Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition
Georgetown University College Republicans
Georgetown University College Democrats
GUSA recently passed a resolution that sought to censure Georgetown student Billy Torgerson for remarks posted to a personal blog about the Black Lives Matter organization. The language in Mr. Torgerson’s blog post has been perceived as offensive and hurtful, particularly to people who have experienced racism first-hand. We believe that the most productive response to arguments one disagrees with is open dialogue, rather than a complete censure of conflicting opinions. Additionally, we strongly condemn the use of threats of physical violence by individuals as a way to dissent or express disapproval. This statement seeks to primarily address student government overreach in the matter.
Although all three organizations share different perspectives on the recent events and Mr. Torgerson’s article, we issue this joint statement as a signal of our dedication to dialogue, education, and free speech.
We would like to start, however, with a clear indication of the stance of the Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition’s Board, which is independent and does not reflect the views of any other undersigned organization.
Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition Board’s Stance
The Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition would like to explicitly acknowledge that systemic racism still plagues the United States. The recent deaths in our country, including those of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more, were a wake up call for many but they unfortunately represented nothing new about the experiences of Black Americans in our country. The Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition strongly encourages our members, as well as all Georgetown students, to educate themselves on the history of racism in this country and the way that this history manifests itself today, especially before entering into debate with others about this difficult topic.
Joint Statement on GUSA’s Resolution
GUSA self-defines its purpose as “serv[ing] as the voice of undergraduate students at Georgetown University.” It is therefore reasonable to expect that GUSA should seek to protect all Georgetown students according to Georgetown policies and act as the student extension of the Georgetown administration. In a resolution that has now been made unavailable to Georgetown students and the public, GUSA reasoned that Mr. Torgerson should be censured and be subject to bias reporting because content put forth in his article “invalidates the experiences of BIPOC individuals in and outside of the Georgetown community” and “negates the existence of institutional racism.” Bias reporting at Georgetown functions as a way to report acts of harassment—physical, verbal, online, written, or phone— as well as destruction of property, vandalism, graffiti, or intimidation. Therefore, GUSA’s justification of its resolution and the actions it recommended were based on the grounds that Mr. Torgerson’s article was harassment.
Georgetown’s Speech and Expression Policy articulates that the only unprotected speech is speech that “violates the law, falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat, violates the University’s Harassment Policy, or unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests.” In the University’s Harassment Policy, Georgetown states that “the injured party’s perception of the offensiveness of the alleged conduct, standing alone, is not sufficient by itself to constitute harassment.” It is clear that within this framework, speech that is emotionally distressing without the presence of a quantifiable or explicit threat is protected speech. Georgetown’s Speech and Expression Policy also makes this clear when it writes “Deliberation or debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or ill conceived.” Even if an article is of questionable veracity, “ill conceived”, it is not within the rights of the University to censure this speech.
Therefore, it is clear that Mr. Torgerson’s article has not violated Georgetown University’s free speech policies and could not be defined as harassment. The perceived issues GUSA’s resolution found with Mr. Torgerson’s article are, in fact, explicitly protected by the Speech and Expression Policy set out by the University. By condemning the personal and non-threatening speech of a Georgetown student, GUSA has exceeded its authority as outlined in the Speech and Expression Policy.
GUSA, instead of seeking to stifle the voices that they do not agree with, should encourage Georgetown students to engage in honest and open debate, especially about difficult and understandably sensitive topics such as systemic racism. We acknowledge that the ideas expressed by Mr. Torgerson are controversial, and we encourage all students to enter into dialogue with those they disagree with. Only through engaging in difficult conversations can we hope to move forward as a community and as a nation. The Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition, GUCR, and GUCD all commit to use this moment to foster new conversations within our organizations, including diverse and varied perspectives, and will seek to leverage this opportunity to deepen our commitment to being better members of our shared American community.
Considering this, we recommend that GUSA revoke its resolution and encourage productive discussions on this difficult topic, while abiding by the policies laid out by Georgetown University’s administration.