Free speech panel faces tough questions from marginalized groups

The GUSA executive and the Georgetown University Speech and Expression Committee held a forum on free speech titled “Free Speech in the Digital Age: Are There Boundaries?” in the Lohrfink Auditorium last night.

The panel consisted of GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14), Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., Professor Marcia Chatelain, and former Chair of the Board of The Hoya Lauren Weber and was moderated by Vice President for Public Affairs Erik Smulson. Unfortunately, yours truly and no other members of Vox or the Voice were invited to be on the panel. So he decided to go anyways and crash the party, though it turns out he wasn’t the only one who felt somewhat left out.

While the moderated discussion generated a lot of careful consideration of free speech in the 21st century, it was during the question-and-answer period that issues of free speech at Georgetown were brought up unabashedly. Members of GU Pride and H*yas for Choice in particular spoke up.

GU Pride President Thomas Lloyd raised concern over Pride’s inability to host certain events and speakers which Lloyd considers essential to GU Pride’s success.

“At least within my community, there is a very real sense of self-censorship,” Lloyd said. “Whether or not there is any official policy as to whether we can bring a speaker that disagrees with Church doctrine […] there is very real self-censorship, where I have advisors telling me ‘this is dangerous; this isn’t what the University wants.'”

Lloyd further claimed that Georgetown policy does not allow for real dialogue on campus because groups like GU Pride may lose funding if they do not follow Georgetown’s Catholic views.

“There are Catholic voices on this campus that agree with [Pride] but censor themselves, including Jesuits who agree with us, but censor themselves because it’s not official,” Lloyd said.

Vice President of H*yas for Choice Abby Grace echoed many of Lloyd’s sentiments and explained that, often, H*yas for Choice, which is not officially recognized by the University, is kicked out of the Leavey Center or has its flyers torn down prematurely.

Ensuing confusion concerning Georgetown’s speech policy prompted Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson to step up and explain that the limits placed on groups like GU Pride and H*yas for Choice have less to do with the actual speech code and more to do with how the University decides to give funding to groups.

According to Olson, the University carefully decided that groups and events that run counter to the Church’s mission will not receive monetary support from the University. “Someone has not been asleep at the wheel,” Olson said. “It is a thoughtful conclusion.”

Tisa added that the speech code itself is fine, but misinformation surrounding its implementation has led to the unfair treatment of some students and groups, namely H*yas for Choice, which he said may not have to be confined to Red Square.

Tisa and Olson resolved to come up with a new guide to Georgetown’s Speech and Expression policy, which was written in 1989, by the end of the semester. Bettering the free speech policies at Georgetown was an important part of Tisa’s campaign. When he was sworn in he noted the fact that Georgetown’s free speech policy was rated “code red” by an external reviewer.

Tisa said part of the change in policy will attempt to clear up this confusion and explain what Red Square’s being a “free speech zone” actually means, because everyone knows that the start to free speech is by designating specific zones where this right can be exercised.

Photo: Katherine Landau/Georgetown Voice

2 Comments on “Free speech panel faces tough questions from marginalized groups

  1. It’s nice to see Olson giving a reasonable response to the situation. Georgetown has been a Catholic university for over 200 years, and the opinions of a few students don’t change the fact that every GU student chose to attend a Catholic school. A few activist students should not feel entitled to have the rules changed to meet their agendas.

  2. I disagree with your ethic of institutional change, DR. For one, private universities have a chimeric identity in that they are private institutions acting in the public interest and taking public money. That public aspect is, by the way, why Georgetown must abide by D.C. anti-discrimination law in recognizing GU Pride.

    Anyway, Georgetown is first and foremost a prestigious university, and that’s how it markets itself. We should be able work for progressive change within that institution, just as others are working for change within the Church.

    More to the point, though, I don’t think that student activity money should be controlled by the administration. The fee is a separate levy and should be under the control of GUSA.

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