Regarding the Student Referendum and Our Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation Efforts
April 12, 2019
Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:
Universities are places where ideas are shared, community forged, knowledge pursued, and understanding deepened. At Georgetown, we have a critical role to play in society. This is a role connected to our responsibilities as an academic community and to our identity as a Catholic and Jesuit institution. We sustain a commitment to the pursuit of truth and the promotion of the common good.
Over the past four years, we have been working to respond to Georgetown’s historical relationship to the institution of slavery and engaging with members of the Descendant community of the enslaved people of the Maryland Jesuit plantations.
Yesterday, our undergraduate students voted on a student referendum proposing the idea of a fund for Descendants created by a new student fee that would apply to all undergraduate students.
Student referenda express student views on an issue. Our students voted in favor of such a fee.
This moment raises complex issues that we are prepared to grapple with and embrace. Our students are bringing attention to deeply held convictions that we take very seriously.
With this strong indication from our students, I will engage key leaders in our Georgetown, Descendant, and Jesuit communities and our faculty, board, and student leadership to chart a path forward.
As we have pursued our initiative around Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, our judgment has been that the work of our community proceeds best when it proceeds in collaboration with the Descendant and Jesuit communities and when we utilize the strengths of the University to serve the common good.
In 2015, when we began this work as a University, we did not have a roadmap for the way forward. We had a charge and a responsibility to pursue this effort. In the years since, we have pursued efforts that have begun the work of memorializing and reconciling the legacies of slavery that have shaped our community and our nation.
In 2016, we had the honor of meeting Descendants of the children, women, and men enslaved on Maryland plantations and sold by the Maryland Jesuits in 1838. We have continued to meet with Descendants to deepen our relationships, listen, and seek together a path forward towards reconciliation.
In 2017, we offered a formal apology for our participation in the evil of slavery. We were joined in this apology by the Society of Jesus and the Archdiocese of Washington.
In 2018, together with leaders in the Descendant community and the Jesuit order, we began a new process of engagement that is helping us to develop a long-term framework for dialogue and collaboration among our communities.
We are pursuing work that is uncharted. We are forging a new path towards reconciliation. This work requires the best of our energies and the commitment of time. The transformation that is invited in this moment will not happen immediately or easily.
Our commitment as a community to this work, and to working with Descendants and the Society of Jesus, must be a long-term commitment that challenges all of us and contributes to a more equitable and just society.
We have worked to ensure that we have pursued such a path with respect for the many views and opinions that our community, the Descendant community, and the Jesuit community hold. Our joint work is in recognition of the wrong perpetuated in 1838 and in response to the evil of slavery from our founding through Emancipation and the vestiges of slavery present today in our nation.
There is more work we can do, work underway, and new work to be discovered that will help us play our part in responding to this urgent responsibility.
I wish to offer my gratitude for the sincere and serious way in which our students and our community have embraced our ongoing work to understand how we might best proceed together and respond to the legacies of slavery and the persistence of racism in our time.
Through our work together, with members of our campus community, with Descendants, and with the Society of Jesus, may we find the moral imagination to respond in the best way in which we are capable.
John J. DeGioia