On March 13, just as some students were coming back to campus from spring break, Georgetown University joined universities around the country by closing campus for the remainder of the spring semester. Classes moved online, and students moved away, forced to navigate an unprecedented disruption to their education. Here is a breakdown of this summer’s headlines.
Canceling in-person classes also meant canceling in-person events, so last year’s senior class graduated on Zoom and received their degrees in the mail. Although the lack of a formal ceremony disappointed many students, some still found ways to celebrate over social media, dressing up to mark the occasion and printing out unofficial diplomas. At the time, the university said it planned to hold an in-person ceremony in the future, but administrators have yet to release any updated plans.
On May 25, Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes while effecting an arrest. A video of the incident went viral, sparking protests in Minneapolis and around the world against police brutality and systemic racism writ large.
On May 29, the Black student unions at Georgetown University, The Catholic University of America, The George Washington University and American University signed a letter to Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham demanding they implement specific policies to combat racist policing, including introducing unconscious bias training programs for the MPD and reducing youth arrests in the city by 90%. The letter also called for the MPD to engage with D.C. protesters peacefully.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, students at Georgetown began questioning the university’s contracts with the MPD. The Georgetown University Student Association passed a resolution June 7 proposing that Georgetown reduce its contract with city police, and a petition calling for ties with MPD to be severed completely has garnered over 8,000 signatures.
In a June 11 story, students requiring academic accommodations reported that when the university moved classes online, getting the assistance they needed became difficult or impossible. The Georgetown Disability Alliance, a student group that advocates for Georgetown’s disabled community, received numerous complaints that ordinary accommodations were not met in the online learning environment.
The Academic Resource Center, which ordinarily provides academic accommodations, failed to meet students’ needs in the spring because of chronic understaffing and a lack of resources. A universitywide hiring freeze, implemented back in April to mitigate the financial burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, has prevented the ARC from solving understaffing issues. The ARC remains stretched thin headed into the fall semester, and students worry difficulties accessing academic accommodations may get worse.
Georgetown graduate Brooke Pinto (LAW ’17) won the Democratic nomination for Ward 2 councilmember, which encompasses the Georgetown neighborhood as well as the university. There are eight wards in total, each with a representative on the Council of the District of Columbia, the city’s legislative branch. Pinto will face Republican Katherine Venice and Independent Randy Downs in the general election Nov. 3. Downs, a Ward 2 advisory neighborhood commissioner for Dupont Circle, entered the race on an independent ticket after the June 2 primary concluded and spoke with The Hoya about his candidacy in August.
On June 9, after anti-racism protests spread across the country and intensified in the capital, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation banning police chokeholds and the purchase of federal military equipment. As long as it is in effect, the bill also requires the MPD to release body camera footage and the names of involved officers within 72 hours of a police shooting.
This summer, University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) officially designated Juneteenth as a university holiday. Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers informed more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas of their emancipation.
However, that same day, student organizers launched the Students for GU272+ campaign on Instagram in an effort to compel administrators to implement a reconciliation fee for the descendants of the 272 enslaved people sold by Jesuits from the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus to a Louisiana plantation in 1838 to financially sustain the university. Students voted to implement the fee in April 2019, but later that year the university administration decided not to move ahead with the fee, implementing programs to understand and memorialize Georgetown’s history regarding slavery instead.
After announcing classes would remain online for upperclassmen in the fall, Georgetown began accepting applications for a limited number of on-campus housing options. However, many of the hundreds of students whose applications the university rejected face unstable living conditions. GU Pride collected testimonials from students who said they face unsafe or difficult living situations at home and contacted administrators with their concerns. Georgetown has allowed students to appeal their housing decisions, but the number of students, including freshmen, who appealed their decision and were accepted is unknown.
On July 13, the newly created Black Student-Athlete Coalition released a video titled “I Can’t Breathe,” in which Black student-athletes related stories of the everyday racism and prejudice they experience at Georgetown. The video was shared widely on social media, and BSAC members told The Hoya they hope it will foster discussions about racism in college athletics, especially within Georgetown’s athletic department.
Students wrote a letter to university administrators July 22 urging them to protect and prioritize survivors as they prepared to respond to the Trump administration’s changes to Title IX rules. The new rules include stricter evidentiary standards, limit the scope of sexual misconduct universities are required to investigate and tighten the definitions of sexual assault. They also require live hearings and mandate cross-examination during investigations.
The rules went into effect Aug. 14, and Georgetown posted a breakdown of policy and procedural changes on YouTube. Although the Department of Education’s new definitions would exclude cases of sexual misconduct that would otherwise have been investigated under the old standards, the university will address such cases of sexual misconduct but will do so outside of Title IX using the university’s own processes.
In two separate demands to university administrators July 14 and July 21, the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees asked to negotiate aspects of the university’s fall reopening plan. GAGE worried graduate workers’ health could be put at risk should they return to campus in the fall and be compelled to work in person. More recent negotiations reportedly stalled, and GAGE launched a campaign on social media to put pressure on the university to guarantee health and economic protections, including unlimited paid sick leave and a commitment to not retaliate against graduate workers who choose not to work on campus.
After initially inviting first-year students back to campus, Georgetown reversed course, moving all classes online and disappointing many. However, freshmen in unsafe or unstable living conditions were allowed to apply for on-campus housing.
Additionally, first-year international students with F-1 visas were invited to campus so they would be protected from regulations put in place by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that called into question whether they would be able to begin an all-online program abroad. Earlier in the summer, ICE announced that international students taking classes entirely online in the fall would not be able to reenter the country but rolled back the policy for upperclassmen after widespread outcry.
On July 31, Georgetown released financial aid packages for the fall, but many students reported inexplicable increases in their expected family contribution. The university announced a 10% tuition reduction for undergraduates and that it would adjust financial aid packages for students who would not be paying the university for room and board. In spite of this, many students reported they would be paying the same amount or more to attend Georgetown virtually this fall.
After widespread outrage from students and families, Georgetown announced it would revise financial aid decisions in August, reissuing them on a rolling basis until Aug. 26. It also reduced undergraduate students’ tuition by 10%, meaning that students on financial aid with an expected family contribution of $2,900 or more would receive a tuition credit of up to $2,900. The university waived students’ expected summer work contributions, which also reduced overall family contribution. A list of frequently asked questions about financial aid can be found here.