Georgetown University students have voted to create a reparations fund.
On Thursday, more than 2,500 Georgetown undergraduates voted to raise their tuition by $27.20 per student, per semester to create a fund benefitting descendants of the slaves sold in 1838 by the Georgetown Jesuits, who ran the school when it was known as Georgetown College.
If the university’s board of directors approves the nonbinding referendum, Georgetown would become the first college in the U.S. to mandate a fee to benefit descendants of slaves sold by a university.
The fund would support education and health care programs in Louisiana and Maryland, “where many of 4,000 known living descendants of the 272 enslaved people now live,” according to the New York Times, which also reported that, at the time, the college “relied on Jesuit-owned plantations in Maryland that were no longer producing a reliable income to support it.”
The Jesuit priests decided to raise cash by selling all its slaves, receiving the equivalent of about $3.3 million in today’s money.
“The Jesuits sold my family and 40 other families so you could be here,” sophomore Melisande Short-Colomb said during a recent town hall to discuss the issue, according to ABC News. “No one in this room was here in 1838 when this happened.”
Short-Colomb is one of four students currently attending Georgetown under an admissions policy that recognizes the descendants of the 272 slaves as “legacy” students.
Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs at Georgetown, said the university has been working to address its historical relationship to slavery since 2015.
“The Descendant Community, the Society of Jesus, and Georgetown are working together towards reconciliation and transformation regarding the legacy of slavery,” Olson said in a statement.
“The process is anchored in the practice of trust-building, truth-telling, racial healing, and transformation. We have committed to finding ways that members of the Georgetown and Descendant communities can be engaged together in efforts that advance racial justice and enable every member of our Georgetown community to confront and engage with Georgetown’s history with slavery,” Olson said.
“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,” he continued. “We remain committed to working with students — regardless of the outcome of the referendum — to develop education and programming that will enable all students to meaningfully engage with Georgetown’s history of slavery and support opportunities for collaboration between students and Descendants.”
In 2016, Georgetown agreed to give admissions preference to the descendants of 272 slaves. In addition, the school “formally apologized for its role in slavery” and “renamed two buildings on campus to acknowledge the lives of slaves,” the Times reported.
Now, if only the rest of the United States of America would follow suit.