No doubt everyone is relieved this year’s Georgetown University Student Association elections are over. Out of the four GUSA executive elections I have witnessed, these were probably the most dramatic and controversial. As a soon-to-be-alumna, I enjoyed the drama with a figurative bag of popcorn (it helped that there was a “joke” campaign to bring on the humor).
But there were some moments that were not as amusing as they were concerning. One was the presidential debate at which Chris Wadibia (COL’16) accused the other candidates of running for self-interested intentions and called them all elitist, and Tim Rosenberger (COL‘16) called Wadibia an endangerment to the campus.
Another concerning moment was the publication of an opinion piece in The Hoya titled “Sexual Assault Platform Lacks Dignity,” where the co-authors wrote that the Wadibia and Meredith Cheney (COL’16) campaign “suggests a lack of effort or desire to even learn about the issues [of sexual assault] at all.” Following was a response piece in The Hoya titled “In Defense of Dignity” which charged the authors critiquing the Chris-Meredith campaign with “political motives in hindering a campaign’s progress.”
Elitism. Sexism. Racism. Even apparently homophobia. These are the themes I heard from the dialogue, both online and around campus, around the campaigns.
This culminated dramatically in the outraged response to the publication of the Page 13 comic on Feb. 26 depicting the Joe Luther (COL’16) and Connor Rohan (COL’16) team, two white men, beating the “dead horse” of Chris-Meredith, where Chris, a black man, was drawn in the horse costume.
After publication, the Black Leadership Forum posted a Facebook statement writing that “we are deeply repulsed that a student paper would insult underrepresented students of color and women on campus.” A commenter wrote that the Voice “thrive[s] on attention and will use freedom of speech to support their ignorance.” Finally, at the “Time to Speak Up: Voice Cartoon Town Hall,” a student said although offended, he had chosen to give the Voice “benefit of the doubt” that the Voice did not have racist intentions.
I believe much of the discussion evoked by Page 13 and forums like the town hall has been valuable. For instance, I had not realized how easily the comic could be seen as a reflection of Ferguson and other incidents of unjustified police killings and how much pain and fear the image invoked in some students. Perhaps this is because I have luckily never experienced serious racial discrimination.
But the “benefit of the doubt” phrase peeved me. I had initially interpreted the Page 13 to be a critique of Joe-Connor and a defense of Chris-Meredith, and friends who believed the comic was offensive agreed what I saw was a reasonable interpretation.
More importantly, however, Dylan Cutler, the illustrator of the Page 13 comic, is my friend. He is kind-hearted, thoughtful and smart. As far as I know, Dylan does not have a reputation for being racist or misogynistic. So, why did Dylan need to receive the “benefit of the doubt”?
The point is that Dylan is not the only kind-hearted, thoughtful and smart person I know. I would wager that most Georgetown students, in fact, are kind-hearted, thoughtful and smart. Why is there, then, a propensity within the campus community to jump to the worst conclusions about fellow students’ intentions?
There are severe inequities and injustices in our society, and there are many institutions that block change and allow these ills to continue. There are people who advocate horrible, offensive beliefs (oh, Rush Limbaugh), and some who indeed do it for public attention. Within Georgetown, I know many student activists are frustrated by institutional inertia and disregard from some administrators towards improving awareness of and appreciation for diversity and social justice.
But Georgetown students should live, talk, and grow together. To conflate the ills of society with the intentions of fellow students is disrespectful and counterproductive. Student activists rightly argue that fighting for justice embodies Jesuit values of men and women for others. But, on the other hand, instinctively perceiving others in the worst light does not.
Opinion pieces like “Sexual Assault Platform Lacks Dignity” are also representative of how this problem manifests itself on campus. The authors had the right to critique Chris-Meredith’s platform. The authors, and other commenters, were also fair in arguing a campaign cannot win on good intentions or the possibility of educating the candidates, but must be held accountable for the policies advocated. Making an ad hominem attack on Chris and Meredith’s intentions, however, was unnecessary, unsupported, and disrespectful.
I agree that the Voice’s comic did harm regardless of intentions and were indicative of a systemic lack of awareness, which projects like the Diversity Initiative for a diversity course requirement aim to address. Nevertheless, I’m left with this question in the back of my mind—why do we continually jump to the worst conclusions about our fellow students?