Jackson Wagner (COL ’21) is considering a civil suit against Hoyas for Immigrant Rights after the group issued a statement criticizing a message he had sent in a “Republican Hoyas” group conversation last Thursday, which referred to protestors at a Georgetown University College Republicans event.
During the GUCR event Sept. 19, dozens of students interrupted speakers in an organized protest. Later that night, a screenshot of the group chat featuring a comment by Wagner began circulating around campus. Wagner’s message read, “Can we call ICE on them,” referring to the student protesters at the event, followed by “Maybe they’ll go out of their way,” referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The event, titled “Climate Forum: A Rebuttal,” was held last Thursday evening as a conservative response to the MSNBC’s Climate Forum 2020, which featured 12 presidential candidates’ perspectives on environmental policy across two days. Protestors disrupted the GUCR response event with loud comments and noise, criticizing its speakers for their denial of the climate crisis. The demonstrations resulted in the Georgetown University Police Department stopping and restarting the event.
Hoyas for Immigrant Rights, a student group dedicated to advocating for immigrant students on and off campus, released a “Statement in Support of Our Undocumented Students and Mixed Status Families and Against Hateful Rhetoric” Sept. 20 to address Wagner’s comment.
“HFIR strongly condemns any hateful rhetoric towards immigrant communities on or off campus,” the statement read. “[Wagner’s] words are embedded in racism and white supremacy and has ultimately created an unsafe environment for students at Georgetown University.”
Wagner has since decided to begin pursuing legal action against HFIR for its statement against him, according to a Sunday email to The Hoya.
“My counsel has advised me not to make further statements at this time,” Wagner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are exploring all routes to right this injustice including, but not limited to, a civil suit against HFIR.”
The HFIR statement had been signed by 317 students, faculty and staff and 20 student groups at the time of publication.
Wagner’s comments stoked fear for many students, especially those who have experienced anxiety around ICE raids personally, according to HFIR President Arisaid Gonzalez Porras (COL ’21).
“As a student that lives with this fear, I do take his joke seriously. I will always rather be safe than sorry with these types of comments,” Gonzalez Porras wrote in an email to The Hoya. “As he lives with the privilege of never knowing this feeling, he will never understand how much his words impacted my well-being and those of my peers.”
The Georgetown University Student Association released its own statement in support of HFIR. The GUSA statement has been signed by 136 individuals at the time of publication. Wagner’s message and his consideration of filing a civil suit against HFIR became the subject of multiple posts in the popular Facebook group “georgetown memes for non-comforming jesuit teens” after this article was published online Tuesday.
Wagner released his own statement via Facebook on Saturday explaining his GroupMe message and clarifying that his comment was intended to poke fun at the fact that the protesters seemed to lack diversity.
“I even followed up my comment immediately with ‘maybe they (ICE) will go out of their way’ clearly implying that no one there – regardless of skin color – is actually supposed to be deported,” his post said. “The joke was in poor taste, I admit that – but in no way was this a threat.”
HFIR continues to stand by its demand that the university holds Wagner accountable for his comment, as such behavior can no longer be tolerated on campus, according to Porras and HFIR Vice President Anahi Figueroa-Flores (COL ’21).
“We are not looking for an apology, we want him to face the consequences because these instances cannot continue to happen,” Gonzalez Porras and Figueroa-Flores wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We want students to live in a campus environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all students regardless of their citizenship status.”
GUCR does not oversee or have ownership over the “Republican Hoyas” GroupMe and stands in opposition to the criticism of Wagner’s character following his comment, according to the group.
“GUCR condemns the unreasonable character assassination and online harrassment undertaken by established organizations, such as GUSA, against a fellow Hoya,” the group wrote in an email to The Hoya. “GUCR will continue to promote free expression on campus.”
The group also identified that the protestors at the GUCR event committed five violations of the student code of conduct, including Disorderly Conduct, Disruption of Official University Functions, Failure to Comply with University Official or Law Enforcement Officer, the ID Cards Policy, and Incivility.
“We condemn in the strongest terms those protestors who violated the Student Code of Conduct and the law by intolerantly disrupting our event and attempting to shut it down,” the group wrote in wrote in a statement on Facebook.
Other student groups, including GU Fossil Free, who had protestors at Thursday’s event, disapproved of Wagner’s comments alongside HFIR, according to an email that GUFF member Juliette Leader (SFS ’20) wrote The Hoya. (Full disclosure: Leader is a former member of The Hoya’s editorial board).
“GU Fossil Free strongly condemns the racist rhetoric of Jack Wagner’s comment,” Leader wrote. “Threatening to endanger not only the presence of fellow students on campus, but also their safety and potentially their lives, should not be tolerated.”
GUCR’s failure to condemn Wagner’s inappropriate comment is hypocritical considering the group’s message of rejecting incivility on the part of the protesters, according to La Casa Latina Financial Coordinator Ty Padilla (COL ’21).
“We believe that GUCR should be more focused on demanding accountability from its own members and should be more proactive in denouncing racist and xenophobic comments and jokes than concerning themselves with the actions of the protesters,” Padilla wrote in an email to The Hoya.
This article has been updated with the correct class year and club position for Leader, to clarify that Wagner has not taken down his Facebook post and to clarify the positions of the event speakers.
This article has been updated to include a statement from GUSA, information about online discussion of Wagner’s message and the number of individuals who have signed the HFIR statement.