Georgetown University has struggled to adequately address its past participation in the American slave trade, but the recently proposed referendum is not the answer.

In an effort to confront the university’s troubled legacy, the Georgetown 272 Advocacy Team proposed creating a fund of charitable contributions for the descendants of the 272 individuals sold by our university in 1838. This “Act of Referendum to Establish a New GU272 Legacy” narrowly passed the GUSA senate Feb. 3. Now, the decision regarding this referendum has been placed in in the hands of the larger student body.

In April, each Georgetown undergraduate will have the opportunity to vote on this referendum. We implore you to vote no.

If passed, this referendum will levy a fee of $27.20 upon every undergraduate student, every semester, “to be allocated for charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of the GU272 and other persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits.” The fund — which would amount to roughly $400,000 annually — would be controlled by five descendants of the GU272 and a board of five undergraduates, appointed by the GUSA president.

Though we wholeheartedly support the charitable intentions of the GU272 Advocacy Team’s efforts, we firmly object to their methodology.

Georgetown University alone, not the student body, has the obligation to pay for its past transgressions. The 2016 report issued by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation, while frequently cited by the GU272 Advocacy Team,  echoes this point. We encourage every student to read the report to learn about Georgetown’s shameful history, and to familiarize themselves with the actions recommended by a leading group of students, faculty and researchers. One key detail is apparent in the document: never did the Working Group never recommended that we, the student body, atone for Georgetown’s sins.

Our university has neglected to adhere to its promised memorial-building, class-teaching and research-funding. However, the student body is not obliged to pay for institutional failures.

The specifics of this proposal raise additional concerns that the Advocacy Team has failed to adequately address. Undergraduates alone are forced to pay this fee; no contribution is required from graduate students, faculty or staff. All of these groups benefit from the existence of Georgetown. The $27.20 cost per student may have symbolic value, but its meaning ends there — no cost data or project proposals exist for the use of the fund. The charitable investments suggested by the Advocacy Team are vague, anecdotal and fall short of the level of specificity needed when considering raising the cost of attendance.

In the coming months, the GU272 Advocacy Team will try to convince you that the obligations of Georgetown’s sins fall squarely on its student body and will present this referendum as a financial obligation rather than a choice. Supporters of the referendum will claim that we, by attending classes, living in dorms and accepting our degrees, owe an intrinsic debt to the descendants of those enslaved people who paid for Georgetown’s existence with their lives. While we agree that the Georgetown of today would not exist if not for the sale of 272 slaves in 1838, current students are not to blame for the past sins of the institution, and a financial contribution cannot reconcile this past debt on behalf of the university.

Most students were unaware of the darker aspects of Georgetown’s history when they decided to enroll. Most certainly, no member of the current student body ever participated in the slave trade nor willingly operates an institution that does. For many students, paying more than $200 over four years at Georgetown would add immensely to the economic struggle of college tuition. The Advocacy Team has not been able to make a concrete guarantee that low-income students would receive a waiver for the fee.

This referendum is a case study of good intentions gone awry. If this proposed fee were to become a reality, students would be footing the bill for Georgetown University’s inaction. We encourage the GU272 Advocacy Team to lobby our administration to pay its debts and not take aim at our already cash-strapped student body.

We fear the precedent that we will set if this referendum is allowed to pass — we cannot demand students self-fund every project Georgetown fails to deliver. Please join us in voting no on this referendum in April.

Hayley Grande is a sophomore in the College. Samuel Dubke is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Both are GUSA senators.

9 Comments

  1. As a student not on the GU272 Advocacy Team, this opinion piece is incredibly frustrating because of its framing and factual inaccuracies. The article uses language to ostensibly appear in favor of Georgetown reconciling with its past, but then belittles the incredible amounts of hard work that the team put into creating this referendum, and even attacks their behavior in a misrepresentation of facts. Part of the article that was omitted from this online version, but can be found in the print version states, “We furthermore disapprove of the manner in which the referendum was passed through the GUSA senate…during both general body meetings in which the act was considered, advocates commandeered control of the room to stifle the debate.” GUSA meetings are public, and as a student that was in attendance of meetings of both the Ways and Means Committee and GUSA Senate, I can attest to the fact that the advocates followed proper quorum. Although there were contentious moments, which is understandable given the strong emotional connection to the sale of human beings, they did not intend to disrespect others, but rather to have open dialogue and respond to misgivings. The students who were present were there not to intimidate senators in opposition of the referendum, but to learn and show support, not as a part of GUSA or the Advocacy Team, but on their own accord. The advocates did not commandeer control of the room to stifle the debate, and this piece fails to mention one senator who read off a pre-prepared statement for approximately 15 minutes in opposition of the referendum during both senate meetings. I would consider this a blatant commandeering of space on the part of a senator in opposition, but the Advocacy Team acted with respect.

