Despite discussing the results of the student GU272 referendum and holding conversations with GU272 Advocacy Team members in past weeks, the Georgetown University board of directors did not hold a vote on whether to implement the fee in the referendum at its June 10 meeting.
Between late May and early June, board members met twice with GU272 Advocacy Team members to discuss the process of drafting the referendum, campaigning and engaging the student body on the issue and plans to hold follow-up discussions with the group in the coming weeks. The board did not explicitly oppose the fee detailed in the referendum but did not announce any specific implemented responses or action to the referendum after the meeting.
The board’s members expressed a commitment to continuing to work with the GU272 Advocacy Team on ways to begin the process of reconciliation and shared they would be interested in pursuing different ways to begin the reconciliation process, according to Georgetown University Student Association Press Secretary Harper Thomas (SFS ’22).
Board members asked for the students’ experiences talking with their peers about slavery, memory and reconciliation, according to the GU272 Advocacy Team. While the board’s members seemed interested in working with students, the team hopes that the university will take concrete actions to respond to the results of the referendum, the GU272 Advocacy Team wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“Although it’s exciting to see that administrators so far seem engaged with the referendum and receptive to its idea, we hope to see more initiative and leadership from the university moving forward,” the team wrote. “We are limited in our capacities as full-time students and have made clear that implementation is going to require extensive administrative support.”
In April, students voted overwhelmingly in favor of a referendum to establish a semesterly fee that would go toward a fund to benefit descendants of the GU272, the 272 enslaved individuals sold by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in 1838 to financially sustain the university. Georgetown is not obliged to enact the results of student referenda and thus is not bound to enact the fee.
In addition to the referendum, descendants and the advocacy team have also worked on other recognition projects. In 2017, the GU272 descendants, the Georgetown Memory Project and the genealogical society American Ancestors partnered to create the GU272 Memory Project, an online database of genealogical data, oral histories and educational material about the genealogy of the descendants.
The board hopes to continue discussion with the community about the issue of a reconciliation fee but does not plan to come to a “yes” or “no” decision, according to university spokesperson Rachel Pugh.
“The Board will not be voting ‘up or down’ on the student referendum,” Pugh wrote. “As is its practice, the Board will engage thoughtfully and with the most careful consideration of the issues presented by the student referendum.”
The board of directors, which is composed of 39 members selected by the university, approves of major policy changes and advises University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) on university decisions. Among its responsibilities and actions, the board has previously allocated $75 million to a five-year maintenance plan to alleviate building maintenance issues and passed a tuition increase that removes a mandatory Yates Field House membership fee for undergraduate students.
The university is working alongside students to contribute to the conversation of racial justice and addressing the legacy of slavery at Georgetown, according to Pugh.
“The referendum provides valuable insight into student perspectives and will help guide our continued engagement with students, faculty and staff, members of the Descendant community, and the Society of Jesus,” Pugh wrote.
This week also marked a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on H.R. 40, a bill first introduced in 2017 establishing a commission to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans. The June 19 hearing included statements from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), author and activist Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the feature article “The Case for Reparations” for The Atlantic, and actor Danny Glover.
GUSA plans to hold the administration accountable for communicating next steps to the student body, according to Thomas.
“They have yet to outline a clear plan for how they will be moving forward with it,” Thomas wrote. “Recognizing that this initiative was created by students and overwhelmingly approved by the student body, we want to make sure that GUSA works with the GU272 Advocacy team to make sure that their work moves forward in the way that it was intended.”
The referendum had the highest turnout in recorded student government electoral history. While 66.1% of students who voted cast a ballot in favor of the referendum, the results have also faced significant controversy.
The GU272 Advocacy Team plans to work with both the student body and administrators over the course of the summer and beyond, the group wrote.
“We have no doubt that this is going to be a very long process but also recognize that it cannot begin without concrete first steps from university officials,” the team wrote. “We understand that passing the referendum was only the beginning.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the position of the board.