Next steps on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation

October 29, 2019

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

I write to share with you an update on our work regarding Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation at Georgetown.

In the fall of 2016, we announced the University’s commitment to moving forward on recommendations provided by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation—a group of students, faculty, staff, and alumni charged with leading our campus in a dialogue about our University’s historical ties to slavery. You can learn more about the origins of our work and how it has advanced since 2015 on our website.

Since we began this effort, we have sought to respond to this question: how do we address now, in this moment, the enduring and persistent legacies of slavery?

As we confront the challenging reality of Georgetown’s involvement in slavery, we do so with families that have been impacted over generations—the Descendants of the children, women, and men who were enslaved on Jesuit plantations in Maryland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

We have had the privilege of getting to know members of the Descendant community over the course of the past three years, and to engage with them on a path toward reconciliation. This time together has deepened our understanding of the profound and personal meaning of the legacies of slavery and how, in dialogue, partnership, and collaboration, we might grapple with the manifestations of this terrible legacy in our time.

We ground our work in deep respect for Descendant perspectives and ideas, and seek to find ways that our future work can proceed in partnership with Descendants. At the invitation of Descendant leaders in 2018, Georgetown joined the Jesuits and Descendant leaders in a process of dialogue supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This Dialogue is guided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework, a process of dialogue anchored in the practices of trust-building, truth-telling, racial healing, and transformation.

Descendant leaders have shared with us the priority that they place on this Dialogue process and its possibilities for transformative action. We are committed to prioritizing this Dialogue process and ensuring that it is able to continue its work effectively as other ideas and initiatives are brought forward.

With this important commitment at the forefront of our work, I write today to describe our next steps following the April student Referendum and two additional areas of engagement for our University in the time ahead: Academic and Research Initiatives, and Public History. You can read more about these focus areas and find additional information on our website.

This spring, a group of students brought forward a student Referendum that provided a vision for how students could be engaged with members of the Descendant community. In April, students voted in favor of this Referendum, expressing their support for a new student fee that would establish a fund to support Descendants. Our students—those who put forth the Referendum and those who participated in the dialogue on this issue this past semester—have demonstrated a deep commitment to leadership, and we are grateful for the passion, energy, and creativity that they have brought to this important conversation about responsibility, history, and reconciliation. The University has engaged with a variety of stakeholders, including our Board of Directors, Descendants, alumni, faculty, student leaders, and staff, on the ideas outlined in the Referendum.

We embrace the spirit of this student proposal and will work with our Georgetown community to create an initiative that will support community-based projects with Descendant communities. This work will be grounded in our academic mission of education, research, and service; will provide opportunities for student leadership; and will be guided by extensive consultation and engagement with Descendants. The University will ensure that the initiative has resources commensurate with, or exceeding, the amount that would have been raised annually through the student fee proposed in the Referendum, with opportunities for every member of our community to contribute.

In the days ahead, we will establish an advisory group that will develop a plan for launching this initiative and soliciting ideas for projects. As proposed in the student Referendum, projects would be funded beginning in the fall of the 2020-2021 Academic Year. Advisory groups will also be formed to continue our work on Academic and Research Initiatives and Public History efforts. We envision that students, faculty, staff, alumni, and Descendants will serve on each of these groups and that they will engage our broader community on their progress and activities.

All of these steps will be taken with the deepest respect and consideration of Descendant perspectives and while ensuring that the process of Dialogue underway continues to be supported and prioritized.

We remain deeply grateful to our community for the thoughtful, serious, and caring ways that they have sought to engage our University’s history, and to live up to the call given to all Jesuit institutions by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Superior General of the Jesuits, in 1973:

“…above all make sure that in the future the education imparted in Jesuit schools will be equal to the demands of justice in the world. It will be difficult, but we can do it. We can do it because, despite our historical limitations and failures, there is something which lies at the very center of the Ignatian spirit, and which enables us to renew ourselves…”


John J. DeGioia