Georgetown University students have a few questions after they voted in favor of a student fee to benefit descendants of the school’s slaves—including whether Black students are expected to pay the reparations fee.
On Thursday, the university announced that students voted overwhelmingly for the $27.20 per student fee that would be charged each semester.
CBS News reported that nearly 58 percent of the student body took part in the vote. And 66 percent of those who voted supported the fee to benefit descendants of 272 slaves the school sold in the 19th century. But there are still some unanswered questions about what exactly comes next.
Some students who voted against the fee believe that a reparation fund should be created but disagreed with the method.
“My issue with this is that I felt like the university was sort of tossing the buck on to students. I don’t believe that students are the ones that need to be paying,” Georgetown junior Nitya Biyani said, noting that the school has a $1.5 billion endowment and increases tuition almost every year but appears unwilling to cover the cost of compensating the slaves’ descendants.
Most people learned about the 1838 sale of the slaves, at the hands of the Jesuit priests who ran the debt-ridden college, from a 2016 New York Times article. It was a dirty little secret that the school kept under wraps for many years.
The records indicate that the youngest slave sold to save Georgetown was just 2 months old. The slave infant and its mother were among the group of grandparents, pregnant women, toddlers, and fathers-to-be. They were bound and forced onto a ship sailing from their plantation home in Maryland to new owners in Louisiana. The sale earned the university an estimated $3.5 million in today’s value.
Georgetown University President John DeGioia said back in 2016 that modern Georgetown University administrations have been aware of the infamous slave sale. Georgetown is like the many other elite universities in this nation that benefited from slavery. And like some of them, Georgetown has struggled in confronting its stained history.
Students for GU272 advocacy group, named for the number of slaves the university sold, conceived of the idea for a referendum in the fall 2018 semester. Now that it passed, the university’s next steps are unclear because the referendum still needs the school’s approval.
“This moment raises complex issues that we are prepared to grapple with and embrace. Our students are bringing attention to deeply held convictions that we take very seriously,” DeGioia said in a statement after announcing the referendum results. “With this strong indication from our students, I will engage key leaders in our Georgetown, Descendant, and Jesuit communities and our faculty, board, and student leadership to chart a path forward.”