It was a December evening, and over burrito bowls at Chipotle on M Street, Garet Williams (COL ’18) and Habon Ali (SFS ’18) decided to run for Georgetown University School Association president and vice president.
The meeting was far different from when the two first met almost two-and-a-half years earlier at the Preparing to Excel pre-orientation program.
Now, the two are seeking to realize their vision of a more inclusive, supportive and approachable GUSA – a GUSA rooted in their experiences from before and during their time at Georgetown.
Both candidates are part of the Georgetown Scholarship Program. Ali was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and moved to the United States with her family when she was 8 years old as a refugee.
Ali emphasized the value her mother placed on education when she was growing up.
“As a woman who was not educated and denied education, not only from a societal point of view but also an economic point of view, she invested in her son and her daughter and she truly pushed me to value education,” Ali said. “As a child I was taught the only way to survive and the only way to be independent in any society is to have an education, and I valued that from a very young age.”
Williams, who was born and raised in Oklahoma, said Georgetown had seemed out of reach both financially and culturally.
“I was always in love with working in the government, but being in the middle of a red state that Donald Trump won every single county of and growing up as a little queer boy in Oklahoma, you are not exactly thinking ‘Oh, this is such a great place for me to study,’” Williams said. “Financially, it just did not seem possible for me to come to a place like Georgetown. My mom and dad told me not to get my hopes up.”
After Ali moved to the United States, financial difficulties posed a barrier to her chances of coming to the Hilltop, too.
“I moved to Minnesota, so I thought I was just going to go to a state school because that’s what my family could afford. I come from a very low-income family. My mom is a factory worker,” Ali said, “The total yearly tuition of this university is what my mom makes in a year.”
Williams and Ali were among each other’s first friends at Georgetown. They first met during PEP, a pre-orientation program for 40 incoming freshmen and transfer students seeking a head start on adjusting to the campus environment.
“I never had to explain to Garet not being able to afford anything on campus, and he understands that,” Ali said. “Coming from that personal background – it’s beautiful not to have to explain yourself constantly.”
Despite their current position as running for the GUSA executive office and positions in GUSA – Williams is a deputy chief of staff and Ali is a GUSA senator – both Ali and Williams initially had negative views about GUSA and its role at Georgetown.
“I joined the second semester of my sophomore year. And so honestly, at the beginning of this, I too, like many people in the Georgetown community, didn’t see the point of GUSA,” Williams said.
For Ali, GUSA was an empty organization designed for and dominated by white males on campus.
“I saw GUSA as, ‘If you’re a white boy, you can be involved in it. If you’re not, don’t even talk about it,’” Ali said.
If identity played a large role in Williams’ and Ali’s first perceptions of GUSA, it played an even larger one in their decision to run for president and vice president.
“I worked so hard to get through that barrier as a woman of color and being a covered Muslim woman, and then when you get through that barrier, you are in that presence of people to fight to be recognized,” Ali said. “I was sick and tired of my voice not being heard.”
Identity has also shaped Williams’ career at Georgetown and in GUSA as he is a member of G.U. Pride.
Ali, who currently serves as vice president of the Muslim Students Association, said that members of the MSA, as well as those of the greater Muslim community at Georgetown, want better representation in GUSA.
MSA President Khadija Mohamud (SFS ’17), who is Ali’s roommate and has known her since freshman year, said GSP has had a significant impact on the dynamic between Ali and Williams.
“GSP is something that draws her and Garet together. They both have the same experience and same pride of being members of the GSP community,” Mohamud said. “Definitely, I think looking at both of them, the reason they have such a great dynamic amongst them is that they both are aware of the intersectionality of their identities and how that allows them to engage and connect with other people.”
Both candidates understand the importance of representation and speaking up for others, according to Mohamud.
“They draw from a common energy to speak up for others,” Mohamud said. “They both have had experiences where someone has threatened to have their voice taken away from them, so they know the value of being able to speak.”
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