Jesuit priests sold at least 272 black humans as slaves in 1838 in order to prevent Georgetown University going into bankruptcy.
If university officials agree, Georgetown will become one of the first major U.S. institutions to provide financial restitution for its role in slavery.
|Patricia Bayonne-Johnson holding a photo of her great-grandparents and their son. The retired science teacher discovered that some of her ancestors were sold by the Jesuits of the Maryland Province in 1838, to pay off Georgetown University’s debt.|
The students at Georgetown University have voted overwhelmingly to build a fund to give reparations to descendants of at least 272 slaves that were sold to fund the school in the 1800’s.
The election was spearheaded by student activists, and more than two-thirds of undergraduate students approved the proposal, according to Georgetown’s student newspaper The Hoya. The report added that 58% of undergraduates participated, saying it is “the highest turnout in recorded student government electoral history.” If approved, the measure would add a student fee of $27.20 per semester to provide reparations.
Georgetown administrators have said the student referendum is nonbinding, and the school’s 39-member board of directors would have to vote on the measure, according to the Hoya.
This matter is receiving national attention, including in the 2020 presidential race, with some candidates calling for national reparations studies.
Todd Olson, Georgetown’s vice president for student affairs, acknowledged the results of the vote in a statement Friday, but did not indicate where officials stand on the matter.
“The university values the engagement of our students and appreciates that 3,845 students made their voices heard in yesterday’s election,” Olson said. “Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery.”
Critics of the reparations fund have argued that it should not be current students’ responsibility to atone for the school’s past, and have to pay a fee.
“A more just solution to the question of reparative justice would leave navigating the morality and personal circumstances to each individual student,” Georgetown freshmen Rizana Tatlock and Henry Dai wrote this week in an editorial for the Hoya. “For example, an opt-in or opt-out fee each year would be a reasonable way to leave the choice in the hands of the students.”
Like many American institutions in recent years, Georgetown has been exposed for its role in slavery. In 2015, school officials created a “working group” to evaluate how to address the school’s legacy.
In recent years, Georgetown has issued a formal apology to the descendants of the 272 slaves, announced a policy to give them priority in admissions and renamed two campus buildings, one in honor of Isaac Hawkins, the first person listed in the 1838 slave sale.
Nationally, the issue of reparations has been gaining momentum with many people discussing the ADOS movement.