As Americans continue to confront their nation's history of slavery, a major university just took a big step towards publicly addressing its own role. On Thursday, Georgetown University announced that it is awarding preferential status in the admissions process to the descendants of 272 slaves the school sold in 1838.
In addition to offering an admissions advantage to the descendants of these slaves, Georgetown formally apologized and introduced a new institute that will study slavery.
During the early 19th century, the Jesuits who ran Georgetown paid off their debts by selling 272 slaves to plantations in the South. The sales reportedly netted $115,000, which is equivalent to $3.3 million today.
While Georgetown is now the first American school to give the descendants of slaves the same preferential treatment that legacy students receive, there seems to be one major thing missing from Georgetown's new admissions advantage.
One tweet from New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones just about covers it.
Despite the admissions boost for the slaves' descendants, Georgetown has not mentioned a plan to offer financial aid or scholarships to help these students pay for college.
So while we're equating nineteenth century sales to their worth today, is preferential treatment in the admissions process worth $3.3 million? More importantly, is it an even exchange for the hardships suffered and the families separated?
Tuition at Georgetown is over $48,000 a year — and that's not including room and board, as well as other academic expenses. A financial aid program created specifically for the descendants would make it more likely that they would be able to attend and take advantage of the university's offer.
It is still worth acknowledging Georgetown's efforts as a laudable first step. We hope that its decision to take ownership of its past will inspire other schools to make amends for their roles in slavery.
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