In our tolerant and liberal society, we place great emphasis on the individual and her ability to make free choices. When the state or some other institution imposes one particular moral outlook or range of choices, it is frequently met with resistance. In contrast, the individual is expected to weigh her own circumstances and decide accordingly. This liberty promotes both a more just society and more individual happiness.

The upcoming GU272 referendum is a mandatory fee which, by nature, represents a moral judgement on the responsibility of Georgetown students for the institution’s past. It contradicts that very value of liberty. Students would be compelled to act rather than having the choice to opt in. Regardless of your views on reparative justice, you should vote no on the GU272 referendum. Voting yes would support an unjust imposition of a moral judgement on the entire student body.

Charitable donations to the less fortunate are a good cause. However, each individual should be free to engage with not only the question of her moral obligation but also the method of restitution in her own way. Individual students have the right to account for their own beliefs and to proceed through a complicated and emotionally charged issue in the best way they know how.

Opponents of the referendum have many sincere and thoughtful reasons to stand against the present proposal. The document has been rightly criticized for its vague language and unclear procedures, leaving the board guidelines undefined and program funding at the total discretion of a yet-to-be-created organization. For others, the threat of financial hardship is a pressing concern, regardless of unconfirmed GUSA assurances that financial aid will cover the fee. Most importantly, however, many simply disagree with the moral argument that they, as current students, are in any way obligated to pay for the past sins of the institution.

Some at the recent GU272 town hall, including former Georgetown University Student Association President Juan Martinez (SFS’20), said they would be more than happy to work overtime in order to pay the fee each semester. But the implication was that proponents of the referendum expected — and were even willing to compel — their peers to do the same. Supporters of a charitable fund to benefit the descendants of the 272 are free to work as much and give as much as they please. By voting yes in the referendum, however, these supporters are really voting to deprive others of their freedom to choose, imposing their views of what is good on others. In this way, one person’s justice can become another’s injustice.

Voting no does not preclude other methods of reconciling with the past. A more just solution to the question of reparative justice would leave navigating the morality and personal circumstances to each individual student. For example, an opt-in or opt-out fee each year would be a reasonable way to leave the choice in the hands of the students.

Even better, funding could come from well-publicized, student-organized fund drives that could foster frequent student reflection. Instead of a passive fund collection, students would have the opportunity to engage more meaningfully with the university’s legacy of slavery. Pressuring the university to follow through on the suggestions of the working group, such as erecting a memorial, should also be a continued effort. But the student body should only provide the opportunity for every individual to donate voluntarily, avoiding any compulsion.

While some might argue that imposing collective action is just, true justice respects the autonomy of the individual. Adoption of this proposal, even by a large majority, would be a policy victory of brute force rather than one of measured persuasion.Those who are not convinced by arguments for reparative justice will not be any more accepting after being dragged, kicking and screaming, into submission. In fact, such unjust treatment threatens to ingrain in them a deep sense of bitterness, sowing further division in our community. Rallying the community through thoughtful persuasion to voluntarily donate would better foster unity and sincere support for the cause.

No matter how strongly you feel obliged to donate to the descendants of the GU272, you should vote no to prevent an unjust imposition on your peers. Anything else would be a slap in the face of liberty.

Rizana Tatlock is a freshman in the College. Henry Dai is a freshman in the College.

8 Comments

  1. You know what contradicts the very “value of liberty”? SLAVERY!

  2. Please get off your high horse of privilege and recognize that the reason you are even able to go to this university is because 272 SLAVES were sold.

  3. A “real slap in the face of liberty” is when black bodies are strung across slave plantations and black babies are ripped from their mother’s arms…when my ancestors were whipped and sexually abused by proponents of an inherently white supremacist hierarchy within American civilization. Do not act like having students pay 27.20 is even in the same vicinity of HORRENDOUS ACTS OF OPPRESSION AND REAL INGFINGEMENTS on individual autonomy like slavery. I’d love to get coffee with either one of you writers and discuss just where you are wrong here.

  4. Wow, Jade. Not the most mature response. The writers have very valid points. You come across as upset.

  5. Felix Pilkington says:

    “Those who are not convinced by arguments for reparative justice will not be any more accepting after being dragged, kicking and screaming, into submission. In fact, such unjust treatment threatens to ingrain in them a deep sense of bitterness, sowing further division in our community.”

    I fail to see how requiring all students – no matter what their political beliefs may be – to pay an extra $27.20 on top of their tuition fees constitutes “unjust” treatment, and this article offers little reason as to why it does. To me, the use of the word “unjust” in this context seems to suggest that the authors of this article see reparative justice as “unjust” in of itself, unless it is voluntary. Holding oneself and others to a higher sense of morality is not only the right step forward, but it is also the most just thing to do.

    The authors of this article stand on the wrong side of history on this issue, unfortunately. Instead of siding with the descendants of slaves, they instead are siding with the descendants of the slaveholders. Slavery is a very real and very recent part of American history, and this article shows how little we have progressed as a nation.

  6. You make good points. Particularly that the university will take the money from the students, but then where is the oversight for how the money is used?

    Also, the university is the original benefactor of the sale of those slaves. So the onus of reparations should be on the university, not the students.

    Finally: What happens if a descendant of one of those 272 applies to the university—is that student obligated to essentially pay reparations to him- or herself?

  7. Charlie Best says:

    You chose your words poorly here on several occasions, and likely did your cause more harm than good. It also needs to be said that this statement -“true justice respects the autonomy of the individual”-.s flawed on a number of levels, did you actually read this through before publishing?

  8. P. Hargrove says:

    Kudos to the participants of this initiative! The harm and trauma is centuries old therefore no ‘silver bullet’ will begin to ‘repair’ the wrongs committed. Yet, the very fact that your campus is engaging in dialogue is so encouraging.

    Clearly, even those that feel the sale of humans was not acceptable, the way forward has not reached the point of consensus. Has there been any consideration about starting the funding of any efforts with the organizations and persons/families of those who benefited initially [the Maryland Jesuits and individuals who purchased the people & benefited from the lifetime of free labor]?

    The students ‘contribution’ could be in the form of an institutionalized volunteer corps that would engage on a grassroots level to collaborate on department /major related causes with descendants.

    The university should require students to take ethics, history, and economics courses to refute the centuries of misinformation concerning the African contribution to the building of this country and its wealth. This opportunity to ‘deep dive’ into the diverse languages, religions, skills, and humanity of these stolen people has no limits.

    All of my grandparents were enslaved yet they were all phenomenal, religious human beings and despite their condition, very unique, stoic, and insightful. This conversation opens the door for an enlightenment that is way overdue.

    My hope is that the paradigm shift in this country, created by your efforts, will be spectacular. Many blessings for your journey

    P. Hargrove
    Atlanta, GA

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