The Georgetown University graduate student group, GU Chinese Students and Scholars Association, has received substantial funding from the Chinese government in years past, though the group has not broken any university funding rules, a recent report from Foreign Policy alleges.
The documentation of the funding points to Chinese government involvement with student groups on American college campuses, a link that is often suspected though difficult to prove, Foreign Policy reports. While not illegal, these relationships have been under scrutiny from U.S. security organizations, who have attempted for years to ascertain what, if any, threat the Chinese government and students pose to the United States.
The outlet wrote that it had obtained documents and emails from “a source concerned about Chinese Communist Party influence on university campuses” that showed the group had received about $1,600 in funding from the Chinese government, amounting to roughly half its annual budget in 2011.
Rachel Pugh, Georgetown’s senior director for strategic communications, said the university ensures all student groups adhere to university and government policies.
“As a global university, our international student body hails from more than 125 nations and contributes valuable experiences and perspectives that enhance the diversity and scholarship of our community,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We ensure that all student organizations comply with applicable financial rules and regulations.”
Founded in the early 2000s, Georgetown’s chapter of the national organization boasts a membership of about 230 students, most of whom are Chinese nationals and graduate students, according to the organization’s HoyaLink description. In addition to providing an on-campus space for Chinese graduate students adjusting to life at Georgetown, the CSSA helps connect the Chinese community on campus with other on-campus student groups to promote Chinese culture, according to group’s page.
A graduate student group, CSSA operates independently from undergraduate student organizations and receives much of its funding from the university and the Graduate Student Government through the Office of Graduate Enrichment Organizations. The Foreign Policy report states that the documentation of the funds comes from a September 2011 budget request received by Georgetown’s Graduate Student Government, which disclosed that the group received $800 each semester that school year from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. The group requested an additional $750 each semester from the university on top of the money it received from the embassy, the request said.
While CSSA could not be reached for comment, members of the group said in their 2011 budget request that the Chinese funding was used to host events, such as the annual Chinese New Year party in 2011.
Georgetown has no rule against student groups receiving money from foreign governments, according to Kylie Navarro (COL ’20), chair of the Student Activities Commission, the funding and advisory board that allocates resources to university-recognized undergraduate groups.
“There is no university policy that prevents student groups from receiving money from any outside source, including foreign governments,” Navarro wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Outside funding sources are not considered when SAC makes a decision to allocate funding. Groups are not even required to report outside funding to SAC.”
Navarro said it is unlikely that SAC will be looking further into whether funding has come from foreign governments at the undergraduate level.
The CSSA also serves as a support network for Chinese students at nearly 150 other universities across the United States, including the University of Maryland, the University of California, San Diego and the University of Connecticut. The groups began to pop up more regularly in the 1980s, when Chinese students began to study abroad in the United States more regularly, The Washington Post reported in May 2017.
The groups often work with oversight from the Chinese government, advocating for pro-Chinese government agendas on campuses, according to The Washington Post.
The information newly reported by Foreign Policy follows a growing trend of tension between Chinese student groups and universities across the country. Students in the CSSA at other institutions have clashed with administrators at their universities over different decisions affecting Chinese culture.
The club protested a presentation on human rights violations in China at Columbia University a decade ago. At the University of Maryland, the CSSA responded to an address given by a Chinese student praising free speech in May 2017. The group responded by posting a video titled “Proud of China UMD,” composed of video segments responding to the student’s address.
“We are deeply concerned about some of the stereotypical comments in her speech, and we, Chinese students at UMD, decided to reply with the following videos,” the opening slide of the video read.