Posted on December 11, 2021

Georgetown Students Renew Push for Reparations to Descendants of Enslaved People

Susan Svrluga, Washington Post, December 9, 2021

Georgetown University student leaders are pressing the school to act more quickly on a promise to help descendants of enslaved people sold in the 19th century to pay off debts at the school.

Nile Blass, the student body president, said she thinks most students assume the university has been donating money since it first announced in October 2019 that it would commit at least $400,000 annually to fund community-based projects to support descendant communities.

The school’s promise followed a student referendum in 2019 and protests calling for reparations that drew widespread attention amid a national reckoning over race and reconciliation.

Blass and other students recently held an event highlighting what they called Georgetown’s broken promises to the descendant community. The school pledged tangible reparations, the students said, but two years have elapsed. “Spoiler alert: Nothing has happened,” they told a room full of students and an audience watching on Zoom.


The university, like many others, has been confronting its history in recent years. The revelation of the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved people continues to reverberate, with efforts to learn more and to help descendants. The university has launched scholarly efforts, memorials and other efforts.

Two Jesuit priests who served as presidents of Georgetown orchestrated the sale, a decision that provided a crucial infusion of cash to the university but tore families apart and sent people to labor in cruel conditions on cotton and sugar plantations in Louisiana.

Thousands of their descendants have been identified.

In 2015, after student protests, the university removed the names of the priests from two campus buildings.

In 2017, Georgetown, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Society of Jesus (the Roman Catholic order better known as Jesuits) apologized for their role in the slave trade. The university promised an admissions boost to descendants, and renamed a residence hall after a man who had been enslaved.


Student activists worked for months to develop and promote a plan to help descendants of the 19th-century sale. In the spring of 2019, they voted for a student fee to raise about $400,000 for a nonprofit led by a board of students and descendants that would donate to charitable causes benefiting descendants.

While some objected to the idea of reparations, or of students already burdened by tuition costs paying for the university’s past actions, two-thirds of the undergraduate students who voted in the student-government referendum supported the measure.


In the fall of 2019, university President John J. DeGioia announced that the school would raise $400,000 a year in donations to fund projects, beginning in the fall of 2020-2021, to benefit descendants.

The university’s plan differed from that voted on by students in a few ways. A key change: The fund would be financed through fundraising rather than from student fees.

Students for GU272, the activist group, said the administration’s plan directly negated the wishes of students, by taking over the effort and turning it into a philanthropic effort rather than treating it as a debt to be repaid and an opportunity for reconciliation. The student group also said the university’s plan did not have any transparency around its implementation and accountability.


In March of this year, Jesuits and a group of descendants announced the creation of a $100 million fund to help descendants, and pledged to try to raise $1 billion through private donations. Georgetown supported the establishment of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation with a $1 million gift that helped initial planning.