Georgetown University should not punish students for their disobedience simply because protesters expose problems within Georgetown’s institutions.

Georgetown recently vowed not to punish incoming students who were arrested during peaceful protests, joining the announced policies of peer institutions such as Dartmouth College and The George Washington University in an effort to protect high schoolers planning on participating in tomorrow’s March for Our Lives, a rally to demand gun violence prevention, and other current movements being led by high school students from Parkland, Fla. high school targeted by a mass shooter in February.

On Feb. 25, the admissions office tweeted, “Participation in a peaceful protest will not negatively impact admission to Georgetown.”

The university has not always looked so favorably on civil disobedience: Georgetown previously punished student protesters who criticized its practices. To preserve the rights of students to peacefully protest, Georgetown must look to the policies of its admissions office to guide its treatment of peaceful protesters who question university policies.

In December 2016, eight members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, a workers advocacy group, participated in an overnight sit-in inside the private office of University President John J. DeGioia’s chief of staff, Joseph Ferrara, to protest the university’s contract with Nike, the only Georgetown licensee not to sign the Code of Conduct agreement and a practitioner of questionable labor policies.

In August 2017, GSC’s efforts were validated: Nike signed a contract granting the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor rights group, full and independent access to its factories for the first time in the company’s history. Though Georgetown recognized the protesters were in the moral right, administrators nevertheless strictly punished the students involved.

For their failure to comply with Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Ferrara’s request for the students to leave DeGioia’s office before the close of business hours, the eight GSC students were harshly sanctioned under the Code of Student Conduct. In addition to requiring $50 fines paid to the university and a written letter of apology to Ferrara, the students were placed on Disciplinary Probation I, meaning another infraction would result in their suspension. GSC as a group was also forced to concede control of its budget; the group is still required to request funding on a case-by-case basis.

Georgetown’s punishment brought on GSC students demonstrates the double standard applied to peaceful protest. The university has been far more supportive of students who advocate for issues not directly related to the business of Georgetown administrators.

DeGioia has proven his genuine desire to prevent gun violence — he praised protesters at last Wednesday’s walkout for gun reform, saying, “No student should live in fear of gun violence.” While his encouragement of protest is commendable, DeGioia should apply the same standards to all peaceful protest.

If implemented, the gun control reforms supported by student activists would not affect Georgetown’s institutional practices. Conversely, Georgetown’s confrontation with GSC was focused on university practices and decisions: The clothes filling its bookstore were produced by dehumanizing labor practices.

In its mission statement, Georgetown urges students “to be responsible and active participants in civic life and to live generously in service to others.” Students should be permitted — and encouraged — to advocate for change not only in the national and international spheres, but also on campus.
In fact, student protests have driven much of Georgetown’s progress on social issues. Sanctions levied against GSC and its members deter such activism.

La Casa Latina, a space developed for Georgetown’s Latinx community, was developed in 2015 after 60 students from the Latinx Leadership Forum and diversity activism movement Last Campaign for Academic Reform staged a peaceful sit-in in the hallway outside DeGioia’s office to advocate for the space. Administrators listened to and praised these protesters.

“We are always proud and supportive when we see our students engaging,” Ferrara said in a 2015 interview with The Hoya.

McSherry and Mulledy halls, originally named for slave owners, were renamed Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft halls following student activism in 2015.

Both protests created meaningful, beneficial change to the university. In fact, Georgetown regularly cites the renaming of buildings as a key step taken to reconcile with its sale of 272 enslaved persons in 1838. Yet, the university rarely acknowledges the central role students played in the process.

Georgetown should not punish students simply because protesters expose flaws in Georgetown’s institutions.

To correct their errors, administrators should rescind the sanctions improperly brought on GSC and the eight individual members last February. The university should also promise protection of future peaceful protesters — whether or not their interests align with Georgetown’s.

The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion Editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.

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