DIRAGO: Decoding a Decisive Referendum
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 01:10
In one of the least surprising developments in student affairs in recent memory, voters in Thursday’s Georgetown University Students Association referendum expressed overwhelming opposition to the potential satellite housing complex: 2,746 of the 2,966 participating Hoyas voted no — a 92.6 percent stand against the plan on which the "One Georgetown, One Campus" campaign immediately capitalized, spinning it as a "mandate from the student body."
As one of the 2,746, I hope this is true. The idea of our surrounding neighborhood forcing the university, which already houses a very high percentage of undergraduates on its small campus, to physically isolate several hundred students from their peers is unreasonable at most. Ideally, the referendum will help build momentum to a more creative and mindful solution.
But if we look at the referendum in the context of the more than 7,500 undergraduates on the Hilltop, the largest contingent of students expressed disinterest by not casting a vote. Because just over a third of eligible students voted, it seems to me that there are other ways to interpret the referendum, a likely one being that students simply don’t care. While Georgetown students are indisputably busy, I find it unlikely that in the 24-hour voting period, a typical student could not spare two minutes to access the election on HoyaLink.
This interpretation would be damning for GUSA, as it would imply that students on the whole are apathetic about the satellite plan, making it all the easier for the university to justify moving ahead with it. Of course, this isn’t completely fair: Decisions are made by those who show up, after all. Here in the United States, for example, we unblinkingly legitimize officeholders who won elections with turnout rates as low as that of Thursday’s referendum.
I think it’s still worth considering, however, that we shouldn’t assume that our elections or our politics are commensurate with the will of 100 percent of their constituency. It would be interesting to apply the same logic to the referendum. Because the referendum’s stated objective was to take students’ temperature — not to reach a conclusion with legislative authority — we should question its explanatory power. In any case, all that Thursday told us is that almost all of one-third of students oppose the plan.
More simply, however, let’s assume that the results are a mandate from the student body that accurately represents Georgetown students’ opinions on the issue. If we extrapolate the referendum result ratio to the 7,590 undergraduates on campus, then over 560 students — 175 more than would potentially live in Clarendon or Capitol Hill — do not oppose the measure. This 7.4 percent would be willing either to live there themselves or send their classmates to housing even further than Darnall.
In this vein, another compelling reason to forego satellite housing is the often-pointed-to upper-middle-class, white lifestyle and purview that can prevail here at Georgetown. More often than not, students who do not check these boxes must decide whether to try and assimilate or to identify with groups that pursue other ways of life and sometimes face isolation or discrimination as a result. This, combined with institutionally enforced divisions coming from extracurricular activities and other factors can result in a socially segregated campus.
This is inimical to the idea of a healthy college environment, in which learning should come from sharing diverse perspectives just as much as from coursework. In the discussion of satellite housing, we should keep in mind that the students living there could constitute yet another isolated — likely self-selecting — subgroup on campus. It could detract from any inching towards inclusivity and diversity that the university is accomplishing.
I hope we think of "One Georgetown, One Campus" not as something that we’ve achieved and would lose with satellite housing, but as something toward which we should continually strive.
Nicholas Dirago is a senior in the College. CURMUDGEON’S CORNER appears every other Tuesday.