In the last several months, Georgetown has created a new chapter of its history. It is one that will acknowledge the university’s history of slavery and the descendants of the slaves who were sold by the school. As admirable as this new campaign is, it is not without flaws.
Over the course of this reconciliation with its past, the university has responded to the issue in a number of ways. Most recently, the university has renamed Freedom Hall to Isaac Hawkins Hall, a rededication that commemorates the life of the first slave who appeared in the draft that sold the Georgetown slaves.
On Tuesday, the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation convened a Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope, serving as an official apology for its complicity in the sale. Moreover, the university created an online compilation of records from the 1838 sale of 272 slaves, held vigils and town halls, invited the descendants to the campus and more. All of these events facilitate reconciliation by openly acknowledging Georgetown’s direct participation in the slave trade by buying and selling slaves.
But the most direct reconciliation effort is evident in the future relationship that descendants will have with Georgetown. For example, the university will grant the descendants legacy status in the admissions process and will offer admitted descendants a full-tuition scholarship. While this effort seems helpful, it fails to fully offer the remedies and reparations that descendants may need.
The term “legacy,” in itself, is an inappropriate label for the descendants. It sugarcoats the relationship that Georgetown has with slavery. To call these descendants legacies makes it seem as if their relatives were enrolled at the university, and this fails to highlight that these 272 slaves were sold to benefit Georgetown, and that they did not delight in the freedoms and rights that other students at Georgetown had.
To group the descendants and legacy students under one umbrella does not create an equitable boost to the admissions process. A “legacy” status should serve as a boost to a prospective student’s application. Traditionally, legacy aids students who plan to attend their relatives’ alma mater. These students are typically already prepared for the rigors of college and the specific institution due to the longevity of their family history with the school.
Most traditional legacy recipients are already prepared to enter college and often could gain admissions without the leverage. In fact, according to the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon, about 80 to 90 percent of legacy students were accepted without consideration of legacy status.
Traditional legacy recipients have someone who can give them insight into the university’s admissions process or the campus culture. The descendants, however, are deprived of the benefits of actually having an immediate relative who attended the institution or who can give beneficial insight on how to succeed there.
This issue is compounded by the fact that the disenfranchisement caused by slavery has not allowed slave descendants to access a college education like legacy students have. Unlike traditional legacy students, it is not guaranteed that these students have had best quality of secondary school education, nor is it guaranteed that they are indeed prepared for Georgetown’s academic rigor. Though legacy status is intended to give a boost to a student’s application, it cannot make up for centuries of lingering effects that our country has had on people of color.
Furthermore, these reparations only affect descendants who apply and are admitted to Georgetown, but fails to assist those who choose not to come to Georgetown or have not gained admittance. The university has yet to propose a recommendation that adequately aids all descendants of the 272 slaves, rather than just admitted students. This creates a flaw that makes Georgetown’s effort incomplete.
Though these reparations show a continuing effort on Georgetown’s part to be an inclusive community, paying homage to the memory of these slaves will never remedy the continuing aftermath. These efforts are a great start, but the university cannot stop there. Georgetown bought and sold slaves at some point in the past. In the future, Georgetown must consciously ensure that its participation in slavery and salience of these slaves is recognized in the university’s history books.
Anu Osibajo and Isatou Bah are freshmen in the College. This is the final installment of FIRESIDE CHATS.