Students Request University to Rescind Johnson Invitation

COURTEST ESMI HUERTA Around 30 students led by UndocuHoyas delivered a letter to the SFS Dean's Office on Monday, requesting that the university Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson's invitation to speak at the SFS commencement.

COURTESY ESMI HUERTA
Around 30 students delivered a letter to the School of Foreign Service Dean’s Office on Monday requesting that the university rescind Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson’s invitation to speak at the SFS commencement.

Around 30 students led by advocacy group UndocuHoyas delivered a letter to the School of Foreign Service Dean’s Office yesterday requesting that the university rescind its invitation to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to speak at the SFS commencement address, citing Johnson’s role in immigration enforcement and the deportation of people living in the country illegally.

Hemly Ordonez (SFS ’08) also began circulating a petition calling for the university to rescind its invitation Monday, amassing 399 signatures as of Tuesday at 11 p.m.

The letter, written by members of UndocuHoyas, a student group founded in 2014 that represents undocumented students, stated Johnson should not attend the ceremony given his role in immigration enforcement, including the deportation and separation of families.

“We should not be forced to receive our diplomas from an individual who is directly responsible for separating our families,” the letter writes. “Therefore, we strongly implore the university to rescind Secretary Johnson’s speaking invitation and take meaningful action to ensure that graduation is an inclusive and safe experience for all members of the Georgetown community.”

Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs Daniel Byman, Senior Associate Dean of Faculty and Graduate Affairs Anthony C. Arend and Chief of Staff to the Dean Emily Zenick received the letter yesterday afternoon.

Ordonez said Johnson’s visit will make undocumented students feel unsafe.

“Johnson’s invitation is an insult to my family, to the myriad of Georgetown alumni from mixed-documented families, and to the undocumented students who are preparing to graduate this month. Graduation is supposed to be a safe, welcoming environment for students and families who have worked so hard to graduate, not a hostile or uncomfortable one,” Ordonez wrote in the letter.

In a university statement sent to The Hoya, Director of Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh said the university plans to use Johnson’s visit to increase dialogue over issues of freedom of expression and immigration.

“Our university leadership will meet with students this week to hear their experiences and concerns and is committed to seeking forums in which Secretary Johnson’s engagement on campus can foster even more dialogue on these challenging issues,” Pugh wrote.

Following the university’s announcement of Johnson’s address Friday, students began posting on Facebook and changing their profile pictures to express their concerns over Johnson’s planned address.

Hoyas for Immigrant Rights Co-Chair Laura Padilla (COL ’18) said Johnson’s visit is especially disappointing following recent progress in supporting undocumented students, with the university’s release of a website with resources for undocumented students in April.

“When I first heard that Johnson was selected to be the commencement speaker for the SFS graduation, I was in shock. A few weeks ago, the university ‘came out’ in support of undocumented students: they institutionalized resources for students and even launched a website. All of a sudden, it felt like they had take 10 steps backwards,” Padilla wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Even though this is not my graduation, I felt disrespected.”

During Johnson’s tenure as secretary of homeland security, the department has carried out raids against families that have received final orders of removal, resulting in their deportation.

In response to UndocuHoyas’ petition, Reed Howard (SFS ’17) launched a change.org petition calling for the university to keep Johnson as the commencement speaker. Howard, who circulated the petition titled “Protect Freedom of Speech at Georgetown University” on a Facebook event earlier today, wrote in the event description that rescinding the speaking invitation would be a threat to free speech.

“It would be a tragedy to let Georgetown go down the path of other universities that have allowed students obsessed with safe spaces and echo chambers to prevail at the cost of a diversity of opinions and beliefs,” Howard wrote.

The petition has accumulated 181 signatures as of 11 p.m. today. Following the petition’s release, debate arose on Facebook between students who support the petition and students who do not.

In an email to The Hoya, Howard said the efforts to cancel Johnson’s visit are part of an alarming trend of attempts to limit free speech.

“My hope is that Georgetown University is strong enough to stand up for its convictions and honor the diversity of thought and opinion essential to any university,” Reed wrote. “Students have successfully shut down commencement speakers at other universities, and I would be ashamed if Georgetown fell victim to this assault on free speech sweeping college campuses.”

Multiple student groups have stated their support for UndocuHoyas’ actions, including Hoyas for Immigrant Rights, H*yas for Choice and the Georgetown University Student Association.

GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and GUSA Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17) said they agree that Johnson’s selection could affect graduating students who are undocumented.

“We, the GUSA Executive, support the right of UndocuHoyas and their allies to express their frustrations and disappointment regarding the selection of this year’s SFS commencement speaker, which impacts the graduation experience for undocumented students and students of mixed status families,” Khan and Fisk wrote in a GUSA Facebook post.