    Furthermore, the article states that the referendum“…narrowly passed the GUSA senate,” which is true, but misrepresents the fact that only four present senators voted against the resolution. It is not that the “obligation of Georgetown’s sins fall squarely on its student body,” but rather that this is a radical starting point for Georgetown and other institutions to address their legacies and force conversations about the less palatable aspects of the past. Additionally, the article attempts to emphasize that this referendum would negatively affect low income students, but it fails to mention that during the senate meeting in which the referendum was passed, students/senators who identified as low income expressed their support for the financial contribution. I agree that “a financial contribution cannot reconcile this past debt on behalf of the university” because nothing can truly reconcile the fact that Georgetown’s actions contributed to the systemic disadvantagement of vulnerable people such as the descendants living in Maringouin. But arguing for students to continue the trend of doing nothing is not a productive way to reconcile the past.

    They also argue that “most students were unaware of the darker aspects of Georgetown’s history when they decided to enroll,” but I would contend that this was information that was widely accessible in major news outlets such as the Washington Post and NYT from 2016-2018. They also state that “no member of the current student body ever participated in the slave trade nor willingly operates an institution that does” — the use of “willingly” here indicates a passivity with which students should accept the accountability of their actions. As people with the opportunity to attend an institution like Georgetown, we must be held accountable for our actions and understand how we contribute to systemic oppression by how we choose or choose not to act.

    • You claim that Haley and Sam’s article has factual inaccuracies and is frustrating because of its framing. It’s actually totally accurate and its framing is just a different way of coming to conclusions on issues (otherwise known as an opinion.). You also don’t demonstrate how their logic (or framing as you put it) is wrong.

      As for the other points… I believe that the authors agree that Georgetown needs to reconcile with the past, but that they disagree with the way that the referendum is proposing to do so (i.e. forcing all 7,000+ undergraduates to pay $54.40 each year for something that isn’t their responsibility to pay). Unjust means don’t justify just ends (similar to how illegally obtained evidence can’t be used to convict someone in court).

      I think that everyone can appreciate the work of the advocacy team, but that was not the point of the article, which was to demonstrate why they disagreed with the advocacy team’s approach. Also, could you be more specific in how they belittled the advocacy team’s work? That’s a strong claim, and it’s not apparent to me.

      As for the part that was omitted. I wasn’t in the room so I can’t speak to what they wrote, but I think that the fact that it was omitted demonstrates that they had a change of heart. Plus, this is a very minor side issue that has nothing to do with what they’re arguing about. Also, 15 minutes seems a little long and exaggerated, but they were a GUSA Senator and are entitled to the floor to speak their mind for as long as they want until the Speaker or a majority of the Senate say otherwise (or so I would guess). And the debating of ideas seems to be a good thing in my book.

      According to the Voice, all of whom were absent were against the referendum and simply didn’t show up to save themselves time and ensure a “no” vote (because they needed 2/3rds of the whole body, not those present, to say yes). For example, both Dubke and Grande didn’t show up. They were only 2 votes out of 29 from being rejected as part of the referendum, so that does “narrowly pass the GUSA Senate.” So your argument is actually innacurate, not the authors.

      You never disprove that the obligation is squarely on Georgetown Univeristy. That’s the authors’ argument (well the main one). Instead, you say that it’s a radical starting point for sparking conversations. Well, that doesn’t logically flow that you justify forcing people to pay money. That’s like Trump saying we need people to talk about immigration, so I’m (as in Trump) going to tax every American $30 to pay for the wall.

      I am a low income student and I don’t support the referendum. And I know people in the Senate who are in GSP opposed to it. Plus, poor students don’t all think the same, which you implicitly state. Also, it is good to note again that the Financial Aid Office didn’t say that they would cover the $27 each semester. So it could impact low income students like me the most.

      No one is arguing to continue the trend of doing nothing (which is misleading because the university has taken actions since 2016 after the 2015 Working Group Report). They’re arguing that the means of doing this is not the right way of doing reparations. Students could still be involved by making donations voluntarily. It’s differnt when you force them to do so.

      Current seniors arrived in 2015 before the article. Also, does the fact that subsequent classes had access to The NY Times post mean that all 20,000 + applicants necessarily even read it? I don’t think so. Plus, it doesn’t matter if they read it; it’s still not their responsibility to pay.

      As far as being held accountable for our actions in contributing to systemic oppression, as you argue, do you actually think that a 16 or 17 year old applying to Georgetown is contributing to oppression? That’s just ridiculous. What’s not ridiculous is that Georgetown University, an institution around since 1789, sold slaves to survive in the early 1800s whose descendants are generally poor today potentially because of that sale is responsible for this outcome and should reconcile. This isn’t because of students, who therefore shouldn’t be forced to pay for Georgetown. If they did, it would basically be a “Get out of Jail Free Card” because then Georgetown wouldn’t have to do anything. Which is a worse outcome than waiting for the university to act in my view

      Remember to assume best intentions.

