Last year, I was one of four first-year women in the Georgetown University Student Association senate. When former senators and older Georgetown students cracked jokes about GUSA being a “white boys’ club,” I laughed and brushed it off. After all, there were 11 women in the senate out of 28 total senators. It did not seem that bad.
Soon, however, I realized that was not the point. Women make up more than half the undergraduate student body, yet the GUSA senate, a group meant to represent the students of Georgetown, has failed to be representative of them. Additionally, there were only eight people of color in the senate last year, including just one Black senator and no Latinx senators. As chair of the former Institutional Diversity Subcommittee and then- co-chair of the Racial and Cultural Inclusivity Policy Team, I had been so committed to diversity initiatives on campus and how GUSA could advocate for them that I had not focused on any similar initiatives within GUSA itself, particularly in the senate.
With a woman of color — Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) — as our former speaker and current president, it may seem that GUSA has nothing to worry about. However, in the same way that racism in the United States still exists even though we have a Black president, there is still much to be done on campus to make every space inclusive. GUSA can — and should — be a foundational starting point.
However, this year, not a single first-year student in the senate is a woman. There are just seven women total and only 10 people of color. I cannot explain why this is the case, but I would like to make a personal commitment to bridging this gap between GUSA and marginalized communities on campus.
Instead of having to outsource to groups with members of marginalized backgrounds every time GUSA wants to work with that group, there is value in those same members being a part of GUSA, facilitating greater coordination between campus communities and the senate. Still, that is not to put the burden on individuals to just join the senate. I certainly do not blame any communities for not wanting to join an organization in which they would not feel comfortable. Representation and inclusivity should not be a burden on or for marginalized communities.
A dedication to diversity and inclusivity also comes in whom GUSA senators choose for certain positions. With the elections for this year’s vice speaker of the senate, one key reason I voted for current Vice Speaker Cherie Vu (COL ’19) is because of an inherent power in representation. Having a woman of color in a leadership role is just one baby step towards fostering a more inclusive image of the senate.
GUSA has a reputation for lacking representation, but there is no mold on this campus that cannot be changed.The Chicken Madness campaign apparently claimed to be about “giving a voice to the voiceless” in their own words. While I personally think some jokes are best left dead after a few weeks of novelty, there is some value to such a statement.
It is important to remember that race and gender identity are not the only indicators of diversity. As the session kicks in, I expect to learn more about the diverse experiences and backgrounds my fellow senators carry with them over time. Hopefully, this year’s senate and future senators will include queer students, disabled students, low-income students, undocumented students and students from different faith backgrounds as well as many more identities not listed here.
Maybe next year, we will have a senate that looks a little bit more like Georgetown.
Jasmin Ouseph is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. She is a GUSA senator.
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