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At the end of their 2022, senior fall semester at Georgetown, LaHannah Giles was skeptical about the university’s response toward the hate crime they reported earlier that year.
“I think one of their tactics as a university is to try to wait students out for as long as possible,” they told City Paper last December. “I feel like they’re going to drag their feet on this and try to wait me out until I graduate. If I’m being completely serious, I don’t know if I can trust the university at this point.”
Now, almost 10 months after Giles reported the racist verbal attack, and with less than three months until their final semester at Georgetown ends, the university has concluded its investigation but could not determine who hurled racial slurs at Giles.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, Georgetown released a statement saying that investigators for the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action and Georgetown University police “could not substantiate that any of the respondents were responsible for the conduct under investigation.”
“Investigators carefully reviewed all submitted evidence and interviewed witnesses and potential suspects, including new evidence that was submitted and new witnesses who were identified in December, late January and early February,” the statement says. “The evidence that was reviewed included security footage, photographs, and GOCard swipes, as well as testimonial evidence and documents provided by witnesses and potentials suspects.”
The monthslong process has not been smooth for Giles. They initially reported the incident with GUPD and IDEAA in the spring of 2022, alleging that a male student shouted racist slurs at them from a university building. Giles, who is Black, then worked with the university’s administration to identify the perpetrator using security footage and their own recollection. But when footage of the incident was deleted from GUPD systems, Giles felt the investigation begin to stall, they told City Paper in December, so they took action into their own hands.
In November, Giles launched the group Georgetown University Protects Racists and organized with other students who were similarly frustrated with GU’s treatment of its minority communities and worked toward accountability from the school. GUPR created a list of demands for the university that focused on the attack on Giles as well as GU’s bias reporting system. In December, the group began sit-ins to increase pressure on the university.
Working with GUPR, Georgetown sent a letter on December 8 to the campus community outlining a set of commitments to improving their response to student-reported hate crimes and bias-related incidents.
By the time students had returned to campus following the winter break, the university had taken no public action. GUPR spokesperson Leah Krakowski says she believed Georgetown was trying to taking advantage of the December academic break “to backslide in its promises and hope that the movement loses momentum.”
A spokesperson for Georgetown says the university did not set a deadline to complete the investigation because “it’s guided by a review of the evidence and interviews of witnesses, all of which continued into [February].”
GUPR resumed their sit-ins of the president’s office earlier this week. In a public statement, GUPR says they requested that the diversity and equity office, also known as IDEAA, submit a report to the university by Jan. 13, 2022. The report could have kick-started potential disciplinary procedures, depending on its conclusion.
When Georgetown was unable meet that deadline, GUPR says the school agreed to conclude the investigation by Jan. 31, 2023. But this date also came and went with no further action from Georgetown, prompting GUPR to announce they would recommence sit-ins Feb. 8 until the perpetrator is held accountable.
GUPR tells City Paper that Georgetown informed Giles the investigation was complicated by “new evidence” that placed one of the perpetrators Giles had identified in an off-campus location at the time of the incident, supplementing his alibi. Giles did not respond with updated comments in time for publication.
Krakowski emphasizes that Giles’ whole case was riding on IDEAA’s report. As outlined in Georgetown’s procedures, IDEAA was responsible for conducting a thorough investigation and considering all relevant evidence. A Georgetown spokesperson noted in December that, “if an individual is found responsible for acts that violate our institutional policies, the University can impose sanctions, up to and including, expulsion and educational remedies.” The report then would have been released to Giles, though it still would have been confidential to the public. With an inconclusive investigation, Georgetown drops the case.
In lieu of imposing sanctions, the university has announced several commitments to strengthen their resources for responding to acts of bias in the community. Georgetown is developing several work groups to help prioritize space on campus for underserved communities, better allocate funding to the Students of Color Alliance, and improve the university’s bias reporting systems. In addition to these work groups, Georgetown “retained a national expert in student conduct to lead an external review of the university’s framework for handling hate crimes and bias-related incidents.”
The external review is set to begin this month, while GUPR’s sit-ins continue with no scheduled end date. The student-led organization sees IDEAA’s final report of the incident as insufficient, and they are skeptical of its conclusion.
“Students are just fed up,” Krakowski says. “It [makes] clear that the university accepts this kind of behavior.”