Georgetown’s students have passed a measure by referendum that says the prestigious university must pay reparations to the descendants of the slaves that made the school possible in the first place. In 1838, the Maryland Society of Jesuits, which oversaw Georgetown University, sold off 272 slaves in order to raise about half a million dollars in today’s money to pay off the school’s debt and sustain it financially, thus keeping it open.
Last night, Georgetown’s student voted in favor of a $27.20 fee that every Georgetown student will pay every semester to fund reparations for the descendants of those slaves. The referendum and fee were pushed for by a student group known as the GU272 Advocacy Team. Those students say the $27.20 fee would generate over $400,000 a year and would “be allocated for charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of the GU272 and other persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits.” You can see the full bill here.
After the passage of the bill, Georgetown sophomore Eliza Dunni Phillips, a member of the GU272, told CNN: “The vestiges of slavery are still so evident, and so many of the African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved are still so disenfranchised. It’s not enough to say sorry. Georgetown has to put their money where their mouth is and invest into the descendant community.”
But even though the bill passed by a two-to-one margin, there’s no requirement that Georgetown must adopt the measure, because it involves changes to university tuition fees and thus needs to be approved by the university’s board of trustees. In a statement regarding the referendum, Dr. Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs at Georgetown University, said:
We value the engagement of our students and appreciate that they are making their voices heard and contributing to an important national conversation. Any student referendum provides a sense of the student body’s views on an issue. Student referendums help to express important student perspectives but do not create university policy and are not binding on the university.
The university has previously apologized for the sale of the 272 slaves that funded the school, however, it never offered to pay any reparations to the descendants of those slaves, instead naming a campus building after one of those slaves.