Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP) moved out of its long-time space on the ground floor of Healy Hall in January and will spend the first part of the semester in a transition space, according to an email to GSP students obtained by the Voice.
According to the email, the program only recently learned their new offices would not be ready for the start of the fall semester, and that they would be located in a temporary space on the fourth floor of Leavey for the time being. The move comes before a plan to consolidate the Office of Student Equity and Inclusion (OSEI) programs into the basement of New South. The OSEI oversees GSP, the Community Scholars Program, the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the LGBTQ Resource Center and The Women’s Center.
The move has upset many GSP students, some of whom feel it symbolizes the university’s lack of regard for its first-generation low-income students.
In a statement to the Voice, the GSP Student Board strongly condemned the decision to move the office, citing it as a blow to the entire community including alumni and staff.
“We are incredibly disturbed with having to move out of Healy, which has served as GSP’s home for over ten years,” the statement read. “We are frustrated that senior-level administration did not include us in this decision-making process; we are supposed to advocate for our students, but we cannot do so when the administration does not include us in such enormous decisions.”
The move from Healy occurred in January but was not announced to GSP students at the time. The new space, which was not specified in the email to students but was confirmed by a university spokesperson to be in New South, is expected to be ready mid-fall. The email said the move was due to limited space on campus, prompting university administrators to relocate some offices.
“I think that it is a very clear message that it’s sending us, especially as GSP students, that our space can be taken away or compromised at any moment,” Melanie Cruz-Morales (COL ‘22) said of the announcement. “To have our space taken away like that does make our presence feel disregarded or have a lack of visibility or importance to the university.”
The GSP board shared a similar sentiment, arguing that the symbolism of a permanent space in the most forefront building on campus was important.
“For us first-generation and/or low-income students that walked through those front gates questioning whether or not we belonged at Georgetown, the space GSP had in Healy was a symbol highlighting and celebrating our presence on campus,” they wrote. GSP students are in the minority at Georgetown, where 74 percent of students are in the top 20 percent economically, and about 88 percent are not the first in their family to go to college.
GSP provides support and programming for a cohort of first-generation and low-income Georgetown students, working with over 650 undergraduates each year. Historically, the program has used its sizable office as a place for students to gather, build community, and find support in a private environment separate from the rest of the university. This tone may be difficult to replicate, some GSP students have pointed out, in a far smaller office on a floor shared with other campus groups.
“GSP creates a space students can come in and hang out together and study together or just have somebody to talk to. Putting us into a less preferable area just definitely ruins the vibe and the atmosphere that GSP is there to purposefully create,” Cruz-Morales said.
Cruz-Morales also pointed out that the office move prevents incoming GSP students from utilizing GSP’s space in the meantime, and is likely to create confusion about the state of the program.
“I think for this coming fall semester it will disillusion a lot of incoming freshman GSPers who are looking for that space and not getting what they rightfully deserved.”
According to a university spokesperson, the proposed new space in New South will include not just GSP, but a number of identity-based student support centers. “This new space will place programs in the Office of Student Equity and Inclusion (OSEI) in proximity to each other and allow these offices to work more closely together to support students,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to the Voice.
The GSP board said they were not consulted about the plan, and felt it will not best support students. While they recognize many students have intersecting identities served by multiple offices, they feel individual spaces are needed to ensure privacy and comfort. “The consolidation of the OSEI offices is a major decision that impacts various identities, and not seeking student input in this decision is extremely harmful,” their statement read. “We want to maintain the guaranteed privacy that comes with students seeking specific identity-related services, and a joint office in New South does not meet this need.”
The university first posed the idea of consolidating the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the Women’s Center, and the LGBTQ Center, all offices now in the OSEI, in 2014. Following student pushback, the plan was abandoned.
This new plan for combination is concerning for Cruz-Morales, since each program or center serves an identity group with a unique experience and set of needs. “Combining all the student equity programs together in a space kind of sends a message where our identities are narrowed down to nothing but the label of ‘marginalized.’ Each group deserves its own space in a way that their identities are celebrated,” she said.
The GSP board also found the appearance of the consolidation disturbing. “Moving all of the spaces for marginalized students to the back corner of campus is certainly symbolic, and is charged with implications beyond physical space,” they wrote, adding “If a joint OSEI office is supposed to better support marginalized students, why weren’t we included in the decision to create one?”
This announcement comes at a time of heightened stress for the program. The email to GSPers also announced that Yasi Mahallaty, who was previously the program’s assistant director, is relocating, according to the email. Though the program is looking to hire a replacement, the position is currently empty. According to the board, three of seven staff members have resigned since the announcement, leaving a much smaller team. Additionally, many GSP students have faced additional obstacles during the pandemic, which has “already created a growing community of new GSPers who undoubtedly need a high level of support,” according to the board.
GSP relies heavily on donations to provide programming and pay staff members. The program does not receive funding from the university, meaning space is the main support they receive from the university.
For Cruz-Morales, the move signifies a general disregard for first-generation low-income students at Georgetown. “I feel this action is so much deeper than what people can see on the surface level,” she said.
“First-generation low-income students are always fighting for visibility and having the university recognize the difficulties that come with our existence in an institution like Georgetown. To be removed and displaced feels very personal and very upsetting to students.”
Disclaimer: One member of the GSP Board is also on the Voice Board