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Georgetown students push back after hate crime investigation yields disappointing results

After 10 months, missed deadlines, and the mysterious loss of crucial security footage, an investigation failed to achieve justice for a Black student on the Catholic campus in DC.

LaHannah Giles sits on the steps of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (Giles)

WASHINGTON — Georgetown University has announced it will not expel an unnamed student for an alleged hate crime on campus last year, but students at the historic Jesuit institution in the nation’s capital are continuing to fight for justice.

Georgetown University Protects Racists (GUPR), a student activist group, was formed last November by LaHannah Giles, a senior who was allegedly called an anti-Black racial slur by a White male student while walking on campus in April 2022.

Organizers say the university repeatedly stalled before its Institutional Diversity, Equity & Affirmative Action (IDEAA) office finally released a 12-page investigative report 10 months later, on February 7. While ruling out two of the three suspects, it did not recommend expulsion due to a lack of sufficient evidence to connect the remaining student with the crime.

“For the university, that's the end of it. They're not going to try to figure out any more about what happened,” said junior Sanchi Rohira, chief organizer of GUPR.

The group started a final round of protests on campus in early February, occupying Healy Hall administrative building and displaying signs expressing dissatisfaction with the university’s processes. A previous protest occupied the president’s office in December, inspired by the 2020 sit-ins on campus by Black students concerning university responses to sexual violence.

GUPR’s main gripe? The fate of a security video whose footage Giles says leaves no doubt about the verbal assailant. The Georgetown University Police Department claims to have lost the footage in a power outage before it could have been used in the investigation. A batch of screenshots remained, as did a video recorded by Giles, but forensic scientists hired by Georgetown to analyze them were unable to make out the face of the accused student.

“Ultimately, they were too blurry for that to happen,” Rohira told BCM.

Giles, who declined to be interviewed for this story while preparing for law school, has identified the perpetrator independently, but to no avail. A mutual no-contact order has also been issued, such that Giles cannot publicly release the student’s name.

As a result, the GUPR group feels Black students on campus are unprotected from the student in question.

“Obviously, in one in one direction, it makes perfect sense. None of these three [suspects] can come up to LaHannah and harass or do anything like that,” said Rohira.

“But the suspect now also has a stay in it… [It’s] going to be in effect up until the time LaHannah graduates from Georgetown. We run into a situation where justice is not being provided by the university and Black students on campus who aren't even allowed to know who did [the crime].”

LaHannah Giles, center, at a February 2023 protest in Healy Hall at Georgetown University. (Miranda Xiong)

Further complicating matters is that the prime suspect has retained a lawyer, according to Rohira, in preparation for any potential legal action. Rohira and the other GUPR organizers say they will support Giles if such action were to be taken. The group is also exploring the possibility of a civil rights complaint with the Department of Education.

“Each time I get my hopes up about the university giving me justice, I just ultimately end up being disappointed,” Giles told The Washington Post in February.

GUPR is planning a celebration for Giles ahead of graduation and has committed to continued organizing—including the creation of archives concerning the incident and its aftermath, and communications with the public concerning the persistent issues on campus.

On February 19, the Georgetown University Student Association Senate also approved a resolution to conduct a student review of the university police, following the botched investigation concerning Giles.

“Concerns about the conduct of GUPD have been heightened in the 2022-2023 school year. Gathering data on student experiences with GUPD is in the interest of campus safety,” it reads.

More GUPR protests could also occur in the future, according to Rohira.

“There are a lot of things to be proud of in terms of some of the other concessions that we've gotten but really the biggest-ticket item on that list was the expulsion of the student. So there’s widespread disappointment that that did not end up happening,” she said.

“So many different failures happened on so many different levels that we were left wondering: Is it all a coincidence? Was it something bigger? That final answer, that point of closure is something we haven't gotten yet and we're not sure we’ll ever get.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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