Georgetown University to Offer Preferred Admissions Status to Descendants of Slaves Sold in 1838 to Save Institution

Georgetown University in Washington, seen from across the Potomac River. The institution came under fire last fall, with students demanding justice for the slaves in the 1838 sale. Credit (Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times)

article by Rachel L. Swarns via

Nearly two centuries after Georgetown University profited from the sale of 272 slaves, it will embark on a series of steps to atone for the past, including awarding preferential status in the admissions process to descendants of the enslaved, officials said on Wednesday.

Georgetown’s president, John J. DeGioia, who will discuss the measures in a speech on Thursday afternoon, also plans to offer a formal apology, create an institute for the study of slavery and erect a public memorial to the slaves whose labor benefited the institution, including those who were sold in 1838 to help keep the university afloat.  

In addition, two campus buildings will be renamed — one for an enslaved African-American man and the other for an African-American educator who belonged to a Catholic religious order.  So far, Mr. DeGioia’s plan does not include a provision for offering scholarships to descendants, a possibility that was raised by a university committee whose recommendations were released on Thursday morning. The committee, however, stopped short of calling on the university to provide such financial assistance, as well as admissions preference.

To read full article, go to: Georgetown University Plans Steps to Atone for Slave Past – The New York Times

6 thoughts on “Georgetown University to Offer Preferred Admissions Status to Descendants of Slaves Sold in 1838 to Save Institution”

  1. This is the email I sent in response to reading this post. I’d be interested in your reactions. Thank you.

    Dear President DeGioia via your Chief of Staff,

    So, I’ve been thinking about Georgetown University. The one word that keeps reverberating in my mind is “atonement.” If this is what the university seeks, it is a fool’s errand-doomed before it begins. It is not possible to atone for what has been done and is being done to African-Americans/Blacks/Negroes, pick a label. Even the struggle for identity reflects the legacy of horror. We are a people who have endured a systematic assault on not only our lives and labor, but our very humanity. There is no atonement for this.

    If Georgetown University wants to recognize that it’s very existence was facilitated by the ownership and sale of human beings, it seems odd to couch this recognition in the establishment of a “preferred admissions” program. I would think that rather than this current brou-ha-ha of confusion and criticism, the university might simply have traced the descendants they name and then offer access and support to the current generation of children–such that they would be able as college students to take full advantage of a Georgetown education. This “access and support” in my mind is the development of intellect and talent. It should be completely without cost to the identified descendants.

    In recognition of the actual need, how feeble–how insulting to say, “Oh, we’ll atone for the horrors of slavery done to your ancestors by giving you admission to the establishment those ancestors enabled.”

    Georgetown knows the totality of all that it is capable of providing. Put your program together and then vet it with the intended recipients, so you can add anything that is missing. And then, perhaps you might avoid the media reality show tactics, and simply be about doing what is right.

    I am not an alumni. I don’t even live in your local community. But, I do recognize an honest desire on your part. As a retired educator, I’m just confused by the meager size of your response. What if it were your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great ….. ? Isn’t that where all reconciliation must begin, with what you would want/need for yourself and your loved ones?

    Thank you for listening and for your willingness to announce the debt that is owned. In that is a beginning, and I applaud you. I just urge you to not make your response “too little, too late.”

  2. Certainly a start toward recognizing the huge debt owed to descendants of African slaves by the University and
    practically all historic US institutions including local state and federal governments. Too bad Georgetown University didn’t offer its slave descendants admission and “free ride” scholarship aid.

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