Over 200 Georgetown University alumni have sent a letter to university President John J. DeGioia expressing “dismay and strong concern” regarding an incident on September 22 in which campus police shut down a protest, conducted just off-campus, by H*yas for Choice.
H*yas for Choice – a student group that remains unrecognized by the university – had set up a table on a sidewalk just off-campus in silent protest of the university’s decision to grant an honorary degree to Archbishop of Washington Donald Cardinal Wuerl. According to the student newspaper The Hoya, group members say they are against Wuerl’s stance on women’s health and LGBT rights.
Only five minutes after the students had set up their table, campus police told group members that they had to leave the area. About an hour later, the same officer informed the group, without explanation, that they they could return to the sidewalk.
Abby Grace, President of H*yas for Choice said that the group had chosen the sidewalk location precisely because it was off-campus. In addition, the university had last year, during a protest of the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, relocated the group from an on-campus site to that exact location.
“I’m really questioning where they got the authority to move someone from a public sidewalk,” said Grace. “I think that that is just showing a blatant lack of training when it comes to what students’ rights are on and off campus, what should be happening and how the university selectively chooses to support some speech and systematically oppress other speech.”
In their letter, Georgetown alumni echoed Grace’s concerns. The letter explains that H*yas for Choice was “quietly presenting an alternative view to official church teachings by advocating for reproductive rights, women’s rights, and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.” It continues, “Georgetown has long played a leadership role in policy debates as the premier institution of higher learning in our nation’s capital. It can no longer do so if only one view may be stated.”
The Georgetown alumni argue that debate and open dialogue should be encouraged – even at a Catholic university. Georgetown had recently revised its policy on speech and expression to create “speech zones” on campus. But the Georgetown alumni believe this revision of policy is not enough.
“While this effort may have been designed to give clarity as to where H*yas for Choice and other unsponsored student groups may express their views, recent events demonstrate that such an objective has not been achieved,” they wrote. “The designation of free speech zones in itself serves to segregate and stigmatize certain speakers.”
The 232 alumni who signed the letter are requesting “an affirmation” that the University allow H*yas for Choice to fully express their beliefs in the future.
Media Resources: RH Reality Check 9/29/2014; The Hoya 9/23/2014; H*yas for Choice Tumblr