The Voice sat down with GUSA executive candidates Hunter Estes (SFS’19) and Richard Howell (SFS ’19) to discuss their platform of cost, community, and charity and their plans for tuition and university spending.
TV: Give me your elevator pitch.
HE: We’re laser-focused on three issues: cost, community, and charity. And so with that, we don’t the administration has engaged the student body appropriately, while students have made a commitment to Georgetown, Georgetown hasn’t made a commitment to them. And so we need to have an honest discussion about tuition policy. Second, we don’t think GUSA has focused in a way of being a cultural leader on campus. And so our second two points flow off of that. It used to be the community was based around the basketball team, unfortunately that’s just not as possible anymore. And so we think there should be more communal events that celebrate the values at Georgetown that people came to this school for, so that they can feel bound by something when they leave, other than just having taken Problem of God like other students. And finally is building a culture of service on campus, trying to build off of the foundational values that, again, inspire us to be who we are, be men and women for others and with that, playing that out tangibly in a way that commits to the larger DC area.
TV: So you mention the outsider ticket, you [Hunter] have been in GUSA before. You were a Senator, is that correct?
HE: The majority of my time hasn’t been spent within GUSA, it’s kind of been a tangential experience of my life. The main focus has been with the Knights of Columbus, leading that group. But I think that’s what we bring here when we say, you know, we have the outsider ticket where the majority of our time, especially Richard’s, has been experiencing student life at Georgetown through other experiences. But I have been involved in the ways that have come about building relationships, especially through the executive committee on free speech, working directly with Dr. Olson, Dean Lord, the alumni board of governors, meeting the alumni who actually have an influence over the school and policy. And furthermore, working with FinApp, possibly the only really GUSA group within the GUSA group within the senate that actually has some power, which is the allocation of money to groups like Media Board, of course. So I think that’s the combination that we bring is the majority of our time has been spent being outside, and especially Richard not really having been involved in GUSA before. But having the relationships already made is a foundational move that’s really necessary to have the difficult conversations on day one that we need to.
RH: If you look at Josh and Casey’s campaign, Josh has likewise been pretty involved in GUSA, but the campaign centers heavily on being staffed by current, GUSA members. So when we say we’re the outsider campaign, I mean not just my experience for understanding the disdain for [GUSA], but also the campaign we built draws people and staffers from across campus, across different groups, many of whom have never participated in GUSA before.
HE: The next thing beyond that, you know one of the things I think is really important is that Richard and I would be the first community, in my knowledge, in the student government history, to emerge from the religious communities on campus. We’re coming from having worked with Campus Ministry which does close work with MSA [Muslim Student Association], JSA [Jewish Student Association], HSA [Hindu Student Association], the Catholic Women [at Georgetown], the Catholic men, and one of the things we did was hire new leadership on developing, creating interfaith week on campus. And so it’s this unique perspective in impacting life, in the spiritual manner, that I think is perfectly important and has never been focused on in student government.
TV: Do you think that brings a certain new perspective to GUSA? Or what do you think is the significance of that?
HE: One of our main points is I think when we talk about GUSA one of the reasons people don’t like it is because they see it as this insular group that doesn’t really impact their life. I think one of the things that’s often very underestimated at school is the importance of people’s spiritual life on campus. The percentage of our community that is a part of these religious groups, whether it be the Latter Day Saints, the MSA, or HSA, or the Knights [of Columbus], it is a huge percentage. And it’s something that gets neglected except when comes down to the budgeting process.
RH: With the spirituality, I just want to say, Campus Ministry is perhaps one of the most diverse groups on campus. Especially with all the interreligious and interfaith work that we do, it’s a testament to the organization that brings so many different people, so many different countries, so many different backgrounds together… The whole point of community was focusing on how do we improve the sense of being welcomed on campus. And that of course talks about, you know, addressing people’s spiritual needs, but also looking at a number of needs which include mental health, resources, accessibility and disability resources.
TV: You’ve referenced your platform a few times, and it’s broadly defined under three separate categories: cost, community, and charity. Under each of these categories, there are some very specific action plans. If you had to select three of these plans from either category, what would you say are the three most important ones?
RH: The Hoya has criticized this one as being perhaps overly ambitious, but I also think that it’s the most important one, and one that could have the biggest effect: I think the Georgetown tuition freeze pledge, if we could accomplish it, it would be one of the most important things although it would be a difficult thing to accomplish.
