Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (SFS ‘15) and Vice President Omika Jikaria (SFS ‘15) will complete their year-long terms in office March 21. The Hoya sat down with the pair to discuss their accomplishments, challenges and hopes for the future.
After a year in office, what has been each of your proudest accomplishments?
Trevor: I really was happy about the fourth year high financial need housing guarantee. It was really encouraging this year when we heard from Pat Killilee, the executive director of residential services that about 60 to 80 students were able to utilize that guarantee. That’s an example of a tangible impact and benefit of the work we did, so I’d probably count that one.
Omika: One of our proudest accomplishments is all the work that we did on the transfer end. Especially since we got the commitment to have a transfer student day this coming summer. I think that’s really exciting. It’s one of those things that should have been a long time coming and just giving people the tools and the access to resources in GUSA, we were actually able to achieve something really tangible.
What kind of legacy or influence do you see yourselves leaving?
Trevor: I think at the end of the day, there will be effects from the work that we did in a few years. But no one is going to know it came from us, just like no one knows where the Collegiate Leadership Program came from anymore. That’s fine and that’s a part of GUSA and student government. We’re in and we’re out of here in a very short period of time. But yes, I do think we moved the needle on the campus plan issue. I do think we moved the needle on a lot of other issues that were important to students. I think we got some tangible accomplishments.
Omika: I think we really prioritize getting involved, or getting a lot of marginalized student groups involved within GUSA, and just building up that institutional knowledge was really helpful. I hope that in the future people who wouldn’t necessarily be involved in GUSA will be.
What was the biggest challenge or surprise you did not see coming after you were elected?
Trevor: One thing that I didn’t anticipate with the Multicultural Council issue was that right now on Georgetown’s campus, we have very grave, very deep divisions that exist. I’m not just talking about between white students and students of color but between racial and ethnic classes and within racial and ethnic classes. Once GUSA decided they wanted to take on that incredibly complex issue that would have a billiard ball effect, I think it was kind of a watershed moment. It’s going to be really interesting to see how that plays out in the next year, especially with the upcoming vote on the diversity requirement. But I think through this position, I finally started to at least begin to understand the weight of some of those divisions that really still play out on campus.
Omika: I think kind of coming to terms with the fact that we could come in with a platform, but that the administration kind of throw things at us regardless was definitely a little shocking at first, especially right when we came in and we were faced with the third year housing requirement. That was the first challenge we had to face head on, but it kind of brought into perspective the fact that the effect of the last campus plan was still there even now and the fact that we have to address that throughout this year and that future GUSA executives will have to as well.
Could either of you identify a decision that you regret or something you would do differently?
Trevor: When we ran and were elected, we definitely were trying to posit ourselves as the GUSA ticket who would bring in the experts, keep our heads down, do the work and produce results for students, and I think we did that. What we didn’t do was constantly tell students what we were doing. What we came in with to GUSA were frayed relationships between the executive and senate, within the executive, and while those haven’t gone away, they’ve gotten a lot better. Part of the reason for that was this idea of who own what accomplishments that GUSA is producing. I think in the process, we weren’t able to be as public over the year with some of the work we were doing as we would have liked to.
What do you think caused these communication issues?
Trevor: On one end, kind of negotiating a lot of these issues is complicated, requires extensive conversation with administrators and only the conclusion is kind of necessary to sort of make that public statement of what happened. Above and beyond that, no, it’s just a priority we had. In order to rebuild the institution of GUSA and rebuild the faith that GUSA members had in the organization they were apart of, we had to stop being this kind of mill of Bill Clinton wannabes who are trying to rack up a list of accomplishments for every little thing they can do in a short, 12-month time frame. We needed to take a long-game approach.
The Multicultural Council was frequently criticized in this year’s executive race debates. Do you understand why, and would you do something differently if you could do it again?
Omika: I think, as Trevor was saying, a lot of the criticism we might have gotten was because we didn’t necessarily publicize exactly what was going on within the council and there might have been a lot of misunderstanding. But that being said, even just the fact that it was a topic of debate and that it was brought up within the context of GUSA is telling in terms of the fact that it’s now part of a conversations and that people are more passionate about the issues and willing to be informed. I definitely take that to be a really positive aspect of having the council.
Trevor: The last event that we co-sponsored before we leave on Saturday was a town hall co-sponsor between the Last Campaign for Academic Reform and the GUSA Multicultural Council. We had student advocates on the diversity requirement in the curriculum in the same room with GUSA individuals, which seems like something that shouldn’t be a hard task but in this university of silos, it really is. I thought that was really encouraging and I was really happy that that was kind of our last event to see that yes, the way that these issues are able to move forward is collaboration between all these different separate groups on campus who are wanting to advocate on this.
A common theme in the GUSA elections this year was people saying that students dislike GUSA as an institution. In fact, there is just general widespread apathy about the association. How did that affect your term and what do you think that people should do about it in the future?
