College and university presidents here in Washington, D.C., and across the nation expressed horror at this week’s riots and violence at the U.S. Capitol. As an institution founded in 1789, Georgetown University has “kind of grown up alongside the government…it’s inextricably linked to who we are as a university,” Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia told The Washington Post. This month, more than two dozen Georgetown University alumni were sworn into the 117th U.S. Congress.
In a statement on social media, DeGioia strongly condemned the violent attempted disruption of the democratic process, saying “these acts are reprehensible and have no place in our country.”
“For more than two centuries, our American project has been defined by our commitment to the ideals of democracy,” he said. “Across our nation, there is an extraordinary depth of commitment to these ideals that, especially today, can be a source of consolation and solidarity as we pursue important and necessary work to build a more just and equitable future.”
Riots hit close to home for D.C. universities
While stakeholders in every corner of the nation and at every level of the academy were vocal in their repudiation, the riots and security lapses struck an especially “deep nerve” at Washington, D.C.-based universities, the Post reports.
Institutions like Georgetown and its neighboring colleges have strong ties to Capitol Hill—with Georgetown’s Law Center located just blocks from the Capitol building—and the location anchors much of the schools’ experiential learning, internships, and events. As District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a 6 p.m. curfew on Wednesday, colleges closed early, stepped up their security presence, canceled sporting events, and urged students in the region to shelter at home, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
Especially jarring for HBCUs, Black students
The racism and policing double standard on display during the riots also was a cause of distress, especially for historically Black college and university (HBCU) communities and students of color. Many college presidents voiced concern about the impact on Black students and staff, who watched a police response that was drastically weaker than that used against Black Lives Matter protesters.
“The noose hanging, the Confederate flags in the halls of Congress, the lack of police presence and response in comparison to what we saw earlier this summer—the historic trauma that our students of color face only gets exacerbated when you see those pictures and you see that news,” Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg University in Minneapolis, told Inside Higher Ed. Almost half of students at Augsburg identify as students of color.
Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard University, told the Post of watching the violence unfold with his teenage daughter. “She is trying to grapple already with an America that doesn’t always love her as it should,” Frederick said, noting that Howard students are experiencing the same stress.
Howard students should be able to participate fully in the celebration of the nation’s first Black vice president, Kamala Harris, a Howard alumna, Frederick noted. Instead, this week’s events were a stark reminder that those students could “have been victimized by the riotous mob…by law enforcement.”
“A lot of students at Howard University now are quite frustrated by the clear difference of treatment that they see between Blacks and other groups in this country at the hands of law enforcement,” said Ravi Perry, head of Howard’s political science department. “They’re growing up in this era where they see so much volatility, they see so much partisan wrangling.”
Pribbenow says that colleges and universities have an important role to play in helping the nation heal from recent trauma. “As institutions we need to model healthy democratic engagement so that students see that as a counter to what’s going on in Washington,” he said.