Georgetown students vote in favor of slavery reparations

Georgetown University students voted in favor of paying reparations to the descendants of slaves that the school sold in the 1800s when it was in debt.

Georgetown University's school newspaper, The Hoya, reported that the vote Thursday had the highest turnout in recorded student government electoral history, about 58 percent. The referendum, which would establish a fee of $27.20 to tuition each semester, passed with 66.1 percent in favor.

Georgetown's new tuition fee would be allocated to descendants of the GU272, the 272 slaves who were sold by the Maryland Province of Jesuits in 1838 to assist the university when it was struggling with debt, the referendum states.

The student vote comes as the issue of reparations for slaves has gathered momentum among Democratic candidates running for president in 2020. A bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas that would create a commission to consider reparations has gained widespread backing among the 2020 hopefuls, who have expressed varying degrees of support for reparations.

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The university is not bound by the student vote, but if it were to implement the fee, it would be the first college in the U.S. to establish a reconciliation fund.

"As students at an elite institution, we recognize the great privileges we have been given, and wish to at least partially repay our debts to those families whose involuntary sacrifices made these privileges possible," the referendum states. "Whereas the families of the 272 children, women, and men sold in 1838 … have been neglected and forgotten for too long, the creation of a GU272 Reconciliation Contribution is both necessary and proper."

A student group, GU272 Advocacy Team, has been pushing for the reconciliation fund, which would be overseen by a board of students and descendants of the slaves.

The fee would begin in the fall of 2020 and will be adjusted each year for inflation. The funds will be allocated for "charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of the GU272 and other persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits" whether they are students or not, the referendum states.

In the summer of 2016, the Georgetown University Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation published a report and recommendations for how the university should "address this shameful history," including establishing financial assistance for descendants. However, the university did not implement any such initiative.

After Thursday's vote, the university released a statement saying the university "has made a commitment to further our efforts."

"There are many approaches that enable our community to respond to the legacies of slavery," the statement said. "The University has made a commitment to further our efforts in dialogue and partnership with the Descendant community, seeking to promote work that draws on the inherent strengths and expertise of our community in collaboration with the Descendant and Jesuit communities and that promotes racial justice."

The university said the referendum "provides valuable insight" but did not say whether it would honor the student vote or not.

Copyright 2019 U.S. News & World Report

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