An officer from Georgetown’s Department of Public Safety removed H*yas for Choice members from tabling on the sidewalk outside the University’s front gates Monday. The group was protesting a ceremony in Gaston Hall where Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, was granted an honorary degree by Georgetown.
“He’s made a lot of homophobic comments in the past,” said H*yas for Choice President Abby Grace (SFS ‘16). “Our decision to table stemmed from the dual motive of making it clear that we exist, that we’re a group of people with a voice, and that we disagree with a lot of the things that Cardinal Wuerl has done.”
The removal was a painful reminder to H*yas to Choice members of an incident last semester, when students tabling in front of Healy Hall were forced to move to the exact spot they were expelled from this Monday. H*yas for Choice Vice President Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ‘17) said that no sufficient explanation was given for their expulsion.
“I asked the officer why we had to move, and he provided zero clarification,” said DeLaurentis. “He said he didn’t really know why, but that he was getting orders from his superiors.”
According to DeLaurentis, the officer provided the group with three options for relocation— Red Square, outside Lauinger Library, or Copley Lawn, the last of which H*yas for Choice eventually settled on.
“By moving us to Copley Lawn, [GUPD] interfered with our ability to get our message across and engage with the people attending the conference,” said DeLaurentis.
The group tabled in peace on Copley Lawn for about an hour and a half before the same GUPD officer notified them that they could return to their previous place on the sidewalk. This notification only occurred, however, after the ceremony had begun and the flow of attendees through the front gates had stopped.
According to DeLaurentis, a man identified as the officer’s superior told the group that they had to be following D.C.’s “three-foot rule,” meaning they had to leave three feet in between their table and the edge of the sidewalk. The officer who ejected the group earlier did not measure the space nor did he or she mention the three-foot rule. DeLaurentis said H*yas for Choice was in compliance with the rule before they were initially removed.
“[GUPD] did something wrong, and then they tried to find an excuse to cover for it,” said DeLaurentis.
In an email to the Voice, GUPD Chief Jay Gruber acknowledged that the officer mishandled the situation on 37th St.
“One of our officers mistakenly asked students to move,” wrote Gruber. “It was a miscommunication. I have apologized to the students.”
In a press release sent out this afternoon, GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ‘15) and Vice President Omika Jikaria (SFS ‘15) decried GUPD’s response.
“What happened yesterday appears to be a clear violation of the MOU [memorandum of understanding] reached between GUSA leadership and Dr. Olson last semester,” wrote Tezel and Jikaria. The MOU extended free speech protections throughout campus, but the incident yesterday was on public property maintained by D.C., not Georgetown.
Grace and DeLaurentis expressed concern for the future of free speech at Georgetown since student groups continue to face the threat of arbitrary relocation.
“We’ve taken every step possible to try and be respectful and rule-abiding,” said Grace. “The fact that we intentionally set out to table in a place we were sent to last semester… we’re trying very hard to cooperate, and it’s just not working.”
“The university is paying lip service to the idea of free speech while actively implementing means to repress substantive speech,” added DeLaurentis.