Georgetown University Students Vote to Establish Reparations Fund

Students at Georgetown University are a step closer to establishing the first slavery reparations policy in the United States. More than two-thirds of students voted to endorse a semesterly fee that would benefit the descendants of the 272 enslaved people who were sold by the Jesuits who ran the university.

Students held a vote on Thursday, April 11 to approve a $27.20 per semester fee that would be allocated to supporting education and health care programs in Louisiana and Maryland, where many of the 4,000 known descendants of the “GU272” now live. According to student newspaper The Hoya, 66.1 percent of students voted in favor of the policy, which the university is not obligated to endorse.

If Georgetown enacts the policy, the fund created would represent the first reparations policy in the United States. The issue has become a hot rod topic among Democratic presidential contenders, with Senator Cory Booker announcing he would introduce a reparations commission bill in the Senate. “The university values the engagement of our students and appreciates that 3,845 students made their voices heard in yesterday’s election,” Todd Olson, Georgetown University vice president for student affairs, said in a statement sent to The North Star. “Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery.”

Olson said the institution understood the goals of the student referendum were to “honor” the 272 enslaved people sold by the Maryland Jesuits in 1838 and to support causes that would directly benefit descendants living in underprivileged communities.

Students have, for years, tried to get the university to acknowledge and make amends for its role in slavery. In 2014, then-junior Matthew Quallen published a column in The Hoya exposing a forgotten period of the university’s history: that Jesuits who ran the institution had sold 272 enslaved people in 1838 to save Georgetown from financial ruin. The sale was orchestrated by the school’s then-president, Jesuit priest Thomas Mulledy, and raised the equivalent of $3.3 million in today’s money, The New York Times reported. In his column, Quallen urged the university to remove Mulledy’s name from a residence hall.

Two years after Quallen’s column, Georgetown agreed to give admissions preference to descendants of the 272 enslaved people, with two of those descendants arriving at the university in the fall of 2017, Politico reported. The school also issued a formal apology for its role in slavery and renamed two buildings on campus to acknowledge the lives of those enslaved people. One of the first descendants to be admitted to the school under the new policy, junior Shepard Thomas, is part of the campus group Students for the GU272 that moved to hold the referendum. “Students here always talk about changing the world after they graduate,” he told The New York Times. “Why not change the world when you’re here?”

Thomas told The New York Times that the $27.20 fee was picked to remember the number of enslaved individuals sold, but was kept small to not become a burden on students. With an estimated 7,000 undergraduates, the reconciliation fee would raise about $380,000 a year.

The university did not respond when asked whether it would approve of the fee. In his statement, Olson said the student referendum provided “valuable insight into student perspectives” that would “help guide our continued engagement with students, faculty and staff, members of the descendant community, and the Society of Jesus.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.