The Voice sat down with Garet Williams (COL ’18) and Habon Ali (SFS ‘18) as they campaign to be GUSA executives. (Full disclosure: Williams is a former Voice staffer) In the interview, the pair discusses how they plan to make “Time for You” in GUSA. The interview has been condensed for clarity.
The Voice: What issue is the most important on your platform?
Garet Williams: I think that one of the biggest issues that we’ve talked about is what’s encapsulated by our slogan – that GUSA is not properly serving students. And that has a couple of facets to it, but fundamentally, it’s that that GUSA is not addressing the needs of students.
Habon Ali: By restructuring, or renewing, what GUSA actually means to the student body and by flipping it upside down, what we end up doing is that we we allow for different voices to be heard. Right now GUSA has a team-based environment for different specific issues, and in return by being a facilitator body, what we allow for is to working along communities that are already doing the specific policies … So in that way we’re not competing for resources, and we’re actually consolidating issues together to work alongside each other.
GW: We’re not taking a cookie cutter approach to policy. Any policy is not going to be like, “This is how all the teams are going to work.” Because I think that’s what we saw this past year, and it’s not been effective. I think that we can all agree that dining and LGBTQ issues are different, and they probably need different types of teams to evaluate them. So what we’re looking to do in partnership with each of the organization of each of these communities on campus is to develop the team the way that they want it to be.
TV: Critique the last previous GUSA administration of Enushe Khan (MSB ‘17) and Chris Fisk (COL ‘17).
GW: They made these teams to make GUSA more inclusive and more diverse … but I think looking at deputy chiefs of staff and chairs of these different policy teams, you still see a very kind of like wealthy, white, straight GUSA that honestly isn’t representative of a large portion of the student body. And so in many ways it checked off the box for diversity without actually making where many of these decisions are made, kind of at the leadership level of GUSA, without making those rooms diverse.
HA: Alongside that, the majority of teams when they construct policy, they would go to different communities as a form of consultation … instead of asking the community members, “What do you guys need?” They were kind of imposing these policies on to them.
TV: How specifically do you see your GUSA administration addressing tuition increases?
GW: There are many people who are promising this panacea like, “We’re just going to lower tuition completely, or get it really, really far down,” and it’s just not realistic at that level. It’s like the equivalent of people running for student body president and promising no more homework … but what GUSA can actually do and what GUSA has been doing is working with the university administration to keep those raises and the tuition as absolutely low as possible.
Because if you come into a meeting with administrators, and you say, “Well we’d really love it to be $50,000 a year to go here,” they’re going a laugh you out of the room. … You have to come into this for a realistic perspective and say, “Let’s actually do things that students are going to get.”
HA: Also it’s important to have the right people there, but also different voices to be heard. Our job is not just to speak for both our specific communities, but different communities who are going to be impacted by that.
TV: What role do you see Georgetown as an institution playing in conversations around undocumented students? Should it go further than it already has to support these students, especially around the issue of sanctuary campuses?
HA: Georgetown should take better initiative to not only protect undocumented students on this campus but really to shelter them and to provide a space for them so that when there is a time where they’re going to be in a position where they’re going to need that safety, they should have that right away … I’m not undocumented, right, but I’m an immigrant. My mom was undocumented for portions of her life when she was here. So I’m not a U.S. citizen as well, so I can totally understand being part of the list of countries that are banned, and now overturned, and I can totally understand that kind of sense of not belonging and feeling that you’re life is in danger.
GW: I think the important consideration here is that the university never was really considering this from the perspective of, “Are we going to be a sanctuary campus or not because do we support these students or not?” It was very much, “Are we going to declare ourselves a sanctuary campus, and will that make students safer or will that put a target on our back?”
HA: I needed legal help last year just leaving the country, and I wasn’t able to leave it because I didn’t have legal help that I needed. As a student, I should be focusing on my education not on my status in this country, and Georgetown should be really more responsive.
TV: How do you reach the students who do the bare minimum of training on sexual assault awareness and prevention?
GW: The numbers are quite frankly ridiculously high for Georgetown, and so being able to evaluate that and say, “Oh my gosh, I go to school here. This is not a safe environment for a lot of students.” And being able to set the bar for students somewhat higher in terms of training and in terms of honestly awareness about these campaigns … because, let’s be honest, unless you’re like really interested in this or you really care about this topic, like probably most students haven’t read the [Sexual Assault Climate Survey] report.
HA: For a lot of survivors on this campus, it’s the job of GUSA to truly be there and to advocate for all the student body, and to really have this discussion about how sexual assault is rampant on this community, and how can we have and honest and concise discuss because this is a very sensitive topic.
GW: And i think moving too continuing a lot of the partnerships that are already in place within GUSA and groups dedicated to sexual assault education on campus, and requiring training for especially leadership for organizations, but expanding that beyond just leadership, because right now that’s kind of the bare minimum.
TV: What role do you see GUSA playing facilitating Georgetown’s reconciliation with its past history related to slavery?
HA: Georgetown is really good at being inclusive for inclusivity’s sake, you know that tokenization that really happens a lot of the time. We’re kind of going at it from two different ways: from the inclusive aspect but from also the transparency aspect. From the inclusivity aspect, within our pillars is that we want to focus and really work with students of color on this campus on having a racial climate survey. … As a black student, I know that race is such an issue on this campus because I live that lifestyle every day, and I cannot continue to preach to the choir from my same community, but rather having a greater discussion about privilege.
On the side of transparency, what we’re looking for is having club diversity reports. One of the things that GUSA will do with our administration is basically be the first to lead that initiative. So GUSA will be publishing its own diversity issues and essentially being at the forefront of that.
GW: We want to have initiatives that students are wanting to do on their own that GUSA can support. It’s not about GUSA taking over this issue and it becoming ours. It’s really about supporting the work that’s already done. Because quite frankly, students of color on this campus have done so much of the ground work to set up the work for a racial climate survey.
TV: What makes your ticket different from all the others that promise to make GUSA more about students and less about itself?
HA: It’s the fact that GUSA for a really long time has claimed to want inclusivity and diversity but has not actually done anything about it … I think that’s where the discourse happens and the shift happens where we change our tactics in the way that we engage with different communities … By going to different communities and actually asking them what they need and working alongside with them and supporting their initiative is a way to actually bring GUSA back to its people.
GW: Like Habon was saying, this fundamental cultural shift. When people are getting involved with the organization, and setting that tone from the very start and saying, “You know what, this isn’t a government. You’re not here for a title. And quite frankly, we’re not about titles. That’s not something we’re interested in.”
HA: We don’t even see ourselves as president, vice president.
GW: This is a partnership.
TV: How do you make sure you don’t get overwhelmed and feel like you have to tackle every issue?
GW: We’re really focusing on the three pillars of resources, transparency, and inclusivity all under the larger banner of “Time For You.” And under each of those three we have some key policy positions that we think are going to be the some of the most preeminent issues … but at the same time, that’s our priority right now … when we come into this process, things change on campus. You never know what’s going to happen, and GUSA needs to be able to pivot and work on every issue. If you have a really narrow understanding of an issues, then you’re not going to be able to work on it as effectively. So what we like about both the campaign that we’re building and hopefully the administration is that it is both the inside and the outside.