Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) and Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) completed their year-long terms as Georgetown University Student Association president and vice president on March 22. The Hoya sat down with the pair to examine the events of the past year — including the One Georgetown, One Campus campaign and the introduction of “What’s A Hoya?” — and the general culture of GUSA and Georgetown. The full conversation will be updated here, shortly.
Reflecting on your year in office, what has your proudest accomplishment been?
Nate: I knew this one was coming, but it’s still not that easy to answer. I think, generally, coming in and having seen a couple different models for GUSA, we really wanted to make student advocacy effective in a variety of situations, sexual assault. In terms of the campus plan, we wanted to react to that in some way. We tacked on campus social policies, which include space fees and things like that. I would have to respond with two things. I think the response to the campus plan through the satellite campus campaign, One Georgetown, One Campus, I think worked really well. It created a reset for the way students and the university react on the campus plan. It really empowered the students. And then “What’s a Hoya?” on a separate end. Over the course of our term, we really started to see the way student culture can affect the student experience, sometimes even more so than university policy.
Adam: I think it was the One Georgetown, One Campus. I think the big reason for that is we were able to take a variety of student opinions, student voices, student positions and centralize them into one. And we’ve seen that, plenty of times, a united student front is what will drive change. And we were really able to give the student body a vehicle to express themselves in a manner the university administration couldn’t ignore.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the year?
Nate: I think the biggest challenge, as a 20-year-old, entrusted with representing 7,000 students, is developing a leadership style, which is what you’re doing as a young adult. You’re still learning; you’re still kind of growing as a person while at the same time trying to lead a GUSA team, which is really counting on you for a lot of direction and support to build a positive culture; it can be a lot. I think at times the pressure of being responsible both to student administrators as a student representative, to your own team as their leader and then to students who elected you, it could be difficult.
Adam: I think one of the biggest challenges for me personally was balancing the trust and relationships of the students who we were elected by to represent and to act on behalf of, but also the relationships and trust that we built with administrators. There were many times when we wanted to push something we didn’t think that would be a viable, positive option for the student body and being able to convey that to the administration is a way where we wouldn’t lose sight of our broader relationship, we wouldn’t lose sight of the other projects we were working together on, we wouldn’t strain those relationships to the point where we wouldn’t be able to work together moving forward.
Could you identify something you regret or a decision that you’d make differently?
Adam: I’m not sure that I regret this, but I think if we could have done something different it would be to have better foresight in terms of the campus plan and how impending issues would have been. Ultimately I think we handled them. We learned it on a quick learning curve, and we were able to respond to some things, satellite campus once again, relatively well, but I think if we would have just understood the true magnitude and importance of this at the onset of our term, it would have put everything in perspective.
Nate: In terms of decisions, one of the big things that I wish we had handled better was the veto of the SIPS bill. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I mean it’s the constitutional power of the president to issue vetoes. I called the speaker the night before and told him that I was going to do this and send it back because they made a mistake. He said ‘OK.’ If I thought it would have been such an attraction to student media then we could’ve just ignored it or done something different.
The Hoya conducted a poll that revealed that 60 percent of those surveyed had no opinion of your administration. How do you feel about this result?
Nate: I think “What’s a Hoya?” came out of that problem of engagement because it’s a 7,000-person community, but getting information across, promoting a culture of service, promoting a culture of inclusion and diversity is very difficult actually because we all tend to live segmented lives. You have different student groups that are involved in very different things. You have some people who aren’t involved in any student groups. People live very different lifestyles. Some people don’t go to Lau; some people aren’t going to Leo’s, so it’s really hard to expose the entire student body to the values that Georgetown is trying to expose us to. That’s why GUSA’s fundamental thing has always been: How do you get the message out to as many people as you can? How do you involve as many people as you can? It’s a shame if you go through the four years and don’t engage in something.
What do you think the biggest misperceptions of GUSA are on campus? Why do you think that students are prevented from seeing the scope of what GUSA does?
Adam: GUSA as an institution doesn’t do what it does to get recognition. GUSA as an institution does what it does for the benefit of the student body experience. And so, those conversations — the push for a satellite campus, the development of “What’s A Hoya?,” the recycling bins in all the dorms — if we wanted the recognition maybe we could have, you know, gotten a GUSA sticker and put it in front of each recycling bin. So every time you ever go and throw something out, you take it out, and that’s what you see. But that wasn’t what we were aiming to do. We’re aiming to promote sustainability. We’re aiming to promote a more conscious campus when it comes to sustainability, so I guess that would be my response.
