakening roof, while residents in Henle Village lost hot water for nearly a month in January, a time when it was needed most. Additionally, the university has decided to close Kehoe Field, the former hub of club and intramural activities, with no plans for an immediate replacement.
Such examples highlight the university’s failures to adequately address the pressing concerns of students. Students need hot water, recreational spaces and roofs that do not threaten to come crashing down on them. The university has made the wrong decision by emphasizing quantity rather than quality in regards to housing and overall campus development.
It is clear that renovations must be made to existing infrastructure, yet it is time for the university to properly listen to the demands of students and purchase more off-campus spaces, specifically townhouses. Open space within our gates is becoming increasingly scarce. Thus, the campus plan should prioritize developing more off-campus housing options in the Georgetown neighborhood for the sake of students. Going into the future, the university should also provide monthly reviews and updates to the whole student body in addition to existing roundtables and dialogue to ensure transparency. Providing such recaps of negotiations, construction and refurbishments are not unfathomable demands.
Beyond The legacy of Slavery
From November’s demonstration of solidarity in Red Square to changing the names of former Mulledy and McSherry Halls to establishing plans for a dedicated African American studies department, the Georgetown community has sought ways to reconcile and grapple with this institution’s slaveholding past. Though the wrongs of slavery can never be fully made right, there are avenues for this university to do the right thing by better serving the descendants of the slaves who toiled on these grounds.
By the time new students arrive on the Hilltop in late August, expert historians and faculty should give a presentation detailing the story of Georgetown’s slaves during New Student Orientation. In addition, official Blue & Gray Tour Guide Society tours Tours should also cover the university’s legacy with slaveholding in order to ensure that communities both within and outside our gates know of the slaves who either were forced to help build this university or were sold off to relieve the university of its crippling debt. We recommend that the administration makes a more permanent monument or statue to restore some of the dignity that was wrongly stolen from the 272 Georgetown slaves during their lifetimes. Their struggles, impact and history deserve to be memorialized.
While such measures would be further steps in dealing with our past, a major reparation for Georgetown’s slaveholding history would be for the university to recognize the debt it owes to the living descendants of those who were bought and sold to ensure the financial survival of the university. Therefore, we call on the university to consider descendants of the 272 slaves as legacy applicants if they are eligible to be admitted as students. Scholarships should also be established to provide for those descendants who may choose to attend Georgetown. These are tangible steps forward the university can take to atone for its past sins.