When Georgetown University Student Association President Joe Luther (COL ’16) and Vice President Connor Rohan (COL ’16) launched their campaign in February, they only had two serious points — regarding sexual assault and mental health — on their otherwise satirical platform.
Luther and Rohan, who gave themselves a B-plus for their term, have negotiated with the administration on a range of issues, prioritizing sexual assault policy reform, disability access reform, master planning and mental health reform in their first seven months in office. In the future, the pair said they hope to delve deeper into these issues while reinvigorating the student engagement that helped them win the election in February.
Luther and Rohan estimate that they have spent half of their time in office on the issue of master planning. With deliberations concerning the 2018 Campus Plan under way, the duo meets frequently with administrators to discuss student concerns about housing policies and construction on campus.
“We’re continuing conversations about what’s a senior living in Georgetown look like, in terms of students maintaining the ability to live off campus,” Luther said.
In March, fresh off their campaign’s victory, Luther and Rohan and the GUSA Campus Plan Subcommittee launched “Let’s Not Get Screwed Again,” an online petition calling for the greater representation of student priorities in the master planning process.
The petition, which received 2,620 student signatures in two weeks, called on the university to not require more students to live on campus, prioritize the renovation of existing buildings over new construction projects and give students more representation in the negotiation process.
In July, Luther and Rohan achieved the third objective when the university appointed two more students — Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Kendyl Clausen (SFS ’16) and Reed Howard (SFS ’17) — as representatives on the Georgetown Community Partnership Steering Committee. As GUSA president, Luther also holds a representative position on the committee.
Luther said he would like the university to prioritize students’ needs in drafting the campus plan.
“We don’t mind when the university is building new things, but it should be in response to real student demand,” Luther said.
According to Rohan, GUSA has also pressed the Planning and Facilities Management Department to address deferred maintenance issues. In late September, GUSA hosted a consortium with the university in which administrators and GUSA representatives responded to students’ concerns on construction.
Rohan said that these discussions with the administration have been constructive.
“I’m really encouraged with how the master planning conversations are going, because they’re frequent and they’re diverse,” Rohan said. “We’re finally coming to the point where the students and the administration agree on certain points.”
While the master planning process will continue into the next academic year, Rohan said that he is proud of the progress they have made thus far.
“We can’t build the campus plan in a year. We can’t build it in our term, but we can certainly lay the foundation and we’ve done a fantastic job of doing so,” Rohan said.
Sexual Assault Policy Reform
The pair has also made progress in negotiating sexual assault policy reform with the university.
In mid-September, GUSA reached a six-point memorandum of understanding with the administration on sexual assault policy reform, which Luther and Rohan called their proudest accomplishment.
Both GUSA and the university agreed to create a more survivor-centric campus by increasing bystander education programs, expanding marketing campaigns for survivor resources, collecting information about the university climate on sexual assault and expediting the hiring of a full-time Title IX coordinator.
In collaboration with student advocates, Luther and Rohan led negotiations with university administrators throughout the summer, when dialogue on sexual assault at Georgetown reignited after two survivors – Willa Murphy and Olivia Hinerfeld (SFS ’17) – wrote op-eds detailing their experiences which were published on thehoya.com.
Luther said that GUSA and student advocates need to work closely with the university in order to affect real change.
“GUSA is intrinsically an advocacy body, and in order to get anything done, the university has all the resources,” Luther said. “It’s on us to constantly be working with the university.”
Rohan said that they will continue to hold the university accountable to the agreements on the MOU.
“From now, we have to work with administrators and make it actually happen,” Rohan said.
Former GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) said that the MOU was one of his successor’s most significant accomplishments.
“I think Joe and Connor have been doing a great job,” Tezel wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It’s been exciting to see them build off of the past work around sexual assault advocacy with the MOU with the university administration.”
Increasing Mental Health Dialogue
Luther and Rohan also identified improving mental health resources on campus as one of their core goals. The duo said they will spend the rest of their term conducting a comprehensive review of services provided by Counseling and Psychiatric Services and the state of mental health at Georgetown.
Earlier this month, GUSA hosted a panel discussion with students and administrators to address current policies and suggestions for reform.
According to Rohan, GUSA is also working on establishing a student-led counseling group independent from CAPS. The group will be based off of the student-run Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service group at Cornell University.
“If CAPS isn’t available or if CAPS is underwhelming, we want to provide that resource for students on campus,” Rohan said. “Hopefully within the next few months, we’ll have some very promising updates.”
Improving Disability Access
At the beginning of this academic year, GUSA worked together with the Office of Campus Activity Facilities and the Division of Student Affairs to hire Anisha Thadani as the university’s first access coordinator and events manager.
Luther said that the creation of the position marks an important step in improving campus accessibility to students with disabilities.
“Now [that] we have the position established, I think we have a good future in terms of events being accessible to all,” Luther said. “We’re on a … hill and we’re always under construction, so this is totally needed.”
Last year, Tezel and Jikaria worked with disability rights activist Lydia Brown (COL ’15) to advocate for the creation of a Disability Cultural Center. However, Rohan said that while he sees merit in establishing the center, he does not think it will be feasible in the near future.
“The space and the finance are the two biggest issues,” Rohan said. “I would love to see it happen. Whether I think it’s realistic, I don’t think it is right now. But I don’t think it is an impossibility for the future.”
GUSA organized a student-led visioning session in September to solicit the community’s input on university-wide sustainability goals. Luther and Rohan have also met with administrators to develop a proposal on sustainability. Rohan said that the negotiations are still ongoing.
“I think it’s a good start, but I do think it’s not concrete enough,” Rohan said. “A lot of what we’re doing now is working with that office to get concrete language, loftier goals, with the future of technology and the future of sustainability in mind.”
A Diverse GUSA, Campus
In addition to being the first successful satirical campaign in the history of GUSA, Luther and Rohan established the largest cabinet in history with 67 students.
Luther said that they consolidated student leaders from a diverse range of communities in order to create a more diverse GUSA.
“One of the first things Connor and I did after the election, for weeks, was we reached out to as many groups as we could, and a lot of those groups happened to be cultural groups,” Luther said. “In creating cabinet positions, we work to create positions that were focused on these issues.”
To promote diversity in the wider community, Luther and Rohan have also continued to support the GUSA Multicultural Council, which was established last year.
Engaging and Energizing
With seven months of experience under their belts, Luther and Rohan gave themselves an overall grade of B-plus, citing that they have yet to fulfill their original goal of energizing students about GUSA and important issues on campus.
“A lot of students don’t know what’s going on, and they think it’s outside of them,” Rohan said. “Sometimes it is, but if we were really men and women for others, we should think about these issues.”
Rohan said that they recently underwent a mid-term identity crisis, in which they realized that they had been following the footsteps of traditional GUSA executives.
“Because we were presented with all this information and we had to understand all of it, what eventually happened was that we fell into the trap of using that as the proper way to proceed,” Rohan said. “What it’s done is that it’s made us GUSA president and vice president.”
Luther attributed their inability to spark student interest to their own preoccupation with multiple projects.
“We need to delegate better. When something came up, Connor and I would just jump right into it,” Luther said. “Based on what we’re trying to do, which is energize GUSA, that can’t be the way to do this.”
Luther said that in the remaining months of their term, he and Rohan will make it their top priority to engage and energize students.
“Why we were elected was solely based on the fact that we were trying to transform GUSA and the image it communicates,” Luther said. “In terms of the next five, six months, we’re going to try and become more of our campaign selves, more back to our fun roots.”
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