Next Steps on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation at Georgetown

September 1, 2016

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

Earlier this week, I shared an invitation with our community to learn about the efforts of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, which began its work last September, and invited all of us to come together for an event today, at 4:00 p.m. in Gaston Hall.  Those who are unable to attend are welcome to watch online.
 
This morning, I write to share with you the report of our Working Group and some initial steps the University will take moving forward.
 
The report makes several recommendations that address the University’s responsibility to acknowledge and respond to our history regarding the institution of slavery, including:

  • Name Freedom Hall (once known as Mulledy Hall) as Isaac Hall, in honor of Isaac, the enslaved person whose name is the first mentioned in the documents of the 1838 sale;
  • Name Remembrance Hall (once known as McSherry Hall) as Anne Marie Becraft Hall in honor of Anne Marie Becraft, a free woman of color who founded a school for black girls in the neighborhood of Georgetown in 1827. She later joined the newly founded Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, the oldest active Roman Catholic sisterhood in the Americas established by women of African descent; 
  • Offer an apology for the University’s historical relationship with slavery; 
  • Engage with the descendant community in an active and sustained manner; 
  • Develop a public memorial to the enslaved to ensure their memory is honored and preserved; 
  • Actively pursue research and teaching, establishing a new Institute for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies at Georgetown.

You may read about the full list of recommendations here
 
There is a moral, as well as a practical, imperative that defines this moment—that shapes the responsibility we all share: how do we address now, in this moment, the enduring and persistent legacy of slavery? 
 
I believe the most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time.  Some of the efforts that we began in February 2016—a Department of African American Studies, a new center focused on racial justice, and hiring of new faculty to support this work—are means of engaging this challenge.
 
New efforts and ideas have emerged from the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, and still others will emerge in the time ahead.  As I shared one year ago when we launched this Working Group: ultimately, this will be the work of our Georgetown community.  Each one of us, and all of us, has a role that we can play and a contribution that we can make.
 
I wish to share with you some of the steps that will begin our work:
 
Reconciliation: We will offer a Mass of Reconciliation in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Washington and the Society of Jesus in the U.S., and we will engage the Georgetown community in a “Journey of Reconciliation.”
 
Engagement: We will engage descendants and members of our community in developing a shared understanding, determining priorities for our work going forward, and creating processes and structures to enable that work.  We envision regular meetings, documentation, and evaluation of our progress.
 
Memorialization: We will establish a living and evolving memorial to the enslaved people from whom Georgetown benefited, and will establish a Working Group, including descendants of those slaves, to advise on its creation.  I have accepted and our Board of Directors has approved the naming of Freedom Hall as Isaac Hall and Remembrance Hall as Anne Marie Becraft Hall.

Research, Teaching, and Public History: We will establish an Institute for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies to support research, teaching, and public history, as well as continued active engagement with descendants.  We will strengthen Georgetown’s Library and Special Collections to promote scholarship in the field of racial justice and deepen archival resources to support genealogical and archival work.
 
Opportunity: We will give descendants the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community in the admissions process.  In addition, our need-blind, meet-full-need commitments provide a framework in which to support students who are unable to meet the cost of attending Georgetown.  We will also work to identify new ways to enhance access and opportunity for those who wish to attend college.  We will continue to support schools like Cristo Rey that seek to provide stronger pathways to higher education.
 
These are just a few of the steps we will be taking.  I hope you will join us today at 4:00 p.m. in Gaston Hall or online.  In the weeks and months ahead, we will provide opportunities for feedback and engagement for members of our community—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and descendants.  Tonight, three members of the Working Group will host a conversation on Facebook Live at 8:00 p.m.  I invite each of you to share your thoughts on ways that you may wish to engage with us in this work, and we will be actively reaching out to descendants to invite them into this effort.

I wish to express my deep gratitude for the extraordinary work of our colleagues on the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation to more deeply understand our history, to engage our community in dialogue and learning, and to provide a set of recommendations for our ongoing efforts.
 
This moment is an opening, a beginning, an invitation for us—and each of us is welcomed to engage, to offer perspectives, to reflect, and to understand anew the responsibilities that we have to one another.
 
Sincerely,
 
John J. DeGioia