The two GUSA executive campaigns answered questions in a virtual town hall hosted by The Blaxa on Feb. 15. Running mates Nile Blass (COL ’22) and Nicole Sanchez (SFS ’22) and the ticket of Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22) and Leo Arnett (SFS ’22) used the town hall to explain their platforms and policy initiatives as they relate to marginalized communities on campus.
The Black Leadership Forum (BLF), the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community, and audience members posed questions to both campaigns. Monique Wilson (COL ’22), the editor-in-chief of the Blaxa, moderated the event. The town hall took place a few hours after initial candidates Olivia Kleier (SFS ’22) and Jon Pejo (COL ’22) suspended their campaign.
The opening question submitted by BLF asked the two tickets how they would work toward the implementation of the GU272 referendum.
Blass, who has been a member of GU272 advocacy since her freshman year, said the administration’s actions until now have been subpar. If elected, she and Nicole promise to push to implement the financial restitution aspect of the referendum and also to ensure that the legacy and memory of all the enslaved people who lived and died at Georgetown would not be forgotten.
“That means we have to have placards and public monuments acknowledging the fact that under Arrupe there are Black and brown bodies,” she said. “When you are coming onto campus you understand that your presence there is an extension of a history that you benefit from.”
Daniella and Arnett also vowed to push to fully implement the referendum and observed that the administration seemed to be waiting until everyone who was a part of the referendum graduates.
“The administration is trying to push it under the rug because they know that in four years, whoever was working to advocate for it is going to have graduated,” Arnett said. He also referenced their Student Bill of Rights policy proposal as a potential way for students to force action on the part of the administration. Sanchez and Arnett envision this as a way to codify the rights of students when dealing with university administration.
BLF’s second question involved the tickets’ support of the Black community in the context of the mental and emotional strain caused in political conversations and the aftermath of the police murders of several Black citizens in the past year.
Daniella acknowledged that she and Arnett are not members of the Black community and have not been a part of the Black Survivors Coalition’s (BSC) advocacy efforts. Nonetheless, Sanchez hoped to push for a policy of activist immunity which would give leniency to students who are taking on responsibilities outside of classes.
Blass, a member of the BSC, believes that several temporary measures enacted by the university must be extended to truly support BIPOC communities that need it: bringing back therapists of color with accessible hours, providing breaks during the semester, providing longstanding grant money and financial assistance for mental health costs, and extending student health insurance.
Members of the API community next asked about creating an Asian American Studies program and how the two campaigns would hope to support that push.
Blass and Nicole offered strong support for the creation of the program and a centralized space for the API community. In their eyes, GUSA’s strength is in facilitating meetings between community leaders and keeping the administration accountable, and it is in this way they plan to force the university to take action on this program.
“They can’t say no to us, they can’t fight us on this. They can’t deny us this basic necessity, this basic need, and this basic safe space for students on campus,” Sanchez said.
Daniella and Arnett advocated for involving academic councils in the process as well as using their power in GUSA to elevate this campaign to the top of the administration’s agenda. The two reiterated that their proposed Bill of Rights would provide students with more negotiation power with the university moving forward.
The API community also asked how the candidates plan to support students who have been traumatized by instances of anti-Asian racism since the proliferation of COVID-19.
Daniella and Arnett said they would push to end the university hiring freeze, which has left Health Education Services understaffed. They will also provide more spaces for students to speak freely and completely overhaul the bias reporting process to improve its effectiveness and hold offenders more accountable. Arnett added that it will be important to include results from last year’s cultural climate survey to inform decisions.
Blass and Nicole concurred on the need for tangible faculty and student accountability, as well as a shift in rhetoric and education to combat casual ignorance and racism on campus. Blass also called for the university to invest in grants and further philanthropy to support organizations that are combating anti-Asian sentiment in the District and across the country.
The next question was submitted by The Hoya, and asked how the two tickets would include BIPOC community members in their administrations.
Blass noted that GUSA has a dual role of enhancing the work of campus activists, as well as bringing the activists into policymaking efforts. Blass and Nicole plan to reach out to different communities to include the specific needs of community members.
“I think it’s important to have that immediate buy-in,” Blass said. “Make GUSA a place where you are not just building a bridge to activists, but activists are incorporated.”
“Black and brown people have been telling Georgetown for a very long time what they need, and I think if GUSA listens and works with them and elevates them, then that is how we figure it out,” she added.
Arnett remarked that their campaign’s entire platform rests on restructuring GUSA to include more BIPOC voices. Daniella then acknowledged that in her time as speaker of the GUSA senate, she did not do a good enough job of bringing people to the table, which is something she and Arnett hope to focus on if elected.
Audience member LaHannah Giles (COL ’23) asked how the two campaigns support members of the disabled community.
Daniella and Arnett’s answers rested on working with facilities in 0rder to improve accessibility throughout the dorms and buildings across campus, including the number of ramps on campus and the efficacy of automatic door buttons. The duo mentioned talking to Anna Landre (SFS ’21), a founding member of the Georgetown Disability Alliance (GDA), and supporting the efforts that students have already begun on campus.
Nicole, a transfer to Georgetown, referenced the disability cultural center at her previous institution that was a resource for many students on campus, and she wants to support the work that activists have been doing to form the center at Georgetown. Sanchez also mentioned pushing the GDA and other advocates forward and ensuring equitability.
Blass added that D.C. is a hotspot for students with disabilities with the presence of Gallaudet University. Blass mentioned that American Sign Language courses from Gallaudet had been offered before at Georgetown, but were not given language credit, dis-incentivizing students from taking those classes. She added that advocating for the disabled community is imperative.
The Hoya’s second question asked how the two administrations would deal with racial bias in the Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD).
Blass said plenty of community members, ranging from students to adult leaders, have spent time trying to provide GUPD with resources to make changes and gain feedback. At every turn, according to Blass, GUPD has rejected these opportunities and does not seem to seek change.
“GUPD has been incompatible with the idea they could be better,” Blass said. Blass and Nicole told the audience they wanted to question GUPD’s role on campus and perhaps disband the campus police force if metro police officers (MPD) are going to be on campus as well.
Daniella and Arnett’s focus differed—they are looking to decrease MPD presence on campus as much as possible, and while not advocating to disband GUPD, plan to advocate to stop mandatory student funding of GUPD for events. Sanchez also strongly denounced former-GUPD chief Jay Gruber’s promotion to associate vice president for public safety.
“We were appalled that this guy, during a pandemic and hiring freeze, got to go into a new and well-paid administrative position with no input and no thought about how students felt,” she said.
The final question Wilson posed asked how the two tickets would ensure their work continued beyond their time in office.
“For our ideas and initiatives, we are thinking for the future,” Daniella said. “The reason we want to restructure is because right now, you completely wipe out everyone who has done the work before, there is so much shuffling all the time.”
Sanchez went on to reference Sen. Leo Rassieur’s (COL ’23) GUSA policy history handbook as a way of keeping track of what has been done and what is left to do.
Blass intends to incorporate first-year students into more integral efforts, which she believes is not currently a robust practice in GUSA. “I think sometimes GUSA regulates first years to ‘the grunt work’ or the smaller assignments. But the reality is if we want the culture of GUSA to change,” Blass said,
“You have to actually extend those changes and incorporate the people coming in after you.”
Polls for GUSA executive elections open Feb 25 at 10 p.m. ET and close Feb. 27 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Follow the Voice for continued coverage throughout the election season.