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Administrators should have acted, not reacted
“Burglary in Henle Village.” “Break-in Off Campus.” Public safety alerts are nothing new to Georgetown students; an iPod stolen from an unlocked dorm room seems like enough to merit a campus-wide e-mail.
So why didn’t the University tell students about the hate crime that took place just off campus until after the Metropolitan Police Department arrested a Georgetown student in connection with the assault three weeks later?
And after the crime was made public, why was the University’s response so minimal until students demanded more?
Regardless of whether or not Philip Cooney (MSB `10), whom the victim identified using Facebook as well as a police photo lineup, committed the crime, the University was wrong to withhold the fact that a hate crime had been committed for almost a month.
Administrators knew about the assault the day it happened, according to University spokesperson Julie Green Bataille. According to Lt. Alberto Jova, the commanding officer of MPD’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, Georgetown found out that it was a hate crime when MPD collaborated with the Department of Public Safety on the investigation, at most two days after the assault.
“This was a contained incident,” Bataille said when asked why the information was not released earlier. “There was no reason to believe that there was any kind of on-going threat.”
Even if the assault was a “contained incident,” it still merited an immediate and substantial response. The administration’s initial lack of response sent mixed signals to the campus community, echoing Georgetown’s already lackluster record on sexual orientation issues; the LBGTQ resource center finally opened last year after the University stalled the issue for almost a decade.
Georgetown’s bias-reporting website is meant to encourage students to report these bias-related incidents, but when an incident actually does occur, administrators prefer to stay silent. According to the website, ten of the fifteen bias-related incidents committed on campus during the spring and summer of 2006, the most recent statistics available, were sexual orientation-based. This issue clearly needs to be addressed, and soon.
The members of GU Pride admirably worked to generate discussion, drawing a large crowd of supportive students to their Red Square rally on Monday. GU Pride leaders also met with Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Center for Multicultural Equity and Access Director Dennis Williams. They convinced the administrators to hold a forum discussion next week—possibly including President John DeGioia—and to create an LGBTQ Working Group to address their long-term demands, which include creating a more transparent policy for reporting bias-related incidents, hiring a full-time staff member for LGBTQ support and mandating LGTBQ awareness sessions in freshman dorms.
The University should be commended for these steps forward, but it should have initiated the changes independently, because it was the right thing to do, not just to appease students. “My Georgetown is better than this” was the rallying cry on Monday. Our students are certainly better. Let’s hope that next time our administration is, too.