Since running and winning Georgetown University Student Association’s first satirical campaign, GUSA President Joe Luther (COL ’16) and Vice President Connor Rohan (COL ’16) have sought to create a more representative and open GUSA while pursuing a series of specific initiatives focusing on sexual assault and mental health policy.
The Luther-Rohan administration had both the largest and most representative cabinet in history, with 67 cabinet members. In creating the cabinet, Luther and Rohan approached student groups representing students who were typically not involved in GUSA and had open applications.
Luther and Rohan advanced a series of sexual assault and mental illness initiatives during their term. In September of this year, GUSA reached a memorandum of understanding with the administration to address issues of sexual assault on campus, including implementing a campus-wide survey on Georgetown’s sexual misconduct climate and expediting the hiring of a dedicated Title IX coordinator.
In January, the GUSA Mental Health Committee launched Project Lighthouse, a project that will implement a peer-to-peer online chat for Georgetown students to anonymously discuss mental health problems with trained supporters.
The Luther-Rohan administration made progress in other policy areas too. The GUSA Campus Plan Subcommittee launched “Let’s Not Get Screwed Again,” an online petition calling for greater student voice in the campus master-planning process, last March.
Progress on the campus plan has been made since the petition’s launch. The university appointed Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Kendyl Clausen (SFS ’16) and Reed Howard (SFS ’17) as representatives on the Georgetown Community Partnership Steering Committee in July to serve alongside Luther. On Jan. 22, the Committee agreed to expedite the creation of a draft campus plan to allow greater opportunity for student input.
In an interview with The Hoya, Luther and Rohan discussed their experience leading GUSA and their thoughts on GUSA moving forward.
As a collective administration and as individuals, what are you most proud of from your term?
Luther: I guess what I’m most proud of what we’ve done is a lot of the messaging that we’ve been able to get across. When we ran, we ran simply on “we are just [interacting with students] a different way,” and I think by now speaking towards the end of it we’ve come a long way in terms of changing how GUSA interacts and engages with the student body. So I know that’s kind of intangible, and I can talk about policy stuff too, but I think what we ran on and what I most enjoyed about this is being able to have fun with it and reach people in a different way.
Rohan: Probably the piece of policy I’m most proud of is the sexual assault MOU, which was really big. But I think, I don’t know, I have my personal things, the fact that I even just got through it is incredible.
Luther: The fact we’re still alive!
Rohan: The fact that I’m still alive, yeah. Our work on campus planning has been pretty exceptional, I think.
Luther: Campus planning we’ve made a lot of great strides in. We’ve spent so much time on it. But also things like Project Lighthouse, I think there’s a really a cool future for that.
Your mental health and sexual assault platforms were initially your only formal policies. Have you made the progress you hoped for in these areas? What more is there to do?
Rohan: I said this to somebody in our midterm meeting who took it very much the wrong way, so I’m going to say it again because I was right. No one will ever be satisfied no matter what. So we’ve made some great progress and I think some necessary progress. The thing is, there’s always more to be done. You can’t do it all at once, you can’t expect two people to come in and revolutionize the world because there are real constraints financially, and at times you do experience just a general unwillingness to move forward with certain issues, because they always have to be weighed against everything else. It’s all coming from a few pools of money. So we always want to expand resources, and, of course, more resources are always a positive thing, but I don’t think there’s any point where we can say we’re absolutely positively satisfied, and this is the end.
Luther: I don’t think there’s any way we could have solved it in one year, and I don’t think this is going to be solved for many years to come.
Rohan: It’ll never be solved, no one’s ever going to be like, “uh, we’re good!” No one, ever, even if it’s as close as it’s going to get to perfect, people will not be satisfied.
Luther: I guess that we’re working in a large, cumbersome bureaucracy, and so there’s just so many meetings and holdups that you essentially can’t get around, and so I think we did as best we could to keep things moving.
Rohan: I think we did a damn good job, too.
As a collective administration and as individuals, what are your biggest regrets from your term?