  2. Inque Hominum Salutem 2019 says:

    It’s not surprising that the president of college republicans and a trump supporter aren’t fans of reparations. This viewpoint takes a simplistic and shallow view at the case for reparations. Sure, we get it, no one at this university was there when Georgetown broke families apart and profited off of the 1838 sale of the GU272. The fact of the matter is that Georgetown has inherited this shameful, slave-owning history. And we as students are a part of that history. Together as students, it’s time for us to recognize Georgetown’s history and begin to pay back our debt to the 272. Because if we don’t, the university will surely never move on this issue.

    • I’m a Democrat, but I agree with Haley and Sam. Plus, not sure how political affiliation is connected to this issue.

      I think you are misunderstanding their main argument. It has nothing to with the fact that we as students weren’t there in 1838; it’s that we as students aren’t responsible for paying for Georgetown’s shameful history. I haven’t heard an argument that we as students are responsible. The closest I’ve heard is that since we indirectly benefit from the sale of the 272 by literally going here, then we have a debt to pay. But then we should also force people to make donations to Georgetown because we benefit in our careers from going here. My view is that students should donate if they personally feel obligated, but as a bloc students shouldn’t be forced.

      And the university, which by the way has a $1,000,000,000+ endowment, seems more likely able to afford to move on this issue than debt-burdened, no-income students. I should also mention that again it’s not students’ responsibility to pay for Georgetown’s problems. For example: students shouldn’t be asked a separate fee so that Georgetown can afford to Patrick Ewing’s salary.

      Unjust means don’t justify just ends.

  3. As an undergraduate student who pays nothing to attend this primarily white institution, solely because my parents together literally earn a wage considered to be on the poverty line, I feel disgustingly objectified by this article. How dare you use low-income students as a way to promote your racist propaganda? I am more willing to pay the $27, and perhaps skip eating out for a couple days than Hayley and Sam who I am sure have $27 laying around in their bedrooms. I hope they feel disgusted to sit on top of so much money and refuse to share only a portion of it to people who, as descendants of slaves, are more marginalized than Hayley and Sam ever will be, ever, and for no good reason. Tasteless article.

    • I am a low income student at Georgetown who pays nothing to go here and I do not want to pay this fee; low-income students are no one monolithic voting bloc. Many of my friends do not want to either, some of whom are persons of color. The fact that you and others would want to pay does not justify a forced donation on other people who do not want to pay. In fact, it’s all the more reason the contributions should be voluntary!

      Haley and Sam simply believe that students should be not forced to pay for something that isn’t students’ responsibility to pay. End of story. Also not sure how this is racist propoganda and way to go on staying civil discussing people who disagree with you (i.e. “I hope they feel disgusted)… Hoya Saxa!

    • Reparations the right way says:

      My family came to this country long after slavery was abolished to escape oppression in their home country. As a lower-middle income student, I had to take on crippling amounts of debt, with a good portion of my tuition going to subsidize students like yourself (not complaining – wealthier students subsidized me a bit too). I worked multiple jobs to deal with this burden. After years of hard work, I’ve paid off my debt, paid back my parents, and have enough financial stability to make significant donations to charities that support marginalized people. You mentioned that you’ve been “eating out” a lot at Georgetown. Maybe you should skip the Tombs burgers and stick to the ramen noodles like I did, especially with your parents at home living in poverty (and while you’re accepting financial aid). With a Georgetown education and unemployment near all time lows (including for African Americans, Hispanics and women), you should have no issue finding a job while you’re not eating out on M Street. In the meantime, please don’t advocate to coercively add more debt burden to other students that might be struggling and who have absolutely no lineage or affiliation with the people that committed these abhorrent historical acts.

  4. Haley and Sam are using low-income students as pawns to fight against 272, but not because they’re actually looking out for low-income students. I know this because they’re literally not low-income students, are probably not close friends with any either, and for these reasons should not be using low-income students as a justification. The dynamic of this whole situation (two white students rejecting to pay only $27 to descendants of literal slaves) seems very questionable to me, and I am with this reason claiming its racist propaganda. There are objectively no valid claims in this article, and subjectively, I think the writers are the worst types of people on this campus claiming to care for others when all they want is to look out for their own future regardless of who they oppress on the road.

    My point is that it sucks the writers had to use us as a justification to vote against 272, but even greater than that, it sucks that people buy into these types of tricks and support the same oppressive ideologies and institutions that created this problem in the first place. I’ve suffered, been threatened, attacked, and oppressed way too often and for too long to care about your civil discussions. Congrats on playing along with the system that was meant to give students like Same and Highley an advantage over students like you and me. i dont care about your hoya saxa

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