Georgetown Says Fundraising, Not Student Fee, Will Support Projects To Benefit Descendants Of Slaves

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Georgetown
Georgetown University students overwhelmingly approved creating a reparations fund by imposing student fees. The university vetoed the fees, saying it will fundraise instead. Georgetown’s new men’s basketball head coach Patrick Ewing, right, shakes hands with Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, left, during an NCAA college basketball press conference, April 5, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

In the spring, Georgetown University students overwhelmingly approved creating a reparations fund for the descendants of the 272 enslaved Africans sold by the school in 1838 to pay off its debts.

The non-binding referendum approved imposing a student fee of $27.20 per semester to raise more than $350,000 at the private university. The move attracted national attention and broadened the debate about reparations and wealthy white-owned U.S. institutions that benefited from slave labor.

However, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia announced in a letter Monday that projects to support those impacted by the slave trade will instead be funded through community fundraising efforts.

The 2019 undergraduate tuition and fees of Georgetown University are $54,104, according to CollegeTuitionCompare.com.

“The University will ensure that the initiative has resources commensurate with, or exceeding, the amount that would have been raised annually through the student fee proposed in the referendum, with opportunities for every member of our community to contribute,” DeGioia wrote, according to commercial FM radio station WTOP.

Georgetown students estimated the fee would raise $400,000 a year and they asked for some student oversight in how the money would be used. Students pressured university leaders to adopt the idea, chanting “Respect our vote!” at a meeting this month of the university’s board of directors, Washington Post reported.

Donors have “expressed a lot of interest” in the university’s efforts related to slavery, racial justice and reconciliation, a university official told the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity.

“It seems like a win-win,” said Miles Aceves-Lewis, a sophomore from Houston who supported the referendum. “The lives of the descendants will be improved, because the university is pledging at least $400,000 a year to help them — and students don’t have to pay.”

However, if the university funds the effort, Aceves-Lewis said, “since it’s the school’s money, they have all the power.” That means students struggling to get by don’t have the burden, but it means all students won’t be reminded of the issue, he said.

The university said the focus of the fundraising will be on long-term impacts such as a new preschool program or health care initiative. The university will also focus on academic and research initiatives, and history.

The next step is to create an advisory group and a plan to launch the initiative and get ideas.

“We envision that students, faculty, staff, alumni, and descendants will serve on each of these groups and that they will engage our broader community on their progress and activities,” DeGioia said in a statement.

The university apologized for its role in the slave trade in 2017, but has been called out to do more. It said it expects to launch nationwide fundraising during the fall of the 2020-2021 academic year.

In September 2016, Georgetown promised to give admissions preference to descendants of slaves sold by the Jesuits. The highly competitive university said it would treat those applicants as if they were the children of faculty members, staff or alumni. About 10 to 12 descendants have since enrolled, according to Washington Post.