Georgetown University just can’t seem to remember its commitment to free speech when the school’s pro-choice student group, H*yas for Choice, is involved.
H*yas for Choice, which has frequently been the target of censorship, is asking the Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD) to apologize and to commit to receiving additional training on the university’s Speech and Expression policy after officers removed envelopes filled with free condoms—which aren’t sold or provided elsewhere on campus—from the doors of H*yas for Choice student representatives.
Last month, the GUPD were called to the Village C West residence hall after receiving a report of alleged suspicious activity. There, they removed the envelopes from students’ doors, claiming the “explicit images and comments” written on the envelopes justified their doing so.
What images and comments could be so disturbing that a police officer would feel the need to intervene? A penis drawing.
According to the Georgetown Voice, which quoted H*yas for Choice member Namratha Sivakumar, the GUPD thought the drawing was unlawful:
Namratha Sivakumar (SFS ‘20) was one of the condom representatives whose envelope was removed. According to Sivakumar, the condom envelope taken off the door across from her room included a drawing of a penis. “They were under the impression it was harassment,” Sivakumar said.
The H*yas for Choice leadership is not convinced that this incident isn’t part of a broader effort to restrict student speech on campus:
According to [Co-president of H*yas for Choice Emily] Stephens, H*yas for Choice condom representatives have had condoms removed by resident assistants, community directors, and chaplains in the past. “As somebody who had to verbally fight off at GUPD at one point last year at 2am because they tried to take a condom envelope off of my door, I’m extremely frustrated and upset,” [Director of Organizing and Events for H*yas for Choice Kory] Stuer said.
The students have reason to be skeptical. The condom envelope removal is the latest in the six-year saga of Georgetown violating H*yas for Choice’s free speech rights. FIRE has been defending H*yas for Choice’s speech since 2010, when Georgetown refused to recognize the group because the university, which commits itself to freedom of expression, disagreed with the student group’s mission. In 2014, Georgetown interfered with a H*yas for Choice tabling event and, subsequently, revised the campus Speech and Expression Policy to clear up confusion. Later, GUPD officers attempted to prevent H*yas for Choice from tabling on public property. In both instances, Georgetown conceded that it was in the wrong, but it was too little, too late. These repeated abuses earned Georgetown an entry on FIRE’s list of worst schools for free speech in 2014.
GUPD Chief Jay Gruber, for his part, has offered to meet with H*yas for Choice regarding the latest events. H*yas for Choice is seeking an apology, but hopefully more substantive and tangible change also results from their discussion. FIRE encourages Georgetown—again—to honor its commitment to free speech and respect H*yas for Choice’s expression. Additionally, FIRE urges all students, administrators, and campus officials at Georgetown to familiarize themselves with the university’s Speech and Expression Policy. The more people on campus who understand students’ ability to express themselves, the better—starting with the GUPD.