Student advocacy ensures GSP to remain in Healy

October 12, 2021

Illustration by Deborah Han

Student and alumni advocates pulled off a rare victory as the university announced the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP) will return to its previous space in Healy Hall after renovations conclude.

When the Georgetown community learned of plans to co-locate GSP with the Women’s Center, LGBTQ Resource Center, and Center for Multicultural Equity and Access in the basement of New South, students and alumni petitioned the university to allow the program to keep its former home, which it vacated last January. The university reasoned that co-location would better serve the student body’s needs, and simultaneously worked on a number of renovations on the ground floor of Healy, during which GSP moved to a temporary office in the Leavey Center.

The Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) released a petition, which garnered signatures from 370 students and 40 organizations, to keep GSP in Healy, and the Corp wrote a statement of solidarity in support of the program. Since then, GSP’s student board and GUSA worked together to hold a teach-in about the issue; the university’s latest announcement came shortly before it was scheduled to take place.

As part of the university’s broader initiatives on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), GSP would have come under the administrative umbrella of the Office of Student Equity and Inclusion (OSEI). An Oct. 11 email to GSP, however, stated the program would remain under the division of student affairs.

“It will foster the ability for DEI practitioners in these programs and centers to not only address the needs of specific identity groups, but to also work alongside one another to address the intersectional needs of our student body,” Dr. Adanna Johnson, associate vice president for student equity and inclusion and head of OSEI, wrote of co-location in an email to the Voice. A university spokesperson added in an email to the Voice that the move was part of the university’s plan to optimize its use of resources while maintaining distinct spaces for students of different identities. 

The program serves first-generation and low-income college students, equipping them with financial resources and other support in an effort to assure them some of the same preparation and advantages to which many of their more privileged peers already have access. Efforts since the early 2000s of individual program staff and administrators turned it into a national model, and the continued engagement of its alumni created a tight-knit community of stakeholders.

Students and GSP alumni expressed numerous concerns about the university’s plan: the symbolic importance of its location in Healy, issues with situating these resources in the same space, and the lack of consultation with the people most directly affected.

Having a place in Healy shows that this [identity] is something we can be proud of and that the university is proud of, and that helps students make those identities visible,” Emily Kaye (COL ’18) said. A former president of the GSP student board, Kaye began an online petition that quickly garnered more than 1,200 signatures opposing the relocation and drew testimonies from other program alumni.

Others worried about the implications of having diverse resource centers share a location—with or without demarcated spaces—and of creating a false equivalence between experiences of students holding different identities. “As a person who identifies as Latinx, LGBT, first-generation, formerly low-income, I can tell you candidly that as a freshman college student, I was not ready to confront my identities simultaneously,” Alberto Morales (NHS ’12) wrote in an email to the Voice.

Morales, who also served on the program’s student board and now mentors current GSP students, added that GSP’s location held sentimental value as well. “It was our home away from home,” he wrote.

The connection both to the physical space and the people who comprise the program fueled frustration among students and alumni at the university administration’s decision. The primary university support for the program, which draws much of its funding from donations, comes in the form of space. Once it decided to change GSP’s location, without consulting or informing students, many saw the university’s messaging at odds with the new plan.

“The university is sharing how much they care, but when it comes to their actions, we have yet to see that,” Bserat Ghebremicael (MSB ’17) said at the time. Fellow program graduate Rashawn Davis (COL ’14) said even with the university’s practical explanations, “It’s not always about what’s most convenient; sometimes it’s about what people feel.”

The university email to the program on Oct. 11 seemed to demonstrate an understanding of that fact. “We want you to know that we hear your concerns about being moved out of Healy Hall,” it read. “While engagement and planning for the space is still underway, we can confirm that when renovations to the Healy ground floor are complete, GSP will be returned to new and improved space there.”

Paul James
Paul is a former section editor and ESVA at the Voice and a student in the SFS, class of 2023, studying Culture and Politics. His favorite color is grey, spelled correctly.

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