Two Years After Eviction, Georgetown Voice Still Not Allowed Back in Campus Newsroom

When student journalists screw up, should their news outlets also suffer? And should an outlet’s suffering continue even after the problem staffers are gone?

The Hoya, the student newspaper at Georgetown University, raises these questions in a new editorial. The piece, published earlier this month, calls for a fresh look at an odd two-year-old incident involving a hurricane, campus security, students in hiding and a ceiling crash.

Late one night in fall 2011, during the height of Hurricane Irene fears, a trio of Georgetown student journalists were outside the university’s student center investigating whether a nearby building’s roof tiles were coming loose and causing trouble. All three were affiliated with The Georgetown Voice, a weekly campus newsmagazine. One was a former staffer and two were current editors of the Voice’s popular blog, Vox Populi.

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Georgetown public safety officers ordered the students to leave the area, but they resisted. Instead, they locked themselves without permission inside the Voice newsroom on the student center’s fourth floor.

Predictably, chaos ensued. As The Washington Post recounted, “Trapped, the three students allegedly decided to climb into the drop ceiling and crawl into adjacent offices, which belong[ed] to the Hoya, the debate team and the director of residential ministry. In the end, there was thousands of dollars of damage to the ceilings [and] one of the students had broken his leg jumping out a window.”

As expected, a heap of trouble soon followed. Not only were the students individually punished for destroying campus property, the Voice also dealt with the fallout.

Georgetown officials halted production of the magazine for an issue. They also evicted the Voice from its newsroom space, forcing staff to trade spots with the university debate team.

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According to the Hoya, the new office is much smaller, literally creating an overflow into the hallway when the 40-strong Voice team gathers.

When it was first announced in September 2011, the office switch angered current and former Voice staffers and numerous vocal outside supporters. Editors acknowledged and apologized for the Irene trio’s missteps, but argued the office-downsizing punishment was too harsh for such an isolated incident. “We won’t be able to operate like we did before,” the Voice’s top editor said at the time. “It’s damaging the paper as a whole for the actions of a few.”

Dozens of Voice alumni shared the editor’s concerns, including those who sent an open letter to Georgetown administrators asking for clemency. As they wrote:

“We get it: You can’t have people falling through the ceiling. But punishing people who don’t fall through the ceiling — and the 42-year-old newspaper they work for — isn’t fair. The three students … certainly deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law and the University Code of Student Conduct. But moving the Georgetown Voice to smaller, inadequate office space penalizes the rest of the paper’s staff, who were not involved in the incident, and jeopardizes the future of a critical university institution. … Taking away that space cripples the paper’s ability to do the reporting that makes it an integral part of life on campus — not just for the Voicers of today, but for the students who come after them.”

The alums’ words have proven prescient. At the moment, roughly four semesters and two hurricane seasons since the 2011 Voice madness, staffers remain stuck in the smaller debate team digs.

So the Hoya is digging in — and fighting back — via an editorial asking the school to revisit its old sanctions. Disregarding whether the original eviction was justified or not, the Hoyas top editors contend the punishment now clearly exceeds the crime — and is hurting those who had nothing to do with the ceiling-crash craziness.

“Two years have passed, and plans to lift the punishment are nowhere to be seen,” the Hoya editorial states. “The university owes the current Voice staff immediate reconsideration of their office situation. … The Voice provides a valuable service to the campus community, powered by dedicated staffers in what are already demanding positions. When new contributors continue to suffer the consequences of a now-distant memory, it is time for the university to recognize that enough is enough.”

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