Thomas_LloydIf serving as the president of GU Pride, running for Georgetown University Student Association president and the “Utraque Unum” campaign has taught me one thing, it is that students at Georgetown love to disagree.

As a high school debate coach and an advocate, I enjoy getting the chance to expand and elevate discourse about the issues that matter the most to me. Unfortunately, I’ve also found that when Georgetown students disagree, we struggle to form a civil discourse. At best, our reasoned arguments fall on closed ears. At worst, our callous comments cut down those brave enough to act as vanguards. Either way, we lose out on the most valuable part of disagreement: getting an opportunity to rethink our values.

This is not a question of expression policy per se, but rather it is a question of how we value expression in our community. While we may not always realize it, the big mouths in our intro government classes and the “trolls” who aggressively comment on articles in The Hoya even when studying abroad or after graduation are actually adding something to our lives.

These passionate, while perhaps bored, students and alumni call us to re-examine the beliefs we hold complacently. Disagreement is a vibrant part of any intellectual community, and debate helps us to explore, redefine and reimagine our values and opinions. However, these benefits can only be felt if we concurrently foster a vibrant culture of respect for every Hoya.

In my years at Georgetown, I’ve experienced firsthand not just official barriers to expression, but also community backlash for often the most asinine reasons. I’ve mentioned the hostile responses that followed my suggestion that the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee “You Can Play” video — which I praised and expressed thanks for — could have used more recognizable LGBTQ community leaders. The same thing happened again this semester when I posted photos of Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson in an ’80s wig in the weeks after finishing my GUSA campaign.

Some students were offended on behalf of administrators (spoiler Alert: the admins who did talk to me thought it was hilarious). In the same notes in which they bemoaned putting lipstick on well-treated administrators, they also profanely offered twisted opinions about allyship or my past advocacy work. With that same disagreement in their heart, they’d tear down the designs of one fellow student that were painstakingly hung by another. I knew that some people would find the images objectionable, but I hoped that they would explore why these images were worse than, say, any other political cartoon. Instead, I learned that some students would rather attack an image and its creators; rather than engage them and the feelings they stirred.

Twisted approaches to disagreement have obvious ramifications beyond the reactions to images of President DeGioia donning (admittedly too much) eye shadow; they can poison even basic interactions. Powerful collaborations and events that I’ve worked on have been threatened because of a belief that if two sets of people disagree on a certain overarching idea, then they cannot learn anything from one another. Our Georgetown community itself is allowed to remain fractured.

I’ve had the benefit of being forced to thoughtfully engage and re-evaluate beliefs that I held dearly. Years ago, before I came out of the closet, I identified with most of my family as a conservative Republican. Coming to terms with my queer identity was one of the first times that I truly had to wrestle with the fact that a set of beliefs and fears I had developed surrounding a certain population were just flat out wrong. That experience encouraged me to intentionally pull in friends who had different faiths, politics and personalities from my own. I later learned that this is advice that Jesuits practice when in leadership positions and seeking advisers. I fondly remember how sitting in parks with one of my friends, an Orthodox Jewish girl now at Yeshiva, helped me to unpack my own faith and LGBTQ identities.

Humanizing and understanding those so different from ourselves is not just important for our own growth, it also respects the humanity of the people behind those values with which we disagree. I know that many of the online comments posted on The Hoya or the Voice’s website would never have been posted if they had to remain attached to posters’ names, but I sometimes wonder how many of those commenters have truly stopped to think about how their words would affect those they referenced.

As a community, we must learn to agree on one thing: Disagreeing should never involve the denigration of another person, nor their values, nor their work. Never. Not in an online comment on a website, not in a post on Georgetown Confessions and not by destroying the work of our colleagues.

Thomas Lloyd is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. QUEERA PERSONALIS appears every other Tuesday.

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2 Comments

  1. I am so proud of you Thomas, and all that you are doing at Georgetown. While having different opinions isn’t always easy, it creates important conversations. The important thing is to respect other people and their opinions, you may learn something new or think differently.

  2. So, to be clear, you talk about “foster(ing) a vibrant culture of respect for every Hoya” and then in the very next sentence call any and all criticism of your art “asinine.” Vibrant culture of respect, indeed.

    Then, you write: “I know that many of the online comments posted on The Hoya or the Voice’s website would never have been posted if they had to remain attached to posters’ names, but I sometimes wonder how many of those commenters have truly stopped to think about how their words would affect those they referenced.” Yet you apparently had no problem partnering with someone chose to use a pseudonym as part of your ‘art project’ re-gendering of administrators (if you don’t understand how portraying an out lesbian woman as having a mustache – portraying her as a man – without her permission could be offensive, you have no business being president of any gay rights group).

    To top it off, you write: “Disagreeing should never involve the denigration of another person, nor their values, nor their work.” Um, have you read some of your own columns? They are filled with disparagement of administrators, their values (especially religious values), and their work.

    Practice what you preach, my man.

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