After an eventful year for campus life, student activism proved to be a deciding force in how diversity, freedom of expression and student-administration communication shaped the Georgetown community. Here is the editorial board’s final word on major events of the 2014-2015 academic year.
Students have taken valuable steps toward encouraging discussions and institutional changes surrounding campus diversity this year.
Student-led campaigns have continued to address issues pertaining to representation and education — like the campaigns for a diversity course requirement and a Casa Latina — and the university has been admirably receptive to their efforts — as was shown in the “Reflections on Ferguson” discussion in August or Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James B. Comey’s lecture and panel “Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race” in February.
Student reaction to national and campus events has been essential in galvanizing these discussions and resultant changes. The dialogue, in the form of discussion panels like the Reflections on Ferguson event in August and the Ignite the Dream lecture series this month, has been incredibly constructive — the administration is voting on a diversity course requirement today.
This year has also seen progress on new fronts, such as the campaign spearheaded by the Latino Leadership Forum for the creation of a Casa Latina. Creating a safe and nurturing environment for all members of the Georgetown community is essential to the university’s mission; hopefully, students will see more explicit steps from the administration toward making Casa Latina a reality.
The work to improve representation and recognition for ethnic minorities at Georgetown is certainly not over. However, substantive progress has been made over the course of this school year, and if the administration and the student body can work together to keep up this momentum, the future of Georgetown will see more marked change.
Free Expression, Not Silence
Despite meaningful strides in freedom of speech on campus thanks to student activism, more should be done to ensure that Georgetown’s speech and expression policy is no longer synonymous with restriction and censorship.
In September, H*yas for Choice was removed from an approved tabling location on 37th Street by a Georgetown University Police Department officer, sparking a heated debate about speech and expression on campus. The university’s restrictions on unaffiliated campus groups earned Georgetown a spot on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s list of the 10 worst universities in the country for free speech.
The formation of Hoyas United for Free Speech in response to this, the subsequent petition presented to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson demanding the fair implementation of the speech and expression policy and the administration’s response — updated guidelines for campus protests and tabling — bode well for the advancement of students’ rights. This Editorial Board hopes that dialogue between students and administrators continues next year, as an improved policy expanding tabling as a protected form of expression and better student representation in the Speech and Expression Committee benefit Georgetown’s community.
Students deserve a community that welcomes pluralism and encourages free debate. While the university has made substantial progress toward realizing this goal, more needs to be done to give students a voice and make a better Georgetown.
Planning For the Future
A greater student voice is imperative for shaping a more palatable campus plan in 2018 — particularly as it will remain in effect for the next 20 years. The 2010 Campus Plan teems with untenable contradictions that ignore students’ needs, such as encouragement for increased “green space for outdoor campus socializing,” but also a vision that 90 percent of undergraduates will be “competitively housed” on campus.
Green space cannot increase if new dorm buildings consume the already limited greenery on campus, destroying “beautification” efforts that the campus plan also addresses. Aside from quantity, students deserve quality in residences, but the problematic commitment to housing virtually all students on campus restrains the administration from making these necessary investments in renovations to existing facilities, leaving students with a less student-friendly campus.
The existing plan, moreover, advocates for a program that provides students information about housing opportunities outside the Georgetown and Burleith neighborhoods while at the same time sponsoring a mechanism for collegial and productive decisions. Nudging students to live away from Georgetown — in other words, fragmenting the Georgetown community — demonstrates apathy for students’ preferences, not collaboration.
Culpability for these contradictions lies with insufficient official student representation on the Georgetown Community Partnership, the campus plan negotiating body. Currently, only one student member — the Georgetown University Student Association president — sits on this committee. While students have expressed through the “Let’s Not Get Screwed” campaign, which received more than 800 signatures, that the campus plan’s trajectory is unacceptable, inadequate representation will render the campaign moot.
Students deserve more than a symbolic seat at the negotiating table. As it stands, the campus plan is merely appeasement, with the university administration simply giving in to neighbors’ demands. Appeasement has never worked — and it certainly will not for the next 20 years. The Georgetown community stands at a critical juncture. Rather than caving, Georgetown needs to make a deal, for which greater official representation and administrative support is crucial.
Communication within the Georgetown community of administrators, students and neighbors has historically been defined by misperceptions. Members of each group have looked upon the others as faceless masses bent on making their lives more difficult, and many of the policies enacted in the past have reflected that. Change is long overdue.
Take the discriminatory noise policy included in the university’s 2010 Campus Plan. Thanks to the vague wording of the policy, students living in off-campus housing who choose to play music loud enough to be heard on the street are subject to repercussions at all hours of the day and night, while a non-student house would not receive any punishment before 10 p.m., when D.C.’s Noise at Night law comes in to effect.
The corresponding penalty for such behavior is a citation for “disorderly conduct” rather than noise violation. This unnecessarily strict policy serves only to demonstrate the university’s penchant for attempts to bully students into submission, resulting in enmity on both sides.
The unfair burdens of proof for off-campus versus on-campus conduct violations — “more likely than not” as compared to “clear and convincing” — clearly demonstrate the general indifference that the university has towards individuals who willingly choose to live more independently in the neighborhood. These upperclassmen who live off-campus are students, too, and should be treated as such.
Looking forward, it is critical to focus on fostering relationships in which each party has a meaningful voice in the decision-making process. In doing so, a more realistic understanding will be promoted on all sides, and our collective community will be better off for it.