Georgetown University announced Thursday that it will atone for its past involvement in the slave trade by offering special affirmative action to any descendants of 272 slaves the university sold more than 150 years ago. The school is also considering mandatory “sensitivity training” to improve the campus’s “racial climate.”
The exact nature of this sensitivity training is unclear.
In 1838, the Jesuit Catholic priests running Georgetown University sold 272 slaves for a total of $3.3 million in today’s money. Two of the college’s presidents, both of whom later had buildings named for them, organized the sale, whose proceeds helped pay off the college’s debts.
Now, 178 years later, Georgetown says it will atone for its past involvement in the slave trade by giving preferential treatment in admissions to anybody descended from those 272 slaves.
The school plans to atone in other ways as well. Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall, previously named Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall after the slave trading college presidents, will both receive new names. Freedom Hall will become Isaac Hall, after one of the slaves sold in 1838, while Remembrance Hall will become Anne Marie Becraft Hall, after a black woman who founded a school for black girls in 1827 in the Georgetown neighborhood.
The school has also announced it will erect a “living and evolving memorial” to the 272 slaves.
“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 President John J. DeGioia said in an email sent to the university.
Georgetown’s announcement was prompted by a lengthy report, released Thursday, which provides recommendations on how the university can atone for its ties to slavery. The report also recommends that the university examines how to make Georgetown more affordable for those in need, especially to those who are descendants of the Maryland Jesuit slaves.
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