Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson announced at Tuesday’s diversity town hall meeting that preliminary plans to consolidate the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the Women’s Center, and the LGBTQ Center are no longer being considered by Georgetown administration.
“You have my commitment and our commitment that as we talk about the future, that future will include a distinctive, named, identifiable CMEA, Women’s Center, and LGBTQ Center,” said Olson, speaking in the Healey Family Student Center. “Those will not go away. We’ve also heard loudly and clearly the importance of physical safe space for those centers.”
While Olson held the podium for the vast majority of the proceedings, other administrators spoke briefly, including Associate Dean of Student Affairs Dennis Williams, Women’s Center Director Laura Kovach, and Academic Resource Center Director Jane Holahan.
In his opening remarks, Olson also stressed his personal commitment to addressing issues facing disabled students, the validity of which which was repeatedly disputed by Lydia Brown (COL ‘15).
“Why don’t you commit to a firm timeline on any of the issues raised in the disability justice working group?” said Brown. “Not just the disability cultural center, but issues around access to sign language interpreting services, issues around physical accessibility on campus during construction, issues around the curriculum … We don’t have a concrete timetable on any of these very salient issues, yet you keep reiterating that there’s supposedly some serious commitment.”
“I don’t think I’m going to make you happy,” Olson said in response. “I’m not going to get to a specific commitment of a timeframe on these issues at this meeting tonight.”
Another student attendee, Zoe Dobkin (SFS ‘16), expressed concern about perceived lack of student inclusion in the university’s handling of the potential consolidation of the cultural centers.
“We’re still struggling through this set of issues,” said Olson, reiterating that the centers would remain independent from one another. “There’s not some crystal clear, even close to final plan.”
Olson also said that the university would be examining the usage of space on the third, fourth, and fifth floors of the Leavey Center, but did not divulge any more information on the subject.
Other issues brought up concerned increasing awareness of cultural centers for graduate students, adding programs without increasing budgets, and addressing the unique needs of undocumented students.
The university’s response to issues regarding mental health was also criticized. Michael Raleigh (NHS ‘16) questioned why Georgetown pressured him to take a mental health-related medical leave of absence against his wishes this year.
“They institutionalized it to the point that I had no advocacy in the issue,” Raleigh said.
Olson responded by addressing what he saw as the benefits of a medical leave of absence.
“In many cases, medical leaves of absence are tremendously beneficial,” said Olson. “I have seen that happen many times. But it is not an easy process.”
Olson addressed each question, but did not provide plans for action on any of the issues highlighted.
When addressing a written question critiquing the university’s manner of engaging students on issues surrounding diversity, Olson acknowledged that he does not know what steps the Georgetown administration will take to improve communications in the future.
“I am trying to be transparent and say, ‘I am not certain yet,’” said Olson. “I do care about the issue, and there will be more student engagement … We need to sit down, debrief after this session, and figure that out.”
Photo by Taryn Shaw