One woman is confronting a painful past at Georgetown University, where her slave ancestors were sold more than 145 years ago. Mélisande Short-Colomb, 63, a descendant of one of 272 slaves were sold for profit to bail Georgetown out of a financial crisis in 1838, has enrolled at the school, The Washington Post reported. Colomb, a retired chef, said the decision to become a college freshman at the university was a good one.
“It feels right,” Short-Colomb, moving onto campus 45 years after she first enrolled in college, said. “I want to go back to the source of my family in America.”
Initially, Short-Colomb, a mom of four, was flooded with discomfort with grappling with the poignant history of her ancestor Mary Ellen Queen, a woman whose story was mentioned in a genealogist’s message to the retired chef. Short-Colomb’s grandmother often told stories to her about Queen having been freed. Learning that her ancestor had actually been sold was a “nauseating realization,” she told the Post.
The 63 year old found her way onto Georgetown’s campus on special legacy admission status after Georgetown’s president, John J. DeGioia announced that the school would offer an admissions preference — one that children and grandchildren of alumni are eligible for — to descendants of former slaves last September. In the university’s attempt to grapple with profiting off of its slave-holding past, Short-Colomb took another chance at education. She attends Georgetown with the help of a grant and financial aid from the school’s scholarship program.
With one semester under her belt, she has settled in a bit. She has a twin bed, eats instant oatmeal and sits among walls decorated with posters in her dorm room with an adjoining bathroom, CNN reported. She also works 11 hours a week at the school library in the rare books section as part of her “work-study” financial aid program. But she’s not out partying or planning to join any campus clubs. “They [the students] aren’t my peer group,” she said, considering herself to be a “nontraditional student.”
She is on a mission to learn more about her ancestor and Georgetown’s slavery past. “I’m not here to live the 18- to 22-year-old experience,” she said. “I’m here for a very specific reason … to know more. There are many African-Americans who have not had the opportunity to have this well-established paper trail in their lives.”