In an eventful year for campus life, students made sure their voices were not lost in the university’s decision-making process. From Georgetown’s changing course of action on navigating the 2010 Campus Plan agreement to its responses to sexual assault and nontraditional gender identities on campus, students reacted dynamically and with fervent advocacy for their interests. Here is the editorial board’s final word on the 2013-2014 academic year.
From start to finish, this year has been marked by a series of student housing decisions that have often put administrators and students at odds. While these decisions stemmed from requirements to comply with the 2010 Campus Plan agreement, which have been known since 2012, many of the proposed methods of implementation were clearly in opposition to student interests.
With the fall 2015 deadline to add 385 beds to campus almost two years away, the task of accommodating those 385 students became increasingly pressing. The time required to implement serious construction or renovation plans because of approval processes through the Old Georgetown Board and other governing bodies further limited available options under such a strict timeline. This concern, however, regrettably emerged as a more important priority than the needs of students themselves.
In particular, the option to build a satellite residence was floated with remarkable flippancy, as demonstrated by Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson. “Even if most students don’t like the option, to be blunt and crass about it, most students don’t need to live there,” he said
When it became clear that the majority of students opposed a satellite residence, administrators wisely changed course. With construction on the Northeast Triangle dormitory and Ryan and Mulledy halls set to begin soon, it seems certain that the outcome of the housing debate will be more suitable to both parties.
Grievances with the 2010 Campus Plan agreement are at this point unproductive. But the fact that administrators waited so long to publicly consider options to comply with the campus plan is troubling. Had administrators sought student input earlier, perhaps the solutions to Georgetown’s housing concerns would not have been so dramatic or hasty.
The extent of free speech on campus has long been a point of tension between students and administrators. Although the current 24-year-old free speech policy does not clearly restrict free speech to Red Square, the Georgetown University Police Department still enforces the policy as if it does.
When H*yas for Choice tabled in Healy Circle, they were escorted away by GUPD. When Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor were separately invited to speak in Gaston Hall, university administrators screened student questions. When then-Georgetown University Student Association executives Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) and Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) used their authority as student body leaders to send a campus-wide email, the Division of Student Affairs edited that email’s content.
At a free speech forum held in January, students made apparent their view that the frequent miscommunications about the free speech policy between administrators and students are unfair to students who follow the letter of the policy but are unduly reprimanded for activities of expression. While the administrators present seemed to be sympathetic to student concerns, it remains that the free speech policy is outdated and unclear in both its wording and implementation.
While administrators have reason both to keep and to liberalize the university’s free speech policy, staying on the fence about free speech is no longer a viable option. Olson promised earlier this year to clarify the free speech policy before the last day of classes, and with two days of classes to go, students have yet to hear from him. As students have demonstrated at January’s forum and in widespread demand for speech reform, the Hilltop deserves to have access to a clarified policy that allows student groups and students to function and freely speak without the possibility of unknown consequences.
Since August, the university community has put forth a commendable effort to foster substantive dialogue and awareness surrounding sexual assault.
The push for more awareness surrounding sexual assault started as a cornerstone of platforms in last year’s GUSA executive race and gained further traction both within and without GUSA over the past year. In this case, student action has successfully translated into university-ratified policy change.
In February, the university officially added an alcohol amnesty clause in cases of sexual assault to the Code of Student Conduct. In the weeks following the addition of the amnesty clause, the university also launched a new website with information on sexual misconduct. The website, sexualassault.georgetown.edu, includes a revised policy on sexual misconduct as well as steps for reporting cases of sexual assault.
It is commendable that the university has clarified policy concerning sexual assault and admirable that administrators listened to student activists. As these clarifications help more survivors come forward and educate the student body on how to support survivors and increase awareness of assault, we hope the university and the student body continue to build on these advancements to further improve Georgetown’s approach to sexual assault.
This year, gender identity became a more prominent topic on campus. Efforts such as GU Pride’s addition of a trans* representative and increases in scale and promotion of events like the drag ball, GenderFunk, have encouraged the development of a broader movement to embrace students of all gender identities on campus.
Georgetown’s response to these developments, however, has been significantly less worthy of praise. When Olson said to the Georgetown Voice in September, “There is an emerging view that gender identity is sort of something you play with,” administrators’ reticence to changing the university’s perspectives on these issues was made perfectly clear. Georgetown has failed to capitalize on an opportunity to make campus a safer, more welcoming environment for transgender students and other traditionally excluded groups who often encounter challenges in living comfortably and openly on campus.
The effort of GU Pride and individual students to improve the Georgetown experience for transgender students has been one of the most promising trends on campus. Hopefully, over the next year, Georgetown will listen to transgender students and their allies to better understand how to more strongly support students of all genders on the Hilltop.
Georgetown’s rich history of political protest continued this year, as campus and national issues sparked activism from all corners of campus.
Students took to Red Square following the announcement that Georgetown was exploring the construction of a satellite residence to meet its housing needs, and students used hashtags like #BBGU, or being black at Georgetown University, to bring to light the experiences of minorities on the Hilltop. Furthermore, students marched to Pennsylvania Avenue to spur change in this country’s immigration and environmental policies.
These examples highlight the wealth of passion students at Georgetown have for a diverse array of causes. As this year has demonstrated, Georgetown students are continuing to translate a desire for change into action.