Georgetown forcing students to pay slave reparations?

Friday, February 15, 2019
Michael F. Haverluck (

college professor teaching classGeorgetown University officials are pushing to force students to pay reparation fees for slaves that the Catholic institution sold in the 1830s.

To pay off debts nearly two centuries ago, the Washington, D.C.- based university sold 272 African-American slaves, according to the College Fix, as leaders at the institution believe that having students pay the deceased indentured servants’ relatives will make amends – and they are coming to a conclusion on the issue after taking a vote.

“The student Senate recently authorized a campus-wide referendum to vote on whether or not to create a fund that would benefit the descendants of the 272 men, women and children who were sold in 1838 to pay off the school's debts,” TheBlaze reported. “The vote was approved 20–4.”

Paying for a 200-year-old mistakes of the institution

The resolution outlined what the fees would be paying to.

"The proceeds of the GU272 Reconciliation Contributions will be allocated for charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of the GU272 and other persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits – with special consideration given to causes and proposals directly benefiting those descendants still residing in proud and underprivileged communities," the resolution declares, according to the College Fix.

The university’s paper, The Hoya, announced that students are slated to vote on the proposal in April, and a $27.20 semester fee would be collected from students at the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester, but students receiving financial aid would not be affected by the fee.

Students up in arms

Opposition to the proposed forced reparations was voiced at a campus meeting by many Georgetown students who firmly stand against the referendum – arguing that it is not their responsibility to make reconciliation for the university’s past actions.

Georgetown University Senator Evan Farrara made students’ opposition very clear.

"It's manifestly Georgetown University's obligation to make financial commitments regarding its legacy with slavery – not students'," Farrara expressed at the meeting, as quoted in The Hoya report. "Additionally, student money should only be used towards students' purposes – even if non-student purposes are meaningful, as in today's referendum."

Even more?

In addition to the proposed mandatory student reparation fees, it was announced by Georgetown University Spokesman Matt Hill that the Catholic higher education institution is making plans to build a memorial as another dimension of its reconciliation process.

“The Descendant Community, the Society of Jesus and Georgetown are engaged in a facilitated dialogue with the goal of reconciliation and transformation regarding the legacy of slavery,” Hill stated to the College Fix. “The process is anchored in the practice of trust-building, truth-telling, racial healing and transformation. This dialogue will guide our long-term work together, which will include creating a memorial and implementing other recommendations from the Working Group, as well as new ideas emanating from the dialogue in collaboration with Descendants.”

He and the university are confident that having students pay for the institution’s mistakes is the right thing to do, but the spokesman also recognized opposing students’ right to disagree with their resolution.

“We appreciate the engagement and support of students and GUSA and will continue to consult with students and other members of the university community as we work in partnership with Descendants on a process that recognizes the terrible legacy of slavery and promotes racial justice in southern Louisiana, southern Maryland and throughout the nation,” Hill added.

Dedicating buildings on campus and extending other privileges to descendants of slavery is also part of the plan.

“Administration officials have also renamed two buildings on campus named after Jesuits who were in involved in the sale,” CBN News reported. “The school has created an African-American Studies Department and are working to establish an Institute for the Study of Racial Justice. The university will also offer an admissions edge to the descendants of slaves.”  

Past attempts at reconciliation

In addition to the proposed reparation fees, planned building, dedications and privileges, Georgetown made other efforts in recent years to try and clear its name from slavery’s dark past.

“In recent years, the school has worked to make amends for its legacy of slavery, [as] it offered an official apology for the school's actions in April 2017,” TheBlaze’s Jana J. Pruet recounted. “The university … renamed two of the school's buildings [at this time], which were named after the Jesuits involved in the sale of the slaves. One of the buildings is named for Isaac Hawkins – the first enslaved person listed on the document, [while] the other one was named after Anne Marie Becraft, ‘a free woman of color who established a school in the town of Georgetown for black girls,’ according to the school's website.”

This gesture and appeal for forgiveness was a joint effort.

“[The] apology [was] from Georgetown and the Society of Jesus’ Maryland Province for their roles in the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved individuals for the university’s benefit, [and it took place … in the company of more than 100 descendants,” Georgetown University explained on its website.

It also provided the exact wording, as expressed by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States President Rev. Timothy Kesicki, S.J.

“Today, the Society of Jesus – who helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors – stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned,” Kesicki, S.J., stated during a morning Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope at the time, according to the campus website. “We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry.”

The students’ support of the gesture was also assumed during the declaration – as it is today with the proposed fees and memorial, but several school senators are trying to make sure that fellow students do not have to bear the burden of the university’s past sins.

“Four student senators who voted against the referendum said their reasoning [for rejecting the resolution for students to pay reparations] came from the argument that most of the school's 7,500 undergraduates will not support collecting the fee, according to campus news outlets “ CBN News’ Steve Warren pointed out. “The student senators said the university should create the fund – not the students.”


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