by Erin Riordan
I have a lot of friends who have defended Georgetown Confessions. Even as they recognize all the blatant racism, classism, misogyny, etc., they see it as a tool for education and awareness. There are good reasons why they feel this way, and I would love if Georgetown Confessions were a tool for education around social justice issues. But it’s not. It’s a tool of oppression and harassment, and it only further harms those already affected by racism, classism, misogyny, etc. while allowing those who make these comments to feel all the more entitled and powerful.
Comments have disparaged people of color, women, LGBTQ-identifying individuals, people from working class and poor backgrounds, to name only a few of the groups attacked via Confessions. All of these comments have consequences. In our world there are systematic structures of oppression formed around race, class, gender identity, sexuality, ability, immigration status, and more. You need only look to the racial make-up of our prison system, the violence and stigmatization facing black youth and especially young black men, recent cuts to SNAP (the food stamps program), rates of sexual assault on college campuses, rampant transphobia, and the current immigration system to see the most obvious ways this oppression impacts tens of millions of people. Georgetown, as a community that purports to care about its members and especially as a Jesuit university, should do everything in its power to challenge this oppression. Our community should work to dismantle oppression and challenge the privilege of those (including those at Georgetown) who benefit from the systematic disenfranchisement and oppression of others. At the very least, Georgetown should be a place where every community member, whether they be a student, worker, professor, or administrator, feels safe and welcome, and feels safe living out any and all of their identities.
Confessions is the opposite of this safe space. It allows people to make anonymous attacks that support and perpetuate oppression and pain already felt by so many, and when asked to take down derogatory comments the Confessions team has refused. The comments made about race, gender, class, etc. are deeply problematic and hurtful, and make Georgetown an unsafe space for a countless number of our community members. The message being sent by the people making these comments is that if you have a certain gender identity, or racial identity, or come from a certain economic background, you are not welcome here and you do not belong here. That secretly, and openly, some of your fellow Hoyas do not want you here and will not accept you because they have grown up in a world that tells them not to accept you, and rather than pushing past that ignorance and intolerance they have chosen to reject you and perpetuate centuries of oppression with their words and actions.
I know some people think Confessions has done a good job of exposing underlying racial, gender, and class tensions on campus. I agree, and I do think it is vitally important that we recognize the realities of race, gender, and class in our community. I also know people who bravely challenge these comments and use them as an opportunity for education and awareness. Awareness and education are critical parts of combatting oppression, but we must have a better forum than this. If even one person feels unsafe or hurt by a racist, classist, misogynistic, transphobic, etc. comment that is reason enough in my book for Confessions to be shut down. While hate and ignorance exist at Georgetown, we do not need to foster them and give them a safe space. What we do need is a safe space to discuss our experiences of this campus, our differences, our varied and intersecting identities, and how to better support all of Georgetown’s community members.
Confessions does not even begin to encourage the development of this kind of safe space. Instead, it encourages students to feel entitled to their racism, classism, misogyny, etc. In making these comments anonymously no one has to answer to the consequences of their words or take responsibility for the impact they have on other people, and other people’s perception and experience of our community. The people making these comments likely have a lot of privilege (and have privilege by fact of attending Georgetown alone) and already feel entitled to a whole bunch of things in life. There is a decent chance they have this privilege and yet do not think about why they have it or what that means. Ideally, Georgetown would be a place for people to learn about their privilege, how to challenge it, and how to use it to fight oppression. Instead with Confessions people are being told that it’s okay they have a lot of unfair advantages in life, and not only that, it’s okay for them to harass and degrade those who don’t. It is not just the comments themselves that reinforce oppression; it is the system by which the comments are made that reinforces oppression too.
Georgetown Confessions adds nothing of merit to our campus community. It is an ugly space used to harass and degrade other people. Confessions reinforces a hierarchy that values certain people over others, and fosters a community of hatred and ignorance rather than understanding and love. As a step towards making campus a safer space for everyone, Confessions should be taken down. We should not tolerate this kind of latent hatred, and we have a responsibility to advocate for a better, more tolerant, and more loving campus environment. To quote some of the finest activists for justice in Georgetown’s history, “Our Georgetown is better than this.”