Students at Georgetown University are instructing the school to disinvite Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson as this year’s School of Foreign Service commencement speaker because it would make the ceremony an “unsafe” space for undocumented students.
“As Secretary of Homeland Security, Johnson has orchestrated the detention and deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including members of our families and communities,” stated a letter that members and allies of a campus advocacy group called “UndocuHoyas” delivered to the School of Foreign Service Deans last week, according to an article in the school magazine The Georgetown Voice.
“We strongly implore the university to rescind Secretary Johnson’s speaking invitation and take meaningful action to ensure that graduation is an inclusive and safe experience for all members of the Georgetown community,” it continued.
A group of 30 students delivered the letter, according to The Voice. One undocumented student, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the magazine that the invitation was “very much a slap in the face.”
“I have to shake hands with the person who has the power to deport me and my family,” the student said.
According to an e-mail from Senior Associate Dean Daniel Byman, however, this student would not have to shake hands with Johnson at all — because he was invited as a speaker, and “the speaker has no role in the degree conferral.”
#share#Now, it’s important to note that this is not a general graduation. It’s the ceremony specifically for graduates of the School of Foreign Service, which you’d think would make someone like Johnson — you know, a top official in Homeland Security — a completely appropriate choice. No, not everyone is going to agree with Johnson’s point of view, but that would be the case for absolutely any speaker that could possibly be chosen.
If these students had to be concerned that Johnson was going to deport or arrest them for going to their graduation, their use of the word “unsafe” might be considered be appropriate — but it isn’t appropriate here. Having to hear someone talk that you don’t agree with is not “unsafe.” “Uncomfortable” perhaps, but not “unsafe.” Regardless of what seems to be the consensus on far too many college campuses these days, that’s just simply not what the word means.
#related#In a statement released on May 10, school officials defended the choice of the speaker and announced that he would not be disinvited despite the students’ protests:
“This year, SFS has selected Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, who has for decades been engaged in critical issues facing our nation and our world, such as homeland security, migration, terrorism, disaster response and more,” it states. “These are challenges without simple answers and finding solutions requires collaboration, negotiation and compromise among stakeholders and policy makers.”
“As a university, we are uniquely committed to the free exchange of ideas and discourse,” it continues.