This month, a post from a student’s personal blog began circulating in the Georgetown University community. The piece expressed the author’s opposition to the Black Lives Matter political movement and his view that systemic racism is not a problem today. On July 6, the Georgetown University Student Association Senate passed a resolution condemning the article’s message and called for the university to consider disciplinary action against the student.
As the chairs of the Georgetown University College Democrats and Georgetown University College Republicans on campus, we embrace the prospect of civil debate on the important and highly sensitive topics this article discusses. Yet, we also found GUSA’s actions in response to be highly inappropriate. The resolution used the institutional power of student government to clearly target a student for expressing his point of view, an action antithetical to the ideals in the free speech and expression policy and culture outlined by the university. Furthermore, GUSA sought disciplinary consequences on the basis of the political content of his speech, a move that puts the university in the untenable position of policing the political opinions of its student body. Simply put, this was legislative malpractice. GUSA can and should do much better. They owe it to the student body.
To be clear, individual students are well within their rights to criticize and condemn the article. While we, as the chairs of GUCD and GUCR, disagree on some of the article’s points, we agree that the majority of commentators are simply utilizing their own rights to free speech to offer criticism of an argument made in a public forum. However, some students have responded to the blog post with targeted harassment and even death threats, which are unacceptable and must be condemned. Vitriolic bullying and harassment achieve nothing productive and conflict with our values on a fundamental level.
Our organizations see the validity of many of the critiques offered. We recognize the reality that racism is a persistent problem in the present day, and we affirm the truth that Black lives matter. We both believe that the mission for a more just and equitable society is far from over, and we stand in solidarity with Black leaders who are working to eliminate the deepest injustices in our criminal justice system and beyond. Though our beliefs on how best to address these problems often differ, we are united in our recognition of racism’s severity, and we applaud recent bipartisan steps toward criminal justice reform.
Progress toward racial justice requires open and honest conversation with people who hold different opinions. Our reaffirmation of the importance of free speech is not only based on principle, but also on a joint acknowledgment that good-faith conversations are essential to the practical implementation of the goals we seek. Bipartisan politics — like public service — is built on something more fundamental than policy. It is built on the mutual recognition of good intentions, and it is anchored in desire for dialogue. GUCD and GUCR will always commit to this principle of politics and public service.
As we approach the November elections, we seek to highlight our shared values as Georgetown students. Much of the fall will be spent fighting in zero-sum electoral contests, and we predict there will be many moments that will test our ability to approach our differences with level heads and open minds. As leaders from GUCD and GUCR, we strive to make our political community — and our Georgetown community — a more inclusive and tolerant space for discourse. Using institutional power to banish opinions from our discourse that are deemed problematic is not the way to move our goals forward. We are committed to fostering the kinds of conversations that will.
Henry Dai is a junior in the School of Foreign Service, the chair of Georgetown University College Republicans and a GUSA Senator. Ajayan Williamson is a senior in the College and the chair of Georgetown University College Democrats.