Georgetown University administrators launched a $400,000 Reconciliation Fund nearly three years after committing to create the fund to benefit descendants of the 314 enslaved people whom the Maryland Jesuits sold in 1838 to financially uphold the university, commonly referred to as the GU272+.
In an Oct. 26 announcement, the university announced the new fund, which will provide $200,000 worth of grants twice a year for community-based research projects impacting descendants of the GU272+. Both organizations and individuals can apply. Contributions from over 500 university graduates and members of the Georgetown community will help support the fund.
While the fund will prioritize projects benefiting the descendants of the GU272+, the university will also accept applications for projects that seek to engage with descendant communities related to those held by Jesuit slaveholders throughout the U.S.
The Board of Directors of the GU272 Descendants Association, a nonprofit organization committed to commemorating the 314 enslaved people that the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus sold in 1838, said they are grateful that the Reconciliation fund has come to fruition.
“The Descendants of Jesuit enslavement believe the Reconciliation Fund is a valuable part of a much needed response for truth, healing, reconciliation, and atonement,” the GU272 Descendants Association wrote to The Hoya. “Descendants hope that the leadership displayed by GU students and supported by the University will be an example of what can happen at all Jesuit Colleges and Universities.”
The Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) held a referendum in April 2019, in which 66.1% of students voted in favor of establishing a $27.20 semesterly fee that would go toward a fund to benefit descendants of the GU272+. Following the student referendum, in October 2019, Georgetown failed to incorporate the fee but announced its intentions to form an initiative supporting community-based projects related to the GU272+.
GUSA members organized a petition in December urging the university to deliver on their promise to establish this fund, prompting a university spokesperson to announce the fund would be launched in Spring 2022.
Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) acknowledged the collective efforts of alumni, community members, students and descendents to help create the fund.
“The Reconciliation Fund represents a new stage in our work to understand and respond to our University’s historical role in the enslavement of people of African descent and fulfills a commitment we made to our community in 2019, following an undergraduate student referendum,” DeGioia wrote in an email to community members.
Nile Blass (COL ’22), who served as Georgetown University Student Association President from Spring 2021 to Spring 2022, said she can’t predict the impact of the fund until the community begins to hear from descendants.
“Ultimately, the ‘adequacy’ of the fund is not determined by anyone other than the descendant community,” Blass wrote to The Hoya. “Though stakeholders like students and alumni obviously play an important role, they will (and should) always be secondary.”
According to the GU272 Descendants Association, student activism on campus was crucial to the formation and implementation of the fund.
“We, the Board of Directors of the GU272 Descendants Association are extremely grateful to the student body of Georgetown University,” the GU272 Descendants Association wrote in a statement to The Hoya. “It has been their leadership and activism, over the past seven years that has helped expose to Descendants and the public the Georgetown and Jesuit legacy of slaveholding.”
Applications for community-based projects will be reviewed by the Students Awards Committee and the Descendant Advisory Committee, which will provide a recommendation to the university regarding the projects and programs to receive funding. The Georgetown University Review Board — made up of university administrators — will be responsible for reviewing these recommendations and determining which projects will earn funding.
Zac Colon (GRD ’26), the Vice Chair of the Student Awards Committee, said the committee developed the application questions and the scoring rubrics with input from bi-weekly meetings with the Descendant Advisory Committee.
The five-section application asks applicants how their projects will impact the descendant community, how much funding they will need and how they will measure the success of the intended outcomes of their projects. All students interested in applying for the fund must submit applications by Nov. 25, and they will hear back from the university in December. The application cycle for Spring 2023 will open in January.
Colon said it may take many years to fully recognize whether the Reconciliation Fund achieves its goal of benefitting descendant communities.
“It is hard to judge the Reconciliation Fund in the early stages,” Colon wrote to The Hoya. “This is a sensitive topic to many students and community members around the country, so it is up to the Awards Committee to continue to find ways to broaden our outreach to descendant communities and make sure this committee does its job with due diligence. It will require continued student input and support.”
Colon said the Reconciliation Fund is a long-term project that he hopes will lift descendant communities and is a necessary first step for the university to take to acknowledge its history of slavery.
“This is a long-term project at Georgetown, it will take many years to fully forgive the University’s history of slavery, but it’s a necessary first step,” Colon wrote. “We need to make sure that this is not an empty gesture. We need to make sure that these organizations succeed long term.”
For Blass, key questions still remain regarding the fund.
“I think two huge questions remain — will the functioning fund operate as is presented by the administration? And does the Descendant Association fully represent the broader descendant community’s wants and needs?” Blass wrote. “Either way, if descendants do not feel valued or seen by this measure, it is inherently inadequate.”
This article was updated on 11/9/2022 to correct the grant amount from $400,000 twice a year to $200,000 twice a year.