Todd Olson faces questions about safe spaces and accessibility concerns at diversity town hall meeting

Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson got all the tough questions at yesterday’s diversity town hall meeting. While Olson answered each question, he did not commit to any specific plans of action on all of the issues, including disability rights and accessibility concerns on campus.

Olson at least confirmed that plans to consolidate the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the Women’s Center, and the LGBTQ Center are no longer being considered by Georgetown’s administration.

“You have my commitment and our commitment that as we talk about the future, that future will include distinctive, named, identifiable CMEA, Womens’s Center, LGBTQ Center,” Olson said. “Those will not go away. We’ve also heard loudly and clearly the importance of physical safe space for those centers.”

In his opening remarks, Olson also stressed his self-proclaimed focus on addressing issues facing disabled students, a claim that was repeatedly disputed by Lydia Brown (COL ’15), a woman with autism and disability rights advocate.

“Why don’t you commit to a firm timeline on any of the issues raised in the disability justice working group?” Brown asked. “Not just the disability cultural center, but issues around access to sign language interpreting services, issues around physical accessibility on campus during construction, issues around the curriculum … We don’t have a concrete timetable on any of these very salient issues, yet you keep reiterating that there’s supposedly some serious commitment.”

Olson responded to Brown bluntly.

“I don’t think I’m going to make you happy,” Olson said. “I’m not going to get to a specific commitment of a time frame on these issues at this meeting tonight.”

Zoe Dobkin (SFS ’16) expressed concern about perceived lack of transparency in the University’s handling of the potential consolidation of the cultural centers.

“We’re still struggling through this set of issues,” Olson said in his response. “There’s not some crystal clear, even close to final plan.”

Olson also said that the University would be examining the usage of space on the third, fourth, and fifth floors of the Leavey Center. He did not, however, say that the Voice would be getting its (much larger) old office back.

Other issues brought up concerned increasing awareness of cultural centers for graduate students, adding programs without increasing budgets, medical leaves of absence, and undocumented students.

Olson addressed each question but did not provide any firm commitments to action.

Photo: LGBTQ Resource Center

One Comment on “Todd Olson faces questions about safe spaces and accessibility concerns at diversity town hall meeting

  1. I mean… he would be a pretty shoddy administrator if he just got up there and offered on-the-spot commitments and timetables. It requires some investigation, planning, engagement with other offices and stakeholders, budgeting, etc. etc. to accomplish these sorts of things. It’s not like Dr. Todd just snaps his fingers and makes it so.

    And if he did try to do something like that, he would be deeply – and rightfully – resented by all the other staff and stakeholders for making a decision without analysis and input. Yea, bureaucracy is slow, oftentimes too slow, but in the real world things really should happen according to a process, not just ad hoc every time.

    This is also why I think the diversity consolidation center thing is overblown: they were testing out an idea with relevant internal stakeholders. If I were in charge, I’m pretty sure I would discuss any ideas like that internally, and extensively, before I was ready to take them outside and see what students or other external stakeholders thought. Treating “we’re talking to people to see whether or not this makes sense” as ‘OMG OLSON HATES WOMEN AND GAYS AND WANTS TO TAKE AWAY OUR SAFE SPACES’ is neither fair nor accurate.

    That’s not to say the process wasn’t deficient in some ways and/or couldn’t have been handled better – there’s always room for improvement. But this immediate leap to assuming bad faith on the part of these folks is really unwarranted.

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