Regarding our Efforts on Slavery and Racial Injustice

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

As our academic year comes to a close, I write to share with you some reflections on the work that has been underway on our campus to address the persistence of racial injustice in our nation and the historical role that Georgetown played in the institution of slavery.

Two significant efforts have guided our engagement: The Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation, which began its work in September of last year; and The Working Group on Racial Injustice: A Georgetown Response, which I described in remarks to our community on February 4th and which began its work in March. I look forward to sharing updates on their work to develop new academic opportunities in the coming semester.

In recent days, aspects of our work were featured in a powerful article in The New York Times. We are deeply grateful to the members of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation for their efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation, reflection, and deeper understanding. Over the course of the past year, our efforts to address the historical legacy of slavery have focused on a new digital archive of historical documents, conducting archival research on the slaves and searching for their descendants, community dialogues, a Teach-In, and a week-long symposium taking place this week in honor of D.C. Emancipation Day. I look forward to their forthcoming recommendations at the end of the semester.

Our work—to remember, to reflect, to act—continues in important ways.

These efforts—which build upon the dedicated work of many in our community over the course of the past few decades—provide distinct opportunities for our community to make substantive contributions to the ways in which we study, engage, and respond to historic and contemporary understandings of racial injustice. 

At the conclusion of the fall semester, we had a special ceremony in which we removed the names from two of our buildings, renaming them Remembrance Hall and Freedom Hall. 

At that time, I shared these words:

“Today, we mark a milestone in our efforts to make visible, and to reconcile, the role of slavery and the forced enslavement of Africans and African-Americans by our community. Let us not take comfort in this step. Instead, let us see this as a challenge to each of us. What injustices do we fail to see? When do we fail to act? Where is our own moral imagination lacking, today?”

Our University has always aimed to be engaged in the world. This is the moment for us to find within each of ourselves and within our community, the resources of our moral imaginations to determine how we can contribute to responding to this urgent moment in our nation.

I wish to thank our community for thoughtfully engaging in these ongoing efforts and I look forward to our continuing work together.

Sincerely,

John J. DeGioia