HE: One of my priorities, something I worked on from the beginning, I proposed and a bill got passed last year condemning the increase in GUPD costs. I don’t know if you know much about this, but this is one of the main points that I feel motivated by. The GUPD basically have instituted this new policy in the last year and a half whereas they can decide without any interpretation or advice from the student body if an event needs security on hand and how many officers will be there. SAC right now is being charged thousands and thousands of dollars of our student activities fund that goes directly back to GUPD in a way that is just not a transparent process and so this is something I’ve already worked on.
One thing I’d throw down on charity, I would say the club service pledge. One of the things that used to happen is there was a large community service day in which clubs that were dramatically different from one another, say College Republicans and College Dems, were encouraged to come together to host a service event of some form. That was lost about eight, seven years ago.
RH: Talking about community, I mean we have a lot of ideas here. I think one that’s pretty interesting would be the universal campus climate survey, a campus climate survey that we can institutionalize and that can be pretty regularly done to collect data on not only sexual matters but also racial tensions and then socioeconomic tensions. I think that would give us a broader picture of the campus and give us a better idea of what is confronting the students right now.
TV: Going through your platform, there was one tension I kind of saw in there. It seemed like you were calling on a freeze of tuition, constricting the money or just making sure it’s not getting any bigger, but [also] calling for more services, some that seem like they could be pretty expensive over time. Do you think that there’s a tension between trying to offer more services that cost more money while keeping the cost low?
HE: One of our main focuses has been approaching it as to what is the necessity for where resources need to be expanded and how does that get coupled with tuition policy. We’re not saying that tuition does not ever get increased. Our point is that, when you come to Georgetown, you should never have to question in between years if you’re going to be able to attend the school next year. When we talk about tuition, that is kind of the balance that has to be struck is knowing what actually expands tuition, where money is coming from, and where money should be reallocated for important resources.
RH: And then it takes that tuition and then the majority of our budget goes to paying salary and benefits, and so over the last ten years we’ve seen an increase of 600 faculty members whereas there’s been no increase in students, no increase in professors.
HE: We’re actually the only campaign that seeks to cut the GUSA budget for the first time. We proposed a 17,500 dollar budget in opposition to a 26 thousand dollar budget and a 29 thousand dollar budget. We are true to our word that we actually want to see cuts because we know in the FinApp process, every dollar that can be taken away from student government, which I’ve seen wasted on pizza parties and pancake breakfasts for senators, instead we are saying “FinApp, take this and propose it to clubs. Give more to Media Board. Give more to SAC. Give more to club sports.”
TV: A lot of the platform is building a solidified community on campus. Last semester, you [Hunter] were one of the public faces of Love Saxa, and some students would say that the organization is preventing cohesive community. I think some of the words that were used were “uncomfortable,” “unsafe.” How would you address that? Do you think your role does undermine that sense of community?
HE: I never served on the board of Love Saxa. I took on the position within the board for that four-hour period simply so I could address SAC because, in their rules, you have to technically be a member [to speak during a hearing]. It would’ve been hypocritical of me for all the work I’ve done on free speech on this campus to see a case of the tyranny of mob justice arising for being particularly loud on an issue even though I thought they were wrong. If that was what allowed the process to be determined. From the very beginning, Richard and I have worked on the GUSA Free Speech Commission. We worked alongside the presidents of H*yas for Choice freshman year to ensure that they had tabling rights protected because it was what was right because we should protect free speech for all students on campus. And so when I saw this process being carried out in the way it was, it was quite unfortunate because I saw violations of the rules attempting to undermine this community on campus simply for the views they have which I thought was unfortunate.
The way I fought for them is the same way that I’m committed to fighting for all issues. You can look at the vote in the end: SAC agreed with me and my reasoning that, based on the rules, what was correct was to not defund this organization, and so that’s why I stand by decision to stand up for them even though I know there was a lot of confusion as to what that meant, attacks on me and my character as well, even though I did believe it was right. I think it’s a testament, too, to my capacity and my willingness to fight for causes that I believe.
Editor’s Note: The Voice reached out to Estes and Howell for this last question through email.
TV: If your ticket was a Winter Olympic sport, which one would it be and why?
HE: Haha amazing question! We think that we are ski jumping, we’re speeding along through the campaign, and we’re about to soar.