The Student Advocacy Office has been restructured to include branches for student workers, mental health and free speech, under the direction of Director Ryan Shymansky (COL ’16) and Georgetown University Student Association President Joe Luther (COL ’16) and Vice President Connor Rohan (COL ’16).
Esmeralda Huerta (SFS ’17) will serve as the student workers’ advocate, Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ’17) will serve as the free speech advocate and Emily Fish (SFS ’17) will serve as the mental health advocate.
In addition, Jack Nalen (COL ’17) will serve as the students’ rights advocate, a position that will fulfill the SAO’s current goal to educate students about their rights.
The new SAO is intended to be more efficient and responsive to concerns about students’ rights.
“The restructuring … will allow advocates to aid students with issues in student rights, student worker rights, free speech and mental health, but it will also consolidate these services under a single advocacy body for maximum efficacy,” Rohan said. “This will allow advocates to better collaborate and respond to more students in a more meaningful manner.”
Another addition to the SAO is an “on-call” advocate, who will be able to respond to enforcement of the Speech and Expression Policy in real time.
Luther said that these changes will enable the SAO to take on a larger role and address the needs of more students.
“The SAO has been very successful in the past in terms of advocating for students and keeping them informed of their rights,” Luther said. “This restructuring looks to build on that success and increase the capability of the SAO to advocate for students in all areas of campus life.”
The changes to the SAO are primarily administrative and will not affect the day-to-day functionality of the office itself, beyond expanding its focus into new issue areas.
Shymansky said that the consolidation of services into the SAO will allow GUSA to function as a more streamlined advocacy body.
“The SAO is by far the best avenue available to GUSA for providing help to individual students, and so it’s an incredibly important resource to house within the executive,” Shymanksy said. “We’ve seen how far the SAO has come in four years. … I know that it is possible to replicate this with new offices focused on equally important issue areas.”
The newly formed Office of the Free Speech Advocate will create and promote resources explaining the university’s Free Speech and Expression Policy.
It will also provide training to groups and individuals interested in learning how to stage protests without facing disciplinary action, in addition to serving as an advisory body for students writing and presenting complaints and appeals.
DeLaurentis said that he will work closely with Secretary of Free Speech Sam Kleinman (COL ’16), Under-Secretary for Unrecognized Groups Kala Deterville (COL ’18) and other GUSA secretaries to engage students at the forefront of free speech and expression on campus.
“I hope to enhance protections for student speech, especially in more confrontational iterations,” DeLaurentis wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I want students to feel like they should not be afraid of university reprisal in the expression of their speech, especially if that speech criticizes or embarrasses the university.”
Georgetown’s policy has come under fire from organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which named the university as one of the nation’s 10 worst colleges for free speech.
Kleinman emphasized the distinction between his position and that of DeLaurentis, both of which engage free speech on campus.
“I definitely focus a bit more on larger policy changes and ensuring that policy in broad strokes is properly enforced,” Kleinman said. “The Office of the Free Speech Advocate is focused a bit more on case work and ensuring individual cases and protections from policy.”
Nalen is responsible for overseeing the customary SAO office, where he will work with Shymansky and the Office of Student Conduct on conduct policy.
“Right now the biggest issue for our office, and for students’ rights in general, is that many students don’t really know about either,” Nalen wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I want to make sure we are establishing awareness of students’ rights and important conduct policies as soon as students arrive on campus.”
Shymansky believes that this SAO will be better suited to deal with the intersections of conduct and free speech on campus.
“We’ve seen how interrelated many of these topics can be,” Shymanksy said, citing the incident in March in which GU Fossil Free members stormed the stage during World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim’s speech. “Having the resources available to advise students on more than one front is thus enormously beneficial the Georgetown student community as a whole.”
Hoya Staff Writer Sarah Fisher contributed reporting.