WASHINGTON, D.C. - Students at Georgetown University voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to pass a referendum that would create a new student fee each semester in order to create programming benefiting the descendants of the 272 slaves the Maryland Province of Jesuits sold in 1838.
“The results of the referendum are as follows: 66.08% for yes (2541 votes), 33.92% for no (1304 votes). This means that the referendum passes,” tweeted the Georgetown University Students Association Election Commission on Thursday evening.
According to the GUSA Election Commission, 57.9% of Georgetown students voted in the election.
The money raised by the fee would “be allocated for charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of the GU272 and other persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits,” according to the text of the referendum.
The fee would be $27.70 per semester. If the fee were to be implemented, it would raise over $400,000 a year from undergraduate students. The fee cannot be officially created until it is approved by Georgetown University’s board of trustees.
The referendum question was sponsored by the GU272 Advocacy Team, which is named after the 272 slaves who were sold to Louisiana. The sale of the slaves earned the province about $500,000 in 2019 money, and was able to keep the province out of bankruptcy at the time.
A statement released by Todd Olson, Georgetown University’s vice president for student affairs, reiterated the steps previously taken by the school to atone for the sale of slaves, but did not fully endorse the new fee.
“We value the engagement of our students and appreciate that they are making their voices heard and contributing to an important national conversation. Any student referendum provides a sense of the student body’s views on an issue,” said Olson.
“Student referendums help to express important student perspectives but do not create university policy and are not binding on the university.”
Olson said that even if the fee were not enacted, the school would work to develop programming that would allow for Georgetown students to “meaningfully engage with Georgetown’s history of slavery and support opportunities for collaboration between students and Descendants.”
This referendum comes nearly four years after Georgetown convened the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation. The group released its final report on recommendations to the school in the summer of 2016, and suggested, among other things, an apology, the renaming of buildings, the creation of a memorial, and the creation of some sort form of financial reparations.
“While we acknowledge that the moral debt of slaveholding and the sale of the enslaved people can never be repaid, we are convinced that reparative justice requires a meaningful financial commitment from the University,” the report read.
In 2016, Georgetown University announced a new policy that would give descendants of the 272 slaves the same preferential treatment in admissions as legacy students. Currently, there are four Georgetown students who are descended from the sold slaves.
A year later, the school issued a formal apology to the descendants of the slaves in a reconciliation service, and renamed a building on campus after Isaac Hawkins, one of the people sold.