In their 2012 campaign, GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) and Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) prioritized social justice, diversity, student space and academic life. One year later, as the pair leaves office, their accomplishments have in some cases surpassed the promises they made in their campaign, despite some setbacks.

 

Diversity

Upon taking office, Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount brought two historic moments to Georgetown: the first all-female executive ticket and record-high turnout for any Georgetown University Student Association election. They then began fulfilling their promise to increase diversity within the student government.

In assembling their executive branch, the pair chose 11 women and 13 men — marking a shift toward diversity when compared with the cabinet of their predecessors Mike Meaney (SFS ’12) and Greg Laverriere (COL ’12), which included four women and 22 men.

During senate elections in the fall, the pair attended more than 20 club meetings to encourage students to run for the senate. As a result, nine female senators were elected, an increase from the five women who held seats last year.

Earlier in January, members of the GUSA Senate also participated in a Diversity Summit that focused on reenergizing GUSA’s diversity agenda.

“If one of our legacies to the next GUSA executives and forevermore is that we were able to bring issues of diversity and inclusion to the table so that they had to be talked about, then I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” Kohnert-Yount said.

 

Student Safety

The beginning of Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount’s term was characterized by heated debate over the inclusion of an LGBTQ-friendly checkbox on freshman housing surveys. In a viewpoint published in The Hoya (“Acceptance Shouldn’t Be Optional, But Expected,” A3, March 27, 2012), Nick Shaker (COL ’12) criticized the proposal for implying that acceptance and tolerance were optional.

The debate eventually led to the formation of the Safe Transitions Working group that worked extensively during the summer to evaluate the proposal and other potential means of increasing on-campus safety for LGBTQ students.

Although the original checkbox initiative fell through, Gustafson said she was satisfied with alternative measures that resulted from the working group, which included a non-discrimination statement that all students must sign as part of the housing process and a Safe Spaces Program thatwill train student volunteers to mediate conflict and provide resources to victims of discrimination.

“Out of that came a much more comprehensive approach to something that we were trying to solve with a bandage. There are ideas that we are able to have but things that we are not ultimately able to see and we need more people to be brought into the process to solve a problem that we were trying to address with our little idea,” Gustafson said.

A working group on promoting awareness and prevention against sexual assault during New Student Orientation has also been formed as part of an effort to create a safer campus.

“We’re probably going to see more progress in the next year on those issues than we had seen in the last 10 years on those issues, and that’s something, frankly, if two women haven’t been in this role, that issue would have never come up on the table,” Kohnert-Yount said.

 

Increasing Student Voices

One of Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount’s primary focuses throughout their term was to secure student participation in the university’s decision-making process after the pair saw little student involvement in the negotiated 2010 Campus Plan last summer.

“We have pushed incredibly hard to make sure student perspectives have been included in every conversation about students on campus,” Kohnert-Yount said.

Their most notable success was collaborating with the GUSA Senate to hold a referendum last fall urging Vice President of Students Affairs Todd Olson to change the Student Code of Conduct’s burden of proof for the 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. When Olson finally accepted the recommendation in late October, he said the GUSA referendum played a significant role in his decision.

“I am also grateful to the leadership of GUSA, who brought the voice of the student body very clearly to university administrators on this topic.  I considered heavily student opinions, most recently expressed through the recent referendum vote overwhelmingly supporting this change,” Olson wrote in the Oct. 18 email announcement.

“You have to educate students on why it’s important to vote and organize behind this incredibly powerful force, and use that momentum to translate into an actual push,” Kohnert-Yount said.

However, the pair’s commitment to ensuring student voices are heard extends beyond the referendum.

After a summer spent petitioning the university for greater student input 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 develops the campus plan.

According to Gustafson, the working groups under the GCP — which are concerned with student life, conduct and safety, environmental issues, landlord issues, transportation and parking, communications and engagement, metrics and data — have helped shape productive conversations between neighbors and students.

