The university should increase discussions on race and identity to create a more inclusive campus for minority students, according to students who participated in the Hoya Identity Town Hall on Wednesday.
The town hall, co-sponsored by the Georgetown University Student Association, Black Leadership Forum, Latinx Leadership Forum, the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of the Provost, provided a space for engagement and discussion about nationally pressing issues following President-elect Donald Trump’s victory. About four more town halls will be scheduled for the spring semester.
Black House Resident Director Shola Powell (COL ’17), who is also a member of the Black Leadership Forum, said the town hall is the first in what she hopes will be an ongoing series of discussions on identity.
“Earlier in the semester, we were talking about how there are not enough spaces on campus to talk between staff, faculty and students about what they experience that influences their day-to-day living, and we came up with the idea of a town hall series, and each year we would change the identity we focused on,” Powell said. “This year, it was going to be race.”
The recommendations from each town hall event, which all took place in the Healey Family Student Center, will be presented to University President John J. DeGioia, according to Powell.
Powell said the focus of this first town hall shifted slightly after Trump won the election.
“After election night, the campus was very sad and quiet. There was a visible toll and response to how distraught people were about the future with a President Trump,” Powell said.
Sociology professor Michael Dyson, who spoke at the town hall, said students should engage in activism following the election.
“The first thing you can do as serious activists is go to class. Know what you are talking about. The classroom is an engaged space of enlightenment, exchange of ideas and contestation of worldviews,” Dyson said. “You have to be deeply and profoundly ensconced in a tradition of enlightenment, where people are grappling with ideas.”
Dyson said the most important initiative going forward on campus is bridging the gap between theory and action.
“The distance between theory and practice means you’ve got to try to apply that stuff right at the center at a place like Georgetown,” Dyson said. “What I love about what you all do here at Georgetown is to make certain that we are trying to involve ourselves in the very processes that we think are intellectually defensible.”
Organizers passed around microphones for an open discussion to attendees seated at about a dozen tables after Dyson’s talk.
Nada Eldaief (SFS ’18), who attended the panel, said a professor’s remark during a class after the election made her uncomfortable in a class. Eldaief did not disclose the class.
“We were talking about the election in a class and one of my professors turned to one of the students, who is a black Muslim female, and said, ‘I don’t understand your people’s fear.’ I was very taken aback by that and a little bit hurt,” Eldaief said. “Obviously political beliefs differ, and that is what makes Georgetown so special, but no one is asking you to understand someone else’s fear.”
LGBTQ Resource Center Assistant Director Julian Haas, who is also member of the Bias Reporting Team, said students should report any instances of harassment and bigotry to university personnel through the bias reporting system.
“Regardless of how you feel about the system, this institution can and will respond when things are reported, so please, please use that system, whether it’s about a peer, faculty, or staff member, or someone unaffiliated with the university,” Haas said. “If you don’t submit them, we do not have official record of what happens.”
GUSA Chief of Staff Ari Goldstein (COL ’18), who attended the town hall, said the event reaffirmed his commitment to engage in uncomfortable discussions and learn how to help marginalized groups on campus.
“The way we’ve been addressing issues of diversity and inclusion is inviting people to feel a personal connection to it, which in some ways is really effective. However, I think it has papered over some nuances in the experiences of different marginalized groups on campus,” Goldstein said. “My epiphany this semester has been that students of color and black students particularly experience marginalization in such a deep way that I will never be able to understand.”
GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) said platforms for dialogue like the identity town hall are essential given that Georgetown, although largely accepting and inclusive, has faced an uptick in bias-related incidents after the election. Two bias-related attacks against students were reported in the week following Trump’s victory.
“Institutionally, the university has been very mindful of the election and its impact and have been willing to work with the students, meet with them and discuss,” Khan said. “However, when you look at what is happening day to day, with microaggressions, that’s where I think the focus needs to be.”
According to Goldstein, there needs to be a balance between achieving the maximum community engagement and not trivializing nuances between different privileges or claiming superficial knowledge of someone else’s struggle.
“When we talk about creating a culture on campus truly inclusive of the black community, that has to be so much more than just being able to ‘think about diversity’ and ‘respect differences.’ It is about actually changing structures and tackling the issues head-on,” Goldstein said.
Kumail Aslam (COL ’17), who spoke during the discussion section, added that effective allyship is a two-way street.
“The Muslim community needs allies, but we also need to be allies to other people,” Aslam said. “This is a time where we are very scared and this is a lot of fear in our communities, but I think if we work together, we can definitely fight back against that.”
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