Omika: I think a big part of it is students not necessarily knowing what GUSA does. People at Georgetown are very involved, but involved in what they care about and what organizations they’ve been apart of since they first got here. So I think GUSA can just do a better job of engaging a wider range of people and letting people know what it’s doing. I had never been involved in GUSA until I ran last year, so I can definitely sympathize with that and that sentiment of being confused a lot of the time about what GUSA is doing and how that impacts me. After a year in office, I can say that it impacts a lot of students and people should be hearing about it.
What demographic is least represented in GUSA? How can future leaders go about helping this group gain representation?
Trevor: One group that I think that is going to be and has been underrepresented in GUSA is disabled students. A titan of the disability movement and a future national leader of the disability movement is about to graduate from Georgetown, and I’m very concerned. Joe and Connor are very aware that the great work that Lydia Brown (COL ’15) has done can’t end. Furthermore in order to advance a Georgetown that is socially inclusive of all students, making sure that disabled students are represented both in their actions over the next year but also in the composition of their cabinet, staff and external board is going to be huge.
Omika: Also, pretty obviously, people of color are underrepresented in GUSA and so that’s something that we definitely wanted to address and bring more into conversation with the Multicultural Council. Hopefully, by involving people who would normally not be involved in GUSA and including them in conversations, that problem can be solved over the next few years. It’s definitely going to take time, but it’s really important.
How did you define your term with administrators?
Trevor: I think what we’ve seen in GUSA over the last few years is that as it’s become a broader body with higher participation in elections, greater engagement and elections of students who aren’t traditionally involved in GUSA or were involved freshman year. It has made GUSA an organization that really pushes the administration on a lot of issues and is not afraid to put pressure when they want things to move faster. I think over the last few years this has become increasingly true and reflects widespread student discontent with some of the actions being taken by the administration.
Omika: I think what Trevor’s trying to say is that we’re not scared to address the issues and pressure where there needs to be pressure placed. At the end of the day, our main priority was advocating for students and having student interests at the forefront, and I think we definitely carried that out.
Coming into the elections, how did you feel about the satirical campaign Joe Luther (COL ’16) and Connor Rohan (COL ’16), and how did your feelings change after they won?
Omika: I guess in the beginning, I kind of realized that there was a distinction between a joke candidate and a satirical candidate. Joe and Connor definitely, even though they weren’t in it to necessarily win it, they knew that if they won, they would have to follow through with the kind of tone they took throughout the campaign, which was making it for students, being more transparent and really making GUSA more visible. In the beginning, I was a little skeptical and a little confused about their intentions. As the campaign went on, I saw their intentions were positive. I’m really excited to see what they do because they’re definitely very talented, and even though they’re taking a non-traditional approach to GUSA, in many ways that might be necessary at this time.
Trevor: I think they were able to bring the skills without the knowledge. The great part about that is that knowledge can be learned, but the skills can’t, I think it took The Hoya poll to see that they were in the lead. By the time election day rolled around, though I would’ve been very comfortable and content and pleased with a Luther-Rohan administration.
What are a few of the most important issues that your successors should be tackling this year?
Trevor: So, one issue that I think it is very obvious is the current implementation of the 2010 campus plan and the development of the 2018 campus plan. I think it’s going to be incumbent upon Joe, as the student representative to the GCP Steering Committee to negotiate effectively on students’ behalf to ensure the next campus plan is one that respects students’ rights, their decisions about where they want to live and prioritizes fixing our current infrastructure before we go on to build more.
Omika: I think a couple of other things they should continue focusing on involve utilizing GUSA’s resources to add input on certain issues that have advocated on in the past few years, but still need more work like sexual assault, mental health and disability justice. Even as they advocate for fair implementation of the 2010 campus plan and development of the 2018 campus plan, they shouldn’t forget these other issues that have gained momentum over the past couple of years that still have work to be done.
What are your plans for the future after Georgetown?
Trevor: I will be enrolling in University of Florida Law School in fall 2015.
Omika: I’ll be working at PricewaterhouseCoopers in technology consulting in San Francisco.
How did GUSA affect you personally and in general, just in terms of growth?
Trevor: I remember Adam [Ramadan] saying this at his exit interview last year and I think it was a good way to put it, is that GUSA is the best job that you never want to have again. I learned a lot about myself, strengths and weaknesses, I learned a lot of ugly truths about Georgetown and getting things accomplished, but also a lot of positive, encouraging and reassuring experiences when you see how the fruit of your labor is coming together. On a personal side, I learned a lot about myself as a leader and as a negotiator and that’s really been invaluable.
Omika: This has really been the most challenging and rewarding thing that I’ve ever done. It’s definitely the best job I’ll never have again, but I’m really glad I did it having never been in GUSA before. I learned so much about Georgetown and got to work with so many different people, and I feel so lucky to have met so many different people. It’s definitely been a very self-reflective experience and I definitely know myself a lot better now. I think the best part about it was meeting so many other students because I really enjoyed that and realized how passionate and talented they are and it’s really inspiring.
This interview has been condensed for space and edited for clarity.