“Students, administrators, and neighbors work together to talk about the issues and come up with ways to not ensure everyone’s happy, but create a better quality of life for everyone involved. It’s going to be a challenge and will continue to be one, because it’s a relationship-based discussion, and you have to be willing to listen and speak up,” she said.

GUSA has also held town halls to encourage student input on designs of the New South Student Center. Earlier last month, Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount signed a memorandum with Olson to ensure student staffing and 18-plus events at the NSSC Pub. The memorandumguaranteed student input and involvement in the future development process.

Furthermore, Gustafson is in the process of communicating with the Department of Human Resources to generate a list of recommendations on how administrators can effectively partner with students, such as by utilizing HoyaLink and IdeaScale.

“If we have someone from GUSA going to the first employee training no matter what their job is, saying students want them involved in their lives, I think sends a huge message on how we want to interact with each other, treated with respect, and being included in every process, however it affects us,” Gustafson said.

 

Results and Unfinished Projects

One of the largest initiatives of Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount’s campaign platform was to promote intellectual life. The pair has spearheaded the Campus Ministry Report and Intellectual Life Space Report, which are slated to be released by April.

They have also delivered on their promise through collaboration with the Inter-School Academic Council to make professor and course evaluations directly accessible through MyAccess and to sponsor the first university-wide undergraduate research symposium, which will take place on the last day of their term Saturday.

Despite these tangible results, the pair said they encountered difficulties in completing some of their initiatives, notably the failure to establish an Office of Sustainability.

Gustafson explained that the 2010 Campus Plan last summer altered the administration’s priorities.

“[The campus plan] refocused the university administration to the long-term, which is great, but we wanted an office now because there is a lot of need for centralized ways to do sustainability issues at Georgetown,” she said.

Kohnert-Yount agreed and pointed out that the university’s limited resources prevented the executive from accomplishing all of its goals.

“The campus plan brought a lot of priorities to the forefront that made the Office of Sustainability challenging. There were a lot of competing priorities,” Kohnert-Yount said.

The pair, however, expressed optimism for the creation of the office as Vice President for Housing and Facilities Robin Morey took office this semester.

“A lot of results we won’t see happen in our term, but we’re there advocating and planting the seed by saying, ‘Hey, you need to think about this and come up with a plan,’” Kohnert-Yount said.

The pair also saw limited success in improving facilities and spaces for art and athletic student groups, but stressed that they maintained active participation in discussions about NSSC and the new Intercollegiate Athletic Center.

“Space is a challenging issue, and it will always be, but we held the status quo during a time it could have been lost,” Gustafson said.

Introducing athletic trainers for club sports was also an initiative that Gustafson and Kohernt-Yount’s administration worked on with limited success. The Advisory Board for Club Sports’ proposal to establish athletic trainers was denied at the GUSA Finance and Appropriations Committee’s Budget Summit Feb. 24.

GUSA Director of SAFE Reform Colton Malkerson (COL ’13), who also ran against Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount in 2012’s GUSA race, said the pair provided him strong support to oversee the implementation of the three SAFE proposals, which include establishing the Social Innovation and Public Service Fund, installing solar panels on townhouses, and renovating the New South Student Center.

“Clara and Vail gave me very specific tasks but also gave me flexibility to do my job. They should certainly be getting credit for overseeing the final implementation of the SAFE reform,” he said. “I think they did what they campaigned on and what they told students they would do. Obviously there are areas and policies or approaches that I agreed with and I disagreed with, but when it pertains to my role, I think they’ve done a good job.”

Tyler Sax (COL ’13), who also ran for the GUSA presidency against Gustafson, approved of the pair’s performance over the past year.

“I was happy to see them taking the reins despite not winning myself,” Sax said. “They’ve served Georgetown admirably and they can boast a record as GUSA executives that will stand for a long time.”

Overall, the pair said they were satisfied with their ability to increase interaction between the university administration and the student body and ensure students were delivered the education promised by Georgetown’s Jesuit values.

“The fact that we were able to be women for these men and women for others has been such an honor,” Kohnert-Yount said.

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