The Georgetown University Student Association senate is considering a resolution calling on the university to erect a memorial honoring the 272 slaves sold in 1838 by the Maryland Society of Jesus and to take up the recommendations proposed by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation.
Senator Sam Appel (COL ’20) drafted the proposal, titled “A Resolution Calling For Georgetown To Transform Its Legacy.” The resolution contextualizes Georgetown’s recent attempts to acknowledge its historical dependence on slavery.
The resolution concludes by urging Georgetown’s administration to execute more of the suggestions provided in the Working Group’s 2016 report. Georgetown completed one recommendation when it announced in Sept. 2016 that the university would offer legacy preference in admissions to descendants of the 272 slaves who applied to the university. In addition, in April 2017, the university released a public apology for the sale of the 272 slaves and renamed two on-campus buildings to honor two of the formerly enslaved peoples.
The proposal specifies three key steps for the university: creating an on-campus memorial in concert with the recognition of slavery-related historical sites, launching an oral history initiative to preserve accounts of the descendants of the 272 slaves and funding scholarships named for former Georgetown slaves that promote racial equality.
Appel said that the university’s rejection of Fax Victor’s (COL ’19) offer to design, build and fund a small on-campus memorial honoring the 272 slaves was what spurred him to write the resolution.
Victor, who helped Appel draft the resolution, has experience in illuminated tombstone design. He was inspired by reading the report of the working group, which devoted an entire committee to the issue of memorialization at Georgetown. Victor designed a model of a small memorial and offered to finance its supplies and construction. He said he met with university officials, asking for a concrete platform and the necessary space outside Arrupe Hall, which is located on the former site of a segregated graveyard. Part of a femur was found during Arrupe’s construction in 2014.
University officials told Victor they supported the idea, but had to engage in discussions with other groups, such as the Society of Jesus and the descendants of the 272 slaves, according to Victor. Memorialization efforts have lost their momentum in the past few years, and Victor worries that future students will be unaware of slavery’s legacy at Georgetown.
“I absolutely feel that progress has stalled since the working group finished, but there’s more to be done,” he said. “I love Georgetown, and I love the tenets that we pride ourself [sic] on, but we have to practice what we preach.”
The university is actively working to make sure it properly addresses and atones for its history with slavery, university spokesperson Meghan Dubyak wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“The Descendant Community, the Society of Jesus, and Georgetown are engaged in a dialogue with the goal of reconciliation and transformation regarding the legacy of slavery,” Dubyak wrote. “The process is anchored in the practice of trust-building, truth-telling, racial healing, and transformation.”
The university welcomes open dialogue with GUSA and with the broader student body in its efforts to confront the terrible legacy of slavery, both in its own history and nationally, according to Dubyak.
“We believe that this kind of collaborative approach is the best path toward reconciliation and responding to the challenges of racial injustice today,” she said.
Appel, who began writing the resolution on Tuesday, had not formally submitted it for introduction as of Thursday, according to senate Speaker Eliza Lafferty (COL ’21) in a message to The Hoya. Senate bylaws require that a resolution be referred to the Speaker by 5 p.m. on Friday in order to be debated at the weekly Sunday senate meeting.
Appel intends to submit the resolution before the deadline, but is waiting in order to gain as many signatures in support from students as possible, he said. The resolution had 201 signatures at time of publication. Appel remains optimistic about the resolution’s chances of enactment.
“I think the senate will approve this resolution. We definitely have senators who are passionate on this issue and will push for it,” Appel said. “I think the GUSA executive will also absolutely be behind us.”
Other activists welcomed the resolution, but cautioned that it was only a first step toward increasing pressure on the university, due to GUSA’s limited power. Hannah Michael (SFS ’21), who helped Appel draft the resolution, said memorialization is only one of many initiatives recommended by the working group.
“Passing the resolution is meant to be symbolic. Ideally, the university would see that students care and be compelled to act on that,” Michael said. “But the resolution is only the bare bones of what absolutely must happen. We don’t want the dialogue to end with the resolution being passed.”
This story was updated at 4:53 p.m. on Nov. 9 to clarify certain details on the university’s steps towards addressing the suggestions from the working group. A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that several human remains were found during Arrupe’s construction, but a part of a femur was found.