Georgetown University students have proposed creating a fund to benefit the descendants of 272 slaves who were sold in 1838 to pay off the university’s debts.
A group of undergraduate students introduced the GU272 referendum in the Student Association Senate to increase tuition by $27.20 per semester, which will go toward charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of those
persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits.
Undergraduate students voted on the referendum on Thursday, with 66 percent of students voting in favor of it, according to NBC Washington. In total, approximately 58 percent of eligible students voted in the election, with 1,304 voting against the referendum and 2,541 voting in favor of it.
According to sponsors of the referendum, it will address the shameful past of the university by ensuring reparative justice through a meaningful financial commitment.
“The creation of a GU272 Reconciliation Contribution is both necessary and proper,” the referendum reads. “As students at an elite institution, we recognize the great privileges we have been given, and wish to at least partially repay our debts to those families whose involuntary sacrifices made these privileges possible.”
Students also criticized the school for not implementing the recommendations of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation who published its report in 2016. These recommendations included the creation of public memorials to the enslaved persons, the continuation of the “Freedom and Remembrance” Grant Program and the establishment of financial aid for the descendant community.
“We as undergraduate students should be the leaders that we want to see and the change that we want to see within the institution and in society,” Robert Nishimwe, a first year student at Georgetown, told CNN. “We as students … still benefit (from slavery) today because their ancestors’ labor was used to save this institution.”
The proposed fee can only be enacted if Georgetown’s Board of Trustees approves it. Meanwhile, the university has yet to say if the fee will actually be implemented or not.
“Student referendums help to express important student perspectives but do not create university policy and are not binding on the university,” Matt Hill, Georgetown’s media relations manager, told ABC News.
“The university will carefully review the results of the referendum, and regardless of the outcome, will remain committed to engaging with students, Descendants, and the broader Georgetown community and addressing its historical relationship to slavery,” Hill added.