Because of course it isn’t.
Georgetown University recently took extraordinary measures to atone for connections to slavery in its past.
Georgetown’s Reparations Are Not Enough
College is as much an idea as a location. Shaded quads and imposing libraries, fraternity parties and football games, impassioned peers and engaged professors represent both the individual aspirations of families and the social goals of a nation. College is the ultimate consumer item of American meritocracy. Even as a debate about reforming college and its cost rages, the notion remains that college is something more than a training ground. It is special.
This idealism made it more jarring to be reminded last week that Georgetown University was an active participant in American slavery. On Thursday afternoon, Georgetown president John DeGioia announced that the university would offer a formal apology for the sale of 272 people in 1838 and that it would offer preferential admission to the descendants of these people, create an institute for the study of slavery, and change the name of several campus buildings to honor enslaved persons. “The most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery,” DeGioia said, “is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time.”
What does this mean in practice? As an institution, Georgetown seeks a discernible, traceable, and quantifiable responsibility to particular persons. In 1838, the Jesuit brothers in Maryland sold 272 people. There are records of sale. Names. Traceable descendants. Some form of delayed justice seems possible. Georgetown has a unique moral imperative because it is still connected to the Jesuit order. Georgetown still believes in sin and redemption. It has evidence of its sin, and therefore must act.
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