In an effort to address its responsibility to acknowledge and respond to its history of slavery, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., will now offer preferential admissions treatment to the descendants of nearly 300 slaves who, in 1838, were sold by the school to pay down its debts.
The school said it will give the descendants of those slaves “the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community” when they apply, which means the applicants will “receive an extra look” and their relationship to the university will be considered.
“I believe the most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time,” Georgetown President John DeGioia wrote in a letter to students and faculty Thursday. “Some of the efforts that we began in February 2016 — a Department of African American Studies, a new center focused on racial justice, and the hiring of new faculty to support this work — are means of engaging this challenge.”
In February, citing incidents that occurred during the past year and a long history of racial injustice in the U.S., DeGioia outlined a series of commitments to address racial injustice at the university.
“Not for the first time, but in the past year and half or so, we have been witness to incidents that shake our confidence in, for many, an assumption that we as a country were overcoming the legacies — and their structural groundings — of slavery, subsequent segregation, and systematic racism in so much of our lives,” DeGioia said in a statement. “What we witness must lead us to confront how continual racial injustice within the American context is manifest and how to identify creative responses to it.”
Last year, DeGioia created the Working Group of Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation — comprised of students, staff, and alumni — to make recommendations on how the school can amend its historical ties to slavery. Along with preferential admissions status, recommendations have included developing a public memorial to the enslaved to ensure their memory is honored and preserved; renaming two buildings that were named for Georgetown presidents who facilitated the 1838 sale; and establishing a new Institute for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies at Georgetown.
“For a place like Georgetown, it is of special importance for us to recognize this history — to recognize its implications for our nation and our responsibilities to one another,” DeGioia said.