Undergraduate students at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., have voted in favor of a measure that would repay descendants of slaves sold by the school.
ABC News reported that students voted for the referendum on Thursday, which would increase tuition by $27.20 per semester to create a fund that would benefit descendants of the 272 slaves the university sold in 1838 to pay off its debt.
The Georgetown University Student Association Elections Commission said in a tweet that 2,541 students voted for the “Reconciliation Contribution” while 1,304 students opposed the proposal. Approximately 57 percent of the student body voted.
Vice President of student affairs at Georgetown University Todd Olson issued a statement after the vote praising the students who voted to make the amends, reported ABC. He said the university valued the students’ opinions and remained committed to addressing the school’s history with slavery.
The New York Times reported that in 1838, then-Georgetown College depended on “Jesuit-owned plantations” in Maryland to stay afloat. When the plantations were no longer able to produce income to support the college, priests who reportedly founded the institution decided to raise money by selling its slaves. The amount of money they made off the sale would be equivalent to about $3.3 million today.
Students at Georgetown University voted to increase their tuition to benefit descendants of the 272 enslaved Africans the school sold nearly 2 centuries ago to secure its financial future https://t.co/vRzL5y3uG6
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 12, 2019
Shepard Thomas, a junior at the university, is a descendant of some of the slaves sold. He is also a part of the “Students for the GU272,” a student-led group that helped raise awareness for the proposal. Thomas was one of the first students admitted under a 2016 policy that gave decedents of the slaves sold in 1838 admissions preference.
Thomas said the $27.20 fee was meant to represent the number of people sold without being too much money for students to pay. The Times reported that full-time students pay $27,720.00 in tuition and fees each semester.
“The school wouldn’t be here without them,” Thomas said, speaking of the slaves. “It makes me feel happy that we, as students, decided to set a precedent for the betterment of people’s lives.”
Fees collected would reportedly help fund education and health care programs in underprivileged communities in Louisiana and Maryland where some of the descendants live, The Times reported. The money collected from the fees would raise about $380,000 a year.
The proposal must be approved by the university before it goes into effect. If it is approved by the Georgetown board of directors, the university would be the first in the U.S. to implement a reconciliation fund.