Saxa Politica: The Kelly kerfuffle

September 11, 2008

Before James Kelly (COL ’09) became vice president of the Student Association, he ticked off a lot of people at an open forum following last fall’s bias incident when he argued that the school wouldn’t have proposed a resource center had a straight male been assaulted. While true, Kelly’s hypothetical entirely missed the point that the incident was a hate crime. So when Kelly came into office as Pat Dowd’s (SFS ‘09) VP, there was lingering resentment toward the ticket from certain campus groups, particularly GU Pride.

Dowd and Kelly are well aware of this. Last Friday the pair held a “gloves-off kind of meeting” (Dowd’s words) in the Leavey Center GUSA office for the heads of numerous campus groups, including the Corp, the Hoya, the Voice, Georgetown Solidarity Committee, United Feminists, and GU Pride. In a surprisingly good showing, about 25 people came to discuss diversity on campus and to “air grievances.” Among the complaints: GUSA is a mainstream organization that doesn’t look out for the interests of campus groups; some groups can’t trust GUSA and some feel that GUSA isn’t really listening to their concerns.

“This was round one—there were a lot of punches thrown,” Dowd said, adding that he was very happy that people felt comfortable speaking openly about their concerns. Kelly, who received most of the heat from some of the meeting’s distinguished attendees, echoed Dowd’s sentiments.

Jack Harrison (SFS ’09), co-chair of GU Pride, was especially vocal about his issues with the new GUSA administration.

“There’s distrust from a lot of minority communities,” Harrison said. “In particular from mine, and in particular from me.”

And in particular, he added, about Kelly.

“He’s not good at walking in our shoes,” Harrison said.

It is encouraging that Dowd and Kelly have pushed diversity issues to the top of their agenda. But right now they’re in the talking stage—with no end in sight—and that is not enough.

Kelly won’t apologize for his remarks at the open forum last year, maintaining that he was offering a hypothetical, intended to encourage debate. He’s in full support of an LGBTQ resource center but took issue with the process by which it was established and with John DeGioia responding to the hate crime and subsequent uproar by quickly promoting a resource center rather than having a substantial dialogue about bias on campus.

But GU Pride had been asking for a resource center long before the hate crime occurred. What is really distressing is that it took something so extreme to make the center happen. We can be proud that, for once, the University did not simply talk about a problem ad nauseam but instead took action.

Kelly said that he’s been doing a lot of reflecting since the meeting on Friday and understands that certain groups on campus feel marginalized, but he thinks “we’re at a moment where hopefully there will be a lot of change and progress.” Just exactly what the change and progress will look like he can’t say—they’re still in the “discussion phase.”

This is a good first step, and the more open and honest everyone is in talking, the more welcoming the Georgetown community can be. Dowd and Kelly have a responsibility to back up their words with action—by attending GU Pride and other meetings (even without an explicit invitation), meeting regularly with heads of minority groups on campus, and showing up at the events these groups host.

Though jaded, Harrison did not write Dowd and Kelly off, saying that if they make an earnest effort, maybe the culture of marginalization that he feels exists on campus can change.

Earn Kate’s trust at


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