DAVID WANG FOR THE HOYA Eight months since being sworn in, GUSA executives Clara Gustafson and Vail Kohnert-Yount have made strides toward their campaign goals.
Eight months since being sworn in, GUSA executives Clara Gustafson and Vail Kohnert-Yount have made strides toward their campaign goals.
More than halfway through their term, Georgetown University Student Association President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) and Vice-President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) have checked off a number of their platform priorities but still aim to improve campus sustainability and student life over the next several months.

Upon taking office in February, Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount, who comprise the first all-female GUSA executive, set goals to improve diversity, the judicial process for students, student involvement in campus initiatives, quality of student life and sustainability.

The beginning of their term was characterized by heated debates over the inclusion of an LGBTQ-friendly checkbox on freshman housing surveys. But Gustafson said that challenges to the original proposal ultimately resulted in a better solution: a non-discrimination statement that all students must sign as part of the housing process.

“We got a lot of feedback from students who said, ‘No,’ or, ‘You should do it a different way,’ so we reevaluated and came up with a more holistic approach to becoming a more welcoming campus for not only LGBTQ students but any minority,” Gustafson said.

More recently, the executive has also worked to address weaknesses in the university’s Code of Student Conduct.

The pair collaborated with the GUSA senate to hold a referendum on Sept. 28 urging Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson to change the code’s evidentiary standard from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing.” The referendum saw a record turnout of 2,629 votes, with 96 percent in support of the change. However, the referendum did not carry the authority to alter the Code of Student Conduct, and Olson has yet to make a final decision.

This term has also been marked by an expanded role for GUSA in neighborhood relations. After a summer spent petitioning the university for greater student input in in town-gown discussions, Gustafson secured a spot on the Georgetown Community Partnership, a body composed of members of the university and multiple neighborhood groups that is designed to enforce the campus plan.

“I think it’s fair to say that based on what happened this summer [during the campus plan discussions], there were a lot of pressures to not include students in those discussions, so the fact that we are able to get administrators to get Clara and future GUSA presidents on that committee is a big win,” GUSA Chief of Staff Jake Sticka (COL ’13) said.

A Student Impact Committee composed of students, neighbors and administrators was also formed to supplement the community partnership. The committee will discuss issues including the expansion of food truck services, improvement of social life on campus and adjusting weekend GUTS bus schedules.

Student involvement in designing the New South Student Center also furthered the executive’s goal to increase the role students play in university initiatives.

“I think student involvement in the design of a building on campus has been unprecedented … partly because they donated money [through the student activities fee],” Gustafson said. “I think it sets a precedent for other buildings that we may not donate money … but that we have a stake in it.”

The executive has also made progress in its efforts to enhance students’ relationships with administrators. A new standing student committee composed of both undergraduate and graduate students will meet regularly with Provost Robert Groves to discuss ways to improve intellectual life on campus. Gustafson said the committee marks an important cornerstone for establishing direct communication between students and the administration
According to GUSA Senate Speaker Nate Tisa (SFS ’14), the current GUSA administration has sparked widespread engagement from the student body.

“I definitely detect a shift of GUSA’s role in moving toward the center of a lot of student advocacy issues, which is something a lot of students want to be part of and view as legitimate,” he said.

Despite these achievements, Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount still have unfulfilled initiatives.

The executive has expressed frustration over the university’s slow response to GUSA’s proposal to form an Office of Sustainability.

“At first we thought we were going to get a green light … and we kind of got a yellow light,” Kohnert-Yount said. “It might not happen during our administration, but some form of it might. … We will take steps in that direction.”

Gustafson attributed the university’s inaction to the shortage of data on sustainability at Georgetown.

“When we wanted [to create] an Office of Sustainability, that’s a very huge issue,” Gustafson said. “I think the university just doesn’t quite know where we stand [on] these things.”

Other unmet goals include the expansion of Grab ‘n’ Go options and improving facilities for artistic and athletic student groups.

For the remainder of their term, the pair said it will focus on improving on-campus life as it takes steps to implement recommendations from the Student Life Report, particularly the initiative to establish a universal system for students to book space. Kohnert-Yount looks forward to her remaining months in office with enthusiasm.

“We’re at a unique moment in Georgetown’s history where there’s a lot of momentum for important issues, and I’m really excited to be part of it,” she said.

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