Hoya Staff Writer Christian Paz contributed reporting.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available. 

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18 Comments

  1. Way to not interview or even write about any of the students fighting against censorship except for Reed, who got half the number of signatures without spreading his petition across the nation to look desperately for fellow free speech haters to sign over the course of a week.

    • It is a disgrace that we have come to this stage. What ever happens to diverse view to a diverse university setting? If these illegal student body want to mussel frees peach when it suits them, it very well means that they have no standing in their belief of the right to other views. Hence they do not belong anywhere. Their intolerance is a danger to the future of our unity in diversity.

  2. What an absolute embarrassment these students are. The SFS should be ashamed for having so wholly failed to develop them into mature, thoughtful citizens capable of listening to views with which they disagree.

  3. Nick Smith says:

    If these kids are the future “leaders” of America then this country deserves to fail. We could not fight WWII with this crop of cowardly student who feel “unsafe” because they disagree with someone coming to speak. A comment in the Voice article on this mentioned how Georgetown has failed to properly educated any one who claims to be traumatized or afraid because Johnson is coming to speak. The writer was right. Every professor and administrator (not to mention the parents) should be ashamed of themselves for creating these cowards.

  4. Class of 2016 says:

    Honestly while I understand the root of this criticism of the university’s, it represents an incredibly myopic view as to what the DHS does. They do more than deport people, and that’s not what will happen here. School is meant to challenge our opinions and spur a meaningful debate, and I’m disappointing that so many of my peers are refusing to constructively participate.

  5. I have tried to understand the arguments advanced by the protesters but just can’t grasp how ignoring a supposed problem makes it go away. Listen and reject the ideas but at least listen.

  6. To the five people posting comments: you are missing the point. This is not about an exchange of ideas and free speech, it’s about a university policy – https://undocumented.georgetown.edu/ and the the same university choosing to invite a person who professionally has to be against those very values.

    You can’t claim to be supportive of undocumented students and then invite the man responsible for deporting undocumented individuals to their graduation.

    Plus, let’s take this a step further – this is not a debate or a forum for the exchange of ideas – it’s not a conference or an event where attendance is voluntary – no one else except Sec Johnson will get to weigh in… this is graduation, a moment of celebration, a day one wants to share with family and loved ones. What these kids are saying is that the presence of the man responsible for deporting people like them and their loved ones doesn’t sit well with them at a time of celebration.

    We can sit around and argue whether the Unversity’s policy towards undocumented students is compassionate or misguided but it’s pretty clear to me that having chose to state that: “As a university located in our nation’s capital and animated by our Catholic and Jesuit identity, we are called to support all of our students, including our undocumented students.” the choice of Sec Johnson as commencement speaker is incoherent at best, insulting at worse

  7. I find kittens triggering. I demands the school remove them all…..

  8. Michael White says:

    mixed-documented, that’s funny. Not in the U.S in violation of immigration laws, but mixed-documented. At least own up to breaking laws that you don’t agree with. And you don’t want to be called out for your bad behavior. I’ll be upset?? rotflol

  9. Class of 1978 says:

    “Ordonez said Johnson’s visit will make undocumented students feel unsafe.” My head explodes on this stuff. Someone SPEAKING words you disagree with make you feel unsafe? Get ready for the real world pal, where being a grownup involves dealing with people you disagree with.

  10. Mr. Johnson SHOULD be invited to speak. They don’t want to be handed a diploma by Mr. Johnson, stay home.

  11. Padilla- you felt direspected? Are you serious, the students identified as undocumented should be rounded up and bussed, not flown to wherever the hell they came from. Where do you people get off thinking you have rights here. Amazing.

  12. James Terrell says:

    If the DHS was doing its job on the immigration front, the illegals who are about to graduate would have been deported long ago. Now, after you hit the roof, ask yourself “What other laws should the federal government NOT enforce? Kidnapping, drug offenses, ….. ” Both republicans and democrats have not enforced immigration laws. Both should be ashamed, both are not.

  13. What these kids are saying is that the presence of the man responsible for deporting people like them and their loved ones doesn’t sit well with them at a time of celebration. WELL, it doesn’t sit well with me having illegal aliens trying to dictate to universities whom should speak at a commencement ceremony. If you feel you don’t want to hear him, DON’T GO GET YOUR DIPLOMA. Illegals should have been thrown out, deported immediately. I GUESS THE STUDENTS ARE PROTESTING GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ENFORCING THE UNITED STATES LAWS. GO FIGURE.

  14. Hemly Ordonez (SFS ’08) = 8-years-post-grad = professional agitator. Kids, you are Soooooo the product of government-induced sheepleness. Learn how to dialogue. Hell, learn how to listen.

  15. I guess that the Hoya news paper supports illegal immigration. Great way for a college to teach students to break laws of the country.

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