Nate: The other thing is, GUSA’s almost never working alone. So we’re always, and we should always be, working with university departments, different initiatives that have other student groups. But certainly I guess that makes it less clear about exactly what GUSA is doing. And it shows communication, even with campus media we had a lot of different initiatives in there. Not everyone reads campus media, in fact most people probably don’t. It’s a challenge to get it out there.
What demographic of students is least engaged on campus and which demographic is least represented in GUSA?
Nate: It’s hard for us to say which demographic is the least engaged without stereotyping a demographic. We’ve worked with people from almost every background you can think of: all four schools, all majors, all ethnic backgrounds, club backgrounds. I think there’s a lot of stereotypes out there about what types of people engage. In the past two years, both president and vice president of GUSA have been in the SFS. I think that’s tough to pinpoint, especially because if they’re not engaged then the chances of them seeing us are lower.
Adam: I think if I had to give you an answer I would possibly say the senior class, because at that point it’s really trying to savor and enjoy the little bit of time you have left. And I’d say off-campus students you just see less. It’s incredible what a difference of going from Burleith to Walsh down 35th Street instead of going through campus through Henle makes.
Nate: In terms of GUSA, I think our administration was diverse in terms of gender [and] background. I’ll say two things about GUSA: [On] socioeconomic class, in order to do a lot of the service GUSA does for the community, you have to be able to afford to give up a lot of your time, and some students can’t do that. If you have to work extensive part-time jobs to support your education, it’s going to be really tough to dedicate as much time, and that’s a shame. I think we’ve both certainly felt it at times. I would be going to GUSA meetings all day, and I would have no money to buy a sandwich from Vital Vittles. That’s just how it was. Another, especially with the senate, is still gender. The senate is getting better in terms of makeup between men and women, but there’s still an underrepresentation of women leadership. I think that’s a problem that I think Georgetown is a whole needs to work at, because it’s not just GUSA that has the problem.
Nate, as Georgetown’s first gay president, did you feel that that identification had any place or responsibility upon you in your term as office?
Nate: That question gets to a lot of tensions in the LGBTQ community at Georgetown and I think nationally, even among the LGBTQ community. Something that we didn’t really talk about throughout the year was the contacts that I was getting from random people throughout the country. We got a lot of mail, some of it was positive, some of it was very negative. A lot of people are praying for my soul in churches in South Florida. I did feel pressure from some people in the community to go out and champion all their initiatives, and then some people wanted me to champion none of them because they wanted me to prove that it didn’t matter I was gay. There was a huge tension. Neither side really saw the other as legitimate, so I was at the nexus of that, and that’s a broader problem the LGBT community faces here and nationally, that division. When I first came in I felt very strongly, “I might be the first, but I can’t be the last.” I promoted the LGBT mentorship program, which is a pilot.
To be honest, I think one of the things that has mattered to me more at my time at Georgetown than my LGBT identity is my socioeconomic identity, and that didn’t get as much attention as I think it should, because if you look at the overall body of GUSA president and vice presidents over the past few decades, it’s overwhelmingly privileged in terms of money, and I don’t think Adam and I would identify as privileged in terms of money, but that didn’t get much attention because that issue is not that trendy national issue.
What are your personal plans for the future?
Nate: I’m going to be working in D.C., in federal consulting for the next few years. Law school is on the horizon. This job has definitely shaped the way about the way I think about my future.
Adam: Nothing set in stone for me, grad school within the next couple of years for sure. I’d like to stay here in D.C., but there’s nothing locked down yet. I’m looking at Georgetown’s Masters in Public Policy.
Looking back, would you do this year in GUSA again?
Adam: They all said to me in last year’s transition meeting, “This is the best job you’ll never want to do again.” I’m extremely happy I did. I think I’ve gotten so much out of it, and it’s kind of shaped me. I don’t know. I’d like to say I would, but who knows.
Nate: Not next year, but in a heartbeat. I mean I’ve loved doing this stuff for a long time. It’s going to be hard to let go. We’ve really made a difference, and as a 17 to 21 year old, those opportunities are amazing and unparalleled.
This interview has been condensed for space and edited for clarity.