Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Student Activist Faces Jail Time

A Georgetown sophomore was sentenced Monday to 90 days in federal prison and ordered to pay a $500 fine for trespassing on a U.S. military base during a protest last November in Fort Benning, Ga.

Donte Smith (SFS ’08), who has been suspended by the university, said he will likely do his time at a federal penitentiary in Maryland or an institution closer to his home in Beaumont, Texas.

Smith and more than 30 other demonstrators were arrested on Nov. 20 after climbing over a Fort Benning perimeter fence in what they said was an act of civil disobedience against WHINSEC, a training facility formerly known as the School of Americas for military, law enforcement and other personnel from countries in the Western Hemisphere, located on the base.

“I am really proud of it,” Smith said of his role in the annual protest, known as SOA Watch. “I don’t regret that decision at all.”

Smith was jailed immediately following the incident, which he said caused him to fail two classes, and then suspended from the university for a year for missing class while in prison.

While Smith said he was suspended based on concerns that his activism was interfering with his coursework, he said that he felt his “activist work has enriched my time at Georgetown,” not detracted from it.

The School of the Americas has been the subject of scrutiny since its establishment in the United States in 1984 after repeated reports emerged of human rights violations by the facility’s graduates.

The protest was attended by nine other Georgetown students, several of whom were members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, and David Monaco, Roman Catholic program coordinator for Campus Ministry.

Smith, however, was the only Georgetown student who attempted to scale the fence.

“We all supported Donte in his decision,” said Zack Pesavento (SFS ’08), who also attended the protest.

Monaco said that he spoke to the students about civil disobedience and the university’s policies before their departure. None of the students said that they were planning on practicing civil disobedience, but such decisions are ultimately the responsibility of each individual, he said.

Smith said the School of Foreign Service Dean’s Office also notified him last month that he had been “nominated for dismissal” from Georgetown.

SFS Associate Dean Elizabeth Andretta said that the decision to dismiss an SFS student is ultimately the domain of the SFS Committee on Standards, a committee designed to monitor SFS students’ transcripts.

Director of Student Conduct Judy Johnson declined comment on Smith’s case. She said, however, that her office typically becomes involved in disciplinary proceedings if a student’s behavior reflects negatively on the university.

“If a student were arrested for civil disobedience it would not automatically warrant my office’s involvement,” Johnson said.

Any student who is dismissed by the Committee on Standards has the option to appeal the decision to the committee, Andretta added.

Smith said that he is not currently planning on fighting the school’s decision.

“Right now, Georgetown is in the back of my mind,” he said.

Smith was arrested during a protest against the war in Afghanistan in 2001, although he was never charged with a crime.

SOA Watch began their annual November protests in 1990, after six Jesuit priests and two others were killed in El Salvador by a squad of soldiers trained at the School of Americas. The 2005 protest attracted about 19,000 attendees.

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