Georgetown University is ready to atone for its sins – and wants to start by formally apologizing for the school's past reliance on slavery.
President of the Washington DC-based school John J. DeGioia will deliver the apology on Thursday afternoon – and announce a number of initiatives designed to start making right on the wrongs of the past.
For example, the university plans to establish an institute dedicated to the study of slavery, launch an admissions program which will award preferential status to descendants of slaves, and erect a monument in memory of the slaves who worked, were bought and then sold for the benefit of Georgetown.
The committee stopped short of offering scholarships for those descendants
Georgetown, a private research university, was founded in 1789 and is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit higher education institution in the country.
Last year, DeGioia launched the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, a "sustained and long-term process to engage the historical role of our University in the institution of slavery and its legacies in our nation," according to the school's website.
These days, a place at Georgetown University is coveted and costs nearly $50,000 a year. The school's modern-day success, however, can be traced back to one autumn morning in 1838. Back then, the Jesuits owned hundreds of slaves, many of whom worked the tobacco fields close to a Jesuit cemetery in St Inigoes, Maryland a little over an hour from DC.
That morning in 1838, 272 people—men, women and children—were sold for a total of $3.3 million (in modern currency), loaded onto a cargo boat, and shipped out to the plantations of the south.
A significant portion of that money made from the sale of slaves was allocated towards Georgetown, which was broke at the time, and helped catapult the institution into success.
At least 12 other universities have also publicly addressed their histories with slavery.
Craig Steven Wilder, a historian at MIT told the New York Times that, as far as he was aware, Georgetown is so far the only school to offer a preferential admissions award to descendants of slaves. When the Movement for Black Lives – a coalition of 50 organization within the #BlackLivesMatter movement – released a policy platform last month, their demands addressed the issue of race and higher education.
"This move by Georgetown represents the beginning of what we might call a "climate shift," said Professor Frank Leon Roberts from New York University. Roberts teaches a course on Black Lives Matter. "One of the things that the movement for black lives has succeeded in doing is creating a political atmosphere wherein ideas that once seemed outrageous...now seems safe and common sensical."