Letters to the Editor

An Open Letter to Todd Olson, V. P. for Student Affairs

October 18, 2007

Dear Todd,

We are deeply troubled by the events of October 11 on campus. The way in which LGBT students and their supporters were treated on that day by the campus police is extremely discouraging, to say the least. For a peaceful student group to be prevented by a large number of police officers from entering the open spaces of the Healy building in order to deliver to the president’s office signatures to a widely shared campus petition is appalling. That the campus police offered no explanation, and that nobody from the president’s office saw fit to intervene to ensure the students’ access to what is ordinarily an office open to every member of the University community, compound the distressing nature of this episode. You yourself were present at this event and did not assist the students in their perfectly legitimate plan.

Recently, claims have been advanced that the extraordinary DPS presence and action was due to the reception that was in progress in the Philodemic Room prior to the Hitchens-McGrath debate. Such claims strike us as disingenuous: Healy offices, departments, and classrooms were open to all students but the ones carrying the petition, and surely, if the reception was indeed the cause of these extraordinary measures, you or a DPS officer could have both explained the situation to the students, and offered to escort two or three of them to the president’s office. The aggressive, humiliating manner in which the students were handled (as reported by the Hoya) would be troubling even if there were legitimate reasons for limiting access to parts of the building. The campus authorities collectively treated these students as enemies and suspects, to the point that DPS officers followed them for a while after they moved away from the Healy building.

This comes after a long series of events that have already greatly shaken, for many of us, the confidence that this University truly welcomes all its members and regards them as equal in worth and importance. It was encouraging to see President DeGioia’s explicit condemnation of homophobia, even if it took thirty days for him to acknowledge last month’s episode of gay-bashing, but to this day he has refused to commit to attending a public forum on these issues, and it is troubling that his words should have been followed so soon by this latest episode. Homophobic incidents have been at an all-time high this term in the dorms, and bias-related incidents focused on sexual orientation represent at least two-thirds of all bias-related incidents recently reported on campus. The University’s policies toward its gay employees remain unfair and discriminatory. Your own office still resists making the position of the coordinator for LGBT student resources a full-time one, or allowing the coordinator to be anything but reactive and passive. These things would be treated like the unacceptable scandal that they are if they were aimed at any other marginalized group on campus. And yet, since these things happen to LGBT people, Georgetown waffles, wishes it would all go away, and calls in the campus police when LGBT students and their supporters try to do something about it.

We write publicly about these matters because we have over the last several years attempted to be active in on-going discussions with your office and other campus authorities to address and resolve this campus climate of intolerance and neglect towards the LGBT community. However, we now feel that, when we participate in working groups or meetings with administrators, we are simply being used as a cover so that administrators can claim that progress is being made (as you yourself stated in comments quoted in last week’s campus papers), and that the University is not seriously interested in addressing, let alone resolving, the root causes of these recurrent problems.

You know that, well before last month’s episode of gay-bashing, LGBT students on this campus have felt silenced, dismissed, and marginalized. They have been fighting for years for support and resources that have long been routine at the top schools to which Georgetown likes to compare itself. Since last month, we all also know that students have been truly concerned and worried about a homophobic campus climate and the University’s apparent lack of interest in dealing with it. It is simply and deeply unjust for the University to place so much of the burden of fighting intolerance onto young students and a few willing allies, with hardly any institutional support. With all that in mind, last Thursday’s episode outside Healy, and your decision not to step in to reassure the students that they are not an inimical presence on this campus, strike us as unconscionable. Surely, if cura personalis means anything, it must now mean for the Vice President of Student Affairs – and for the University administration as a whole – to make a public commitment to serious changes to make Georgetown a community that truly welcomes all its members and treats them equally.

Best wishes,

Tommaso Astarita, Professor of History;
Dana Luciano, Assistant Professor of English;
Patrick O’Malley, Associate Professor of English;
Ricardo Ortiz, Associate Professor of English

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