According to jbhe.com, the student body of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. recently voted on a proposal to add a semester fee of $27.20 that would go toward a fund to benefit descendants of the 272 enslaved persons once owned and then sold in 1838 by the university to pay off debt. The referendum passed by a vote of 2,541 to 1,304, which means nearly two-thirds of enrolled students are in favor of the new fee.
“The university values the engagement of our students and appreciates that 3,845 students made their voices heard in yesterday’s election,” said Todd Olson, Georgetown’s Vice President for Student Affairs, in an official statement. “Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery.”
Georgetown administrators, however, have said the student referendum is nonbinding, and the school’s 39-member board of directors would have to vote on the measure, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Hoya.
If Georgetown’s board approves, reports The Huffington Post, it would be one of the first major U.S. institutions to create a fund for slavery reparations.
Critics of the reparations fund have argued that it should not be current students’ responsibility to atone for the school’s past.
Like many American institutions in recent years, Georgetown has been grappling with its role in slavery. Last year, Georgetown issued a formal apology to the descendants of the 272 slaves and announced a policy to give them priority in admissions. The university also renamed two campus buildings, including one in honor of Isaac Hawkins, the first person listed in the 1838 sale.
Nationally, the issue of reparations has been in the spotlight lately. Earlier this week, the New York Times published an opinion piece entitled “When Slaveowners Got Reparations”, pointing out how President Lincoln signed a bill in 1862 that paid up to $300 to slaveholders for every enslaved person freed when he emancipated those in bondage in Washington D.C. In 2014, journalist and best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations,” for The Atlantic, highlighting the topic, and even typically conservative NY Times writer David Brooks wrote in March why he’s come around to the cause.
Several 2020 Democratic presidential contenders have expressed support, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who this week announced legislation to study the issue. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also have called for a closer look at the issue.