“We share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery.”
Georgetown University students voted by an almost 2-to-1 margin Thursday to increase tuition fees to benefit the descendants of slaves sold by the university more than 180 years ago according to ABC News.
The undergraduate referendum, which would increase tuition by $27.20 per semester, aims to create a fund benefiting descendants of the 272 slaves sold by Georgetown to save the university from financial ruin in 1838.
According to an announcement by the school on Twitter, the vote was 2,541 votes in favor (66.08%), 1,304 votes opposed (33.92%).
Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs at Georgetown University, praised students for engaging in the debate on reparations.
“The university values the engagement of our students and appreciates that 3,845 students made their voices heard in yesterday’s election,” Olson said. “Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery.”
In a statement before the vote was held, Georgetown spokesman Matt Hill said the university would review the student proposal carefully.
“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 said.
While the vote favored the measure overwhelmingly, not every student was enthusiastic about the plan.
“It’s unjust to compel 7,000-plus people to pay for the university’s historical sins,” Haley Grande, a sophomore at Georgetown, said during debate on the vote last week. “There is an obligation for Georgetown to reconcile its sins, and that obligation falls squarely on the institution.”
Georgetown’s history with slavery is unique among America’s educational institutions. On the brink of financial collapse in 1838, the university’s Jesuits decided to sell 272 slaves in a move that saved the school from having to close its doors.
While the university officially apologized for the sale of 272 slaves in 2017, many thought they could do more to atone for past injustices.
Georgetown University students have voted to pay reparations to the descendants of the slaves who made the school possible.
— New Day (@NewDay) April 15, 2019
In February, the student council officially proposed a referendum to create the fund as a benefit to the descendants of those slaves. With the approval of the students in a vote, the policy is one step closer to becoming official.
The news comes as national debate over the idea of reparations has flared ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Multiple Democratic primary contenders have vowed to explore the issue, including top names such as Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and high-tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced legislation to study the idea, saying it was a way to end “white supremacy.”
According to Booker, racism continues to prop up white domination of blacks in the United States, and his bill is a step toward changing that.
“This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country,” he said in a statement. “Since slavery in this country, we have had overt policies fueled by white supremacy and racism that have oppressed African-Americans economically for generations.”
“Many of our bedrock domestic policies that have ushered millions of Americans into the middle class have systematically excluded blacks through practices like ‘G.I. Bill’ discrimination and redlining,” Booker added.
That reparations have become a mainstream issue indicates the success of progressives in pushing identity and race to the center of American politics. Even The New York Times’ conservative opinion columnist David Brooks last month declared himself a convert to the idea.
However, critics have argued that paying reparations for slavery would be expensive, impractical, and unjust. In a 2014 criticism of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blockbuster Atlantic essay “The Case for Reparations,” Kevin Williamson wrote for National Review that race is just one of many potentially disadvantaging factors, and should not be at the center of policy.
“Some blacks are born into college-educated, well-off households, and some whites are born to heroin-addicted single mothers, and even the totality of racial crimes throughout American history does not mean that one of these things matters and one does not,” Williamson said. “Once that fact is acknowledged, then the case for reparations is only moral primitivism: My interests are inextricably linked to my own kin group and directly rivalrous with yours, i.e., the very racism that this program is in theory intended to redress.”