Georgetown University made its case for reparations earlier this year when students voted to use student fees to fund repayment to the descendants of enslaved Blacks the university sold to keep itself afloat in the 1800s.
Student activists at the forefront of the issue are concerned, however, after the school announced that it instead plans to fund reparations by soliciting private donations.
On Tuesday, Georgetown unveiled its plan to raise $400,000 a year to aid descendants of the 272 enslaved persons it sold to keep its doors open in 1838, The New York Times reported. The college will use the donations to support community-based projects, including health clinics and early childhood education programs.
University officials said it will ensure the donations, which it hopes to raise through charitable giving from alumni, students and faculty, are secured to sponsor the effort, adding that the $400,000 figure is comparable to what would’ve been raised annually through student fees.
Also, while students will play a “substantial role” in the new initiative, they won’t be required to shell out any extra cash.
Georgetown has cheered the new plan as a first step in a dialogue with the descendants, who are seeking $1 billion to fund a foundation that will pay for education, health and housing, among other needs. University President Dr. John DeGioia said the institution would continue to be present in those talks, along with the Jesuits, who established Georgetown and organized the infamous 1838 sale, according to the Times.
The initiative, however, isn’t sitting well with student activists, some of whom are descendants themselves and argue that the university’s plan “directly negate the wishes” of students who supported reparations. In April, more than 2,500 Georgetown students voted for a plan that would impose a mandatory fee of $27.20 per semester (later increasing with inflation) to bankroll a nonprofit that would donate to charitable causes benefiting slave descendants, according to The Washington Post.
Students argue that the university’s decision to fund the reparations effort via donations instead of the initially agreed-upon student fees “transforms the fund that was intended to repay a debt that Georgetown has owed for over 400 years into a philanthropy effort.”
Shepard Thomas, a student activist and descendant of an enslaved couple sold by the university in 1838, fears that descendants will end up with the short end of the stick. He and other student leaders have decried the new plan, arguing that it “delegitimizes and undermines student effort and the democratic vote of the undergraduate student body.”
A member of campus activist group GU272 echoed this sentiment, saying she felt students’ concerns had fallen on deaf ears.
“I think they just decided to ignore our vote,” junior Maya Moretta told the Post.
Activists are also critical of how the university’s plan for implementation has been outlined, saying details surrounding “accountability” and “transparency” have been scant.
“It’s not a charitable donation. It’s not philanthropy,” Moretta said of the fund. “We’re not giving descendants something just because we want to. We’re giving it to them because we owe them a debt.”
In recent years, Georgetown University has taken steps to atone for its past ties to slavery. The private college extended legacy admissions privileges to descendants of the 272 enslaved people in 2016 and held a religious service apologizing for the university’s role in the slave trade the following year.
In a statement Tuesday, DeGioia said university leaders “embrace the spirit of this student proposal” and that its new plans will offer opportunities for student leadership.