Posted on September 3, 2019

An Update on the Status of the GU272 Referendum on Reparations

Students for GU272, Facebook, August 25, 2019

On April 11th, the Georgetown student body voted overwhelming to pass the GU272 referendum, with 66.1% of the 3,845 students who voted voting yes. This firmly illustrates the commitment the student body has made to engaging in financial reconciliation with the descendants of the enslaved people who built Georgetown.

The advocacy team recognizes the importance of centering descendant perspectives and needs. Because the financial commitment of $27.20 enables the return of capital to descendant communities, it is an absolutely necessary component of action. The framework proposed by the referendum is meant to foster a direct, long-lasting relationship between descendants and students by creating a board of its own to determine how to allocate the funds collected. We created the referendum as a mechanism by which we as undergraduate students could financially commit to addressing our university’s slaveholding legacy. We urge others to use their moral imagination to develop similar context-inspired mechanisms to aid in the pursuit of institutional redress.

On June 14th, the advocacy team met with members of the Board of Directors to discuss the implementation of this referendum. This was the first step toward making our vote a reality, and we understand that thoughtful implementation will take time. In early August, the advocacy team had a follow-up meeting with members of the administration. In this meeting, administrators listed some concerns brought forth by the university’s Board of Directors. After the meeting, administrators released a statement listing the questions they had raised, including concerns regarding “governance structures and non-profit status, sources of funding, [and] consultations with the Descendant community.”

However, neither the meeting nor the statement confirmed that this referendum will be implemented or created a comprehensive plan of action to address these questions. While university administrators have repeatedly articulated their commitment to continued dialogue, they have failed to clarify tangible steps forward. As of now, the advocacy team has not received clear indication of the university’s commitment to implementing the referendum. This measure was democratically voted on and approved by the student body, and we as students must continue to hold the administration responsible for implementing the referendum in a timely manner.

As we enter the academic year, we hope to receive a confirmation that the Board of Directors will take action going forward. Failing to implement the referendum would not only be ignoring the democratic process of the student body, but also further ignoring our responsibility to descendant communities.

Atoning for the sins of slavery must be an ongoing effort by every member of the Georgetown community. $27.20 a semester by no means equals our debt to descendant communities; it is simply a first step. We urge all students to dedicate time to educating themselves and others on the history of our university, and to develop a personal understanding of the slaveholding legacy that our university community is responsible for addressing.

Georgetown University and all who benefit from it hold an outstanding debt to the descendants of the enslaved people who built this university. The referendum does not seek to absolve our institution from paying its debts. We expect the Board of Directors to clarify a plan for implementation of the referendum, and solidify its own commitment to reconciliation.

— the GU272 Student Advocacy Team