Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:
I am writing to you with an update about our work to address Georgetown’s historical ties to slavery and its impact on our community. As we opened this academic year, I asked our community to come together to reflect upon our University’s history and involvement in the institution of slavery. In September, I convened a Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation to make recommendations on how best to acknowledge and recognize this history; examine and interpret the history of certain sites on our campus; and convene events and opportunities for dialogue. This group has been meeting this fall to consider recommendations and engage in the work of their charge.
Conversations on these issues have also been occurring in our residence halls, in our classrooms, in our sacred spaces, and across our campus. This week, our community gathered in Red Square in solidarity with students around the nation.
The issue of how to address certain sites on our campus and their ties to slavery has been of particular significance to our community. Friday morning, I met with a group of students who gathered in the President’s Office. The students shared with me their opinions on the importance of changing the name of two buildings.
On Friday afternoon, the Working Group shared with me their recommendation to rename Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall. I have reviewed the working group’s recommendation with our Board of Directors and I have accepted the recommendation to remove these names.
I have also accepted the Working Group’s recommendation to provide interim names for Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall - Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall, respectively - while the working group continues on the work in which they were charged. I invite you to read their full recommendation and statement below.
As a University, we are a place where conversations are convened and dialogue is encouraged, even on topics that may be difficult. This is what we will continue to do at Georgetown. We are supportive of our students and proud of the depth of their engagement in these urgent conversations. These issues require the very best of each of us and call us to continue to come together as a community to engage this important work.
I am deeply grateful to our Working Group for the thoughtful approach in which they have engaged their charge and to all of those contributing to the vibrant dialogue taking place across our campus community. I look forward to continuing our work together.
John J. DeGioia
Statement and Recommendation by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation
Since we began our work in September, our Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation has held five meetings and has been thoughtfully considering how best to acknowledge and recognize Georgetown’s historical relationship with the institution of slavery; examine and interpret the history of certain sites on our campus, to include Mulledy Hall; and convene events and opportunities for dialogue on these issues.
The suggestion by the Black Leadership Forum and other students that the names of Mulledy and McSherry be removed from buildings on our campus are consistent with the conversations in our working group over the past two months. For this reason, we are very encouraged by and welcome the suggestions of the Black Leadership Forum and other students. Their words are shaped by a thoughtfulness, a passion, and a spirit of constructive engagement that we appreciate deeply and hope will sustain us through the course of this important and painful conversation about our history and its legacy. We are especially moved by the concern for the naming of buildings and the identification of special sites on campus, such as burial plots.
The Working Group is in the process of figuring out the full extent of Georgetown’s unjust enrichment at the expense of the enslaved and is developing ways to foster a conversation about the history and its legacy. It is a complicated history. We cannot, as of yet, even determine with certainty the number of slaves sold by Father Mulledy or the larger number who contributed for decades to the growth of the school.
At the same time we share the urgency felt in many corners of the university community that something must be done to address the symbolic injustice preserved in the naming of two campus buildings after Jesuit administrators who effected the mass sale of enslaved persons in 1838.
At our meeting on Friday, November 13th, we passed two resolutions as recommendations to President DeGioia. First, we recommend that the names of Mulledy and McSherry be officially stricken as soon as possible from the student residence and from the building that houses the John Main Center for Meditation. Second, we recommend that by the end of the academic year both buildings be permanently renamed with attention to Georgetown’s historical relationship to slavery and that the Mulledy Building be renamed specifically with reference to the enslaved persons who were sold at Father Mulledy’s direction in 1838.
Until a broader conversation within the community enables us to recommend a permanent renaming of these buildings, we propose to the entire community that for the remainder of the academic year we refer to the Mulledy Building as “Freedom Hall” and to the McSherry Building as “Remembrance Hall.”
We propose the provisional name “Freedom Hall” for two reasons: first, “freedom” is, quite simply, exactly what the Society of Jesus and Georgetown College chose not to offer the enslaved in the early nineteenth century. And second, the name would give recognition to the historical, global, and pervasive fight for freedom that people around the world are still engaged in and dream to realize.
We propose the provisional name “Remembrance Hall” for three reasons: first, remembering the specific persons whose involuntary servitude has unjustly enriched our university is exactly what we have failed to do. Second, remembering this history and these people is at the heart of our current undertaking. And third, remembering this history and these people is what we want to ensure for the future. In addition, we are mindful of the current purpose of “Remembrance Hall” as a center for meditation and the part that meditation can play in bringing peoples together in peace.
In light of these values’ signal importance—freedom and remembrance—and their neglect in our own history, the Working Group has begun planning a symposium on the relationship of the university and slavery to coincide with Emancipation Day, the April 16 holiday in the District of Columbia corresponding to the abolition of slavery in the city. The purpose of the symposium will be to draw together the many projects, events, and voices that we hope will have shaped our conversation about the university and slaveholding over the coming months. The Emancipation Day symposium will then be the launching point for the final recommendations of the Working Group to the university’s President and Board of Directors. These will build on and bring to completion the recommendations we have made in this statement.
In the meantime, we encourage immediately the adoption of the provisional naming at all levels of and in all corners of the university – Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall.
Finally, we invite you to join the conversations about how to best continue our work, beginning with several events in the coming weeks.
Two conversation circles will take place next week (on Wednesday, November 18, 7:30-9:30 p.m., in the Social Room of the Healey Family Student Center, and on Thursday, November 19, 11:30-1:30 p.m. in Riggs Library, in Healy Hall). Please RSVP here.
A teach-in will take place on Tuesday, December 1, 4:00-6:00 p.m., in the Social Room of the Healey Family Student Center.
Our goal in these events, and throughout the year, is to encourage robust and honest conversation, to provide a forum where ideas can be exchanged and developed, and to foster a creative response to this shameful part of our history. Listening is where the Working Group begins; the conversation is yours to shape.
With best regards,
Fr. David Collins, S.J., Ph.D., Chair of the Working Group
Ayodele Aruleba (C'17)
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., Ph.D.
Marcia Chatelain, Ph.D.
Haben Fecadu, J.D. (F’08)
Carolyn Forché, M.F.A.
John Glavin, Ph.D. (C'64)
Maurice Jackson, Ph.D. (G'95, G'01)
Rosemary Kilkenny, J.D. (L'87)
Connor Maytnier (C’17)
Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., J.D. (C'88)
Matthew Quallen (F’16)
Adam Rothman, Ph.D.
Daviree Velazquez, M.Ed.
Chris Wadibia (C’16)
Crystal Walker (F'16)