Georgetown University is doing its part to finally give descendants of slaves their 40 acres and a mule, so to speak, by offering them preferred admission to the school.
"There is a moral, as well as a practical, imperative that defines this moment—that shapes the responsibility we all share: how do we address now, in this moment, the enduring and persistent legacy of slavery?" Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia wrote in a statement on the school's website. "I believe the most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time."
While the effects of slavery are certainly still present in today’s society, this effort feels a bit like it’s rooted in white guilt.
It just seems extremely convenient that the university would make such a profound decision while race relations are currently strained in the United States. Regardless of the motivation, something is better than nothing.
Back in 1838, the school sold nearly 300 slaves to save the university from debt and financial hardship, and Degioia wants to make up for that.
In addition to the preferred admission efforts, the university is also making campus-wide changes to better address slavery including a new Institute for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies.
They also plan to issue a formal apology for the school’s pro-slavery history and construct a memorial dedicated to the slaves “from whom the university benefitted.”
To top it off, the university administration plans to also rename one of its buildings Isaac Hall in honor of an enslaved man sold by Georgetown in 1838 and another hall after Anne Marie Becraft, a free black woman who started a school to educate black girls in Georgetown in 1827.
"This moment is an opening, a beginning, an invitation for us — and each of us is welcomed to engage, to offer perspectives, to reflect, and to understand anew the responsibilities that we have to one another," DeGioia wrote.
Renaming buildings and offering more educational resources on slavery are steps in the right direction. Preferred admission for descendants of slaves, however, may be a difficult effort for the university to properly execute.
Georgetown would need to be able to identify and recruit these descendants, which would require tracing their ancestry back centuries.
“I think it’s to Georgetown’s credit,” said Professor Craig Steven Wilder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s taking steps that a lot of universities have been reluctant to take.”
But even Wilder knows that the university would need to go to great lengths for this effort to result in meaningful change. “The question of how effective or meaningful this is going to be will only be answered over time,” he noted.
This is a far cry from reparations for slavery, but it’s certainly the closest thing to it we’ve seen in modern history.
Time will tell if Georgetown really puts its money where its mouth is to make sure descendants of slaves reap the benefits of these efforts.
Banner Photo Credit: Wikipedia user Daderot