The Atlantic

The First Reparations Attempt at an American College Comes From Its Students

Georgetown’s students voted to tax themselves to pay descendants of enslaved people, instead of waiting for the school to do something.
Source: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

When sordid revelations surfaced in recent years of how the sale of hundreds of enslaved laborers in 1838 saved Georgetown University from the cliff of financial ruin, the college cobbled together a multipronged response. It summoned a working group to study how to make penance for the wrongdoing.  It held a ceremony to deliver an official apology. It began giving descendants of the 272 enslaved people a bump in admissions.

The Georgetown working group wrote that “we are convinced that reparative justice requires a meaningful financial commitment from the University”—but so far, the university has done little to follow through on that recommendation.

Students at the school have now taken matters into their own hands. Last week, in a student referendum, undergrads the symbolically significant amount of $27.20 per semester to create a fund that will support the descendants of the enslaved people from whom the university profited. Many of them live in rural Maringouin,, far below the national average. The details of Georgetown’s potential new approach are still nebulous—Will students on financial aid have to fork over money? How exactly will the collected funds be provisioned?—and the results of the referendum could still be nullified by the administration. But if the vote indeed gets translated into policy, it will mark the first attempt by any American institution to give out reparations.

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