Black House Talks Diversity with GUSA Candidates
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 02:02
At a town hall meeting at the Black House on Wednesday evening, all five GUSA tickets were asked to explain how their respective platforms would address diversity issues and engage minority students on campus.
The discussion, which was the first of its kind and came amid a period of heightened dialogue about diversity and racial bias on campus, focused on engagement between student groups and free speech on campus.
The candidates engaged with an audience of approximately 30 students at the event, which lasted an hour and a half.
Black House resident Aya Waller-Bey (COL ’14) was approached by all of the GUSA tickets except for one to discuss diversity issues on campus and decided to hold the event at the Black House to bring these discussions to a wider audience.
“Quite a few [candidates] realized there were definitely issues at Georgetown they hadn’t talked about, and I thought it was important to have a forum where those issues could be discussed in a more transparent venue,” Waller-Bey said.
The Black House worked with the Georgetown University Student Association Election Commission to establish the event, which Waller-Bey hopes will become an integral part of the annual executive race.
Presidential contender Shavonnia Corbin Johnson (SFS ’14), who is the only black candidate running in this race, said the biggest problem at Georgetown is racial division of student groups. Spencer Walsh (MSB ’14), who running with Rob Silverstein (SFS ’14), agreed that there needs to be more interaction among student groups.
Presidential candidate Cannon Warren (SFS ’14), who is running with Andrew Logerfo (COL ’14), disagreed, emphasizing that students should be able to control the makeup of their groups.
“The main thing I would pursue is bias reporting and making the campus feel like a safe place to be who [you] are,” Warren said.
Logerfo, Nate Tisa (SFS ’13) and his running mate Adam Ramadan (SFS ’13), who work for Students of Georgetown, Inc., were asked to account for the company’s relatively small number of minority employees and to explain what efforts The Corp has made to become a more diverse organization.
Ramadan, who is half Latino,, said that he was encouraged to apply to The Corp by his host at Hoya Saxa Weekend and has actively encouraged minority students to apply.
Logerfo countered that the proportion of minority students in The Corp is reflective of the university’s ethnic makeup.
“The numbers are very much in line with the university as a whole,” he said. “It’s fine if you see that as a problem, but I personally don’t see that as problem with the percentage of different ethnic backgrounds in The Corp. I think it’s more of a Georgetown-wide issue.”
Tisa acknowledged that bias exists within Corp hiring practices, which he said tend to reward those who come from more privileged backgrounds, and said his ticket would create a working group addressing socio-economic differences that sometimes cause some students to feel excluded from more expensive college experiences, like Corp Gala and the Diplomatic Ball.
“The problem is The Corp, GUSA … and a lot of these institutions with [similar hiring practices] are looking for a specific type of person who reminds them of themselves,” Tisa said.
Candidates were also asked how they would increase communication and discussion of diversity and bias between white and minority students.
Silverstein proposed introducing additional diversity training for all students after New Student Orientation. Ramadan said he and Tisa would pair up student groups to perform service projects together.
“Rather than Hoya Blue and GUGS that already have a relationship and work together, let’s have Hoya Blue and Korean Student Association,” Ramadan said. “Put groups together that may be a bit of an uncomfortable situation because they were never in that before — the results after would last for so long.”
Corbin Johnson said her involvement in the Asian American Student Association, Vietnamese Student Association and the Latin American Student Association are examples of leaving her comfort zone — something she would like to promote among all students.
The candidates also addressed other kinds of diversity, including social class and sexual orientation.
Most candidates voiced support for gender-neutral housing, but Appelbaum said his ticket opposes the initiative because it is inconsistent with core university values.
“Maggie and I know we don’t support gender-neutral housing across the board in all locations because of Georgetown’s Jesuit values,” Appelbaum said. “That’s something we respect. Georgetown’s Jesuit values are something that’s rooted in the university for a very long time, and it supports the idea of what Georgetown does, what students do and the life they want students to live.”