Historic Step: Glasgow University To Pay $24.3M In Slave Trade Reparations, Benefit Jamaican University

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Glasgow University
University of West Indies students participate at Orientation Week 2017. Photo: Aneil Lutchman/Flickr

Glasgow University received thousands of donations during the 18th and 19th centuries and some of them, used for scholarships and endowments, were linked to slave-trade profits.

The donations are estimated to be worth up to $240 million by today’s standards. Now the university has made a $24.3 million commitment towards reparative justice.

It plans to establish a Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research based in Jamaica and Glasgow. The goal is to strengthen academic links between Scotland and the Caribbean. Glasgow has committed to fund the center for 20 years.

In recent years, many colleges and universities have examined their ties to slavery. Those studies have led to publications, academic conferences and monuments that honor the labor of slaves, according to Insider Higher Ed.

While most institutions looking into their links with slavery “do research and run“, Glasgow “researched and repaired,” said Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the University of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.

The first reparations attempt at a U.S. university came not from its leadership but from its students. Instead of waiting for the school to do something, Georgetown University students voted in April by a large majority to tax themselves to pay reparations for the university’s ties to slavery.

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The Georgetown fees will create a reparations fund for descendants of 272 enslaved Africans sold by the school in 1838 to pay off its debts. The fund will be the first at a prominent U.S. institution for students paying reparations.

Georgetown students will start with a fee of $27.20 per student per semester in the fall of 2020 — a tiny fraction of Georgetown tuition, which is more than $55,000 a year, according to Insider Higher Ed. The Georgetown reparations are estimated to raise about $380,000 per year.

Glasgow University’s reparations will pay for further study of slavery and other subjects that benefit countries affected by the slave trade, according to The Scotsman.

The University of Glasgow took a “bold, moral, historic step” toward reparatory justice, Beckles said. He described the Scotland university’s move as “an example of 21st-century university enlightenment,” before a gathering in Kingston on Wednesday.

As part of the partnership between the two universities, the new centers will host events and activities, sponsor research, coordinate academic collaborations with other universities and help raise public awareness about the history of slavery and its global impact.

Many descendants of Georgetown-owned slaves live in rural Maringouin, Louisiana, where the median household income is less than $24,000, The Atlantic reported. The university has nearly $2 billion in the bank and paid the school’s president $1,436,230 and the head men’s-basketball coach $3,967,988.

At Georgetown, “students voted yes because they believe they have a financial obligation to commit to reconciliation with descendants,” said Hannah Michael, a sophomore who helped come up with the idea of a fund.

Other U.S. universities that have started looking into their slaveholding past include Harvard, Brown, Rutgers, the University of Virginia, William & Mary. They’ve had conventions, built memorials and renamed buildings. None have transcended symbols to try and right the wrongs the universities have done.