Luther: I guess my biggest regret is that we stopped being true to ourselves, at least at the beginning. I think we were overwhelmed with the amount we had to learn and the institutional knowledge that we just didn’t have. And so a lot of what we did at the beginning was just playing catch-up, and I think we got too wrapped up in that, and that ultimately detracted from the reason why we were elected, which was to create a student government that is fun, that is down-to- earth and that communicates in a way that is unorthodox but that gets information across.
Rohan: And I think we eventually got to that point as well as we can. But the first half was very policy-oriented, very much like any GUSA leadership. We were probably a little more aggressive with things than a lot of other GUSA leadership has been in the past just because we had that wiggle room and we could kind of grow in somewhat unorthodox ways. But, yeah, the first half was not fun.
Have you satisfied your goal of creating a GUSA that represents all students?
Rohan: That’s been very difficult because we tried our best and to a certain extent, it’s not GUSA that’s preventing the organization from being totally inclusive and totally representative. Because our first few weeks what we did was we went into a ton of cultural groups, groups of people of color, and said, “please, please, apply, apply.” And we just did not get the number of apps that we were hoping for. It’s certainly a much more inclusive and diverse cabinet than any administration’s had in the past. But it’s not perfectly representative yet. And we opened up applications in a way that’s never been done before because people just come in with their cabinets set, and we didn’t have that at all. We had us and a chief of staff, and we opened it up, and we lobbied, lobbied, lobbied, lobbied, lobbied these organizations, which we hoped would have a greater interest. And a lot of people did apply and a lot of people did get positions. But is it representative? No. Did we try our best and could we have tried harder? No.
Luther: That sums it up. I’m not sure you’ll ever get to a student government that totally represents Georgetown but at the same time we had a couple weeks where we did our absolute best to reach out to different groups that are not historically involved with GUSA, and I think we were disappointed that we didn’t get a higher response.
Your GUSA cabinet was the biggest and most representative in history. Looking back, would you create such a large cabinet again? Was it effective?
Rohan: Parts of it were. Parts of it were not. The way that I like to think about it is it’s like sifting for gold in a lot of ways. Because some people just did drop off. But some people are really, really hard workers. And we have a lot of really hard workers. So you’ve just got to find the golden nuggets. But I don’t think there were any drawbacks to having such a large cabinet. Maybe it made it a little more impersonal for people, but at the end of the day having that many people meant that we’re going to have a good number of very dedicated, very knowledgeable, very passionate people in the room. And I think we definitely have that. We have a lot of those people in our cabinet.
Luther: Looking back on it, I think what’s more important than the size of the cabinet is cultivating a group dynamic and a team environment. And because we came in with no experience we were, again, walking on eggshells essentially. So we tried to look for the people that we thought are the leaders in their fields for this area, and kind of let them do their thing, let them spread their wings. That’s what we thought would be the most effective way to get the best results out of our cabinet. But I think [that was discounted slightly] by not creating a stronger dynamic and a team environment, and a family feel essentially working towards a shared vision.
What are your plans for after Georgetown?
Rohan: We want to do TV writing.
Luther: We want to be comedy writers. Do you know anyone in comedy writing? I think we’re very nontraditional in that aspect of what we want to do, too. I think this job is great if you’re looking to go into business or law school. I don’t know if it was super helpful for us on that front, on a professional front.
Rohan: I feel like I gained some skills through it, though.
Luther: Gained some skills, got some cool experiences. Cost a lot of time, though.
Rohan: I feel like I’m more focused and … I’m more confident about certain things.
Luther: I feel like I speak a different language now.
Rohan: A language that we’ll never use.
Luther: Bureaucrat talk.
What advice will you be giving your successors in the transition meeting?
Luther: Our biggest lesson is to be down-to-earth, at the end of the day this is just student government. And going back to what I said earlier, make it fun for the people involved. Really try to cultivate that team feel. But also don’t be exclusive. Find the balance.
Rohan: Don’t take yourself seriously, because if you do that, everyone’s going to hate you. The worst people in GUSA are the people who take themselves really seriously. The people who are just administrators in training. Sometimes they can be the most effective, though, but the worst to work with. They’re going to know exactly who they are as soon as they read that!
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