BY ISN STAFFSeptember 6, 2016

On September 1, Georgetown University president John J. DeGioia, Ph.D., announced a series of steps the university will take to publicly address historical roots tied to slave ownership and the 1838 sale of 272  enslaved individuals to obtain needed financial resources to sustain university operations.

Drawing from a report and recommendations from the university’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, DeGioia announced actions that will be taken by the Georgetown University community, including:

  • the celebration of a Mass of Reconciliation in partnership with the Archdiocese of Washington and the Society of Jesus in the United States;
  • rename buildings to honor both enslaved individuals and historical champions of racial equality;
  • establish a public memorial “to slaves from whom Georgetown benefited”, with direct input from descendants of those slaves;
  • establish the Institute for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies at Georgetown University;
  • award preferential status in the admissions process to descendants of the enslaved;
  • increase library resources related to racial justice and genealogical work;
  • and exploring ways to improve access to higher education, including ongoing support of Cristo Rey schools.

DeGioia discussed the ties between the historical institution of slavery and current issues of racial justice, and emphasized ongoing need for engagement within the campus community and with descendants of the enslaved.

In a statement made available on its website, the Maryland Province Jesuits said, “The Society of Jesus wants to acknowledge and understand more deeply the sins and failures of our past. It is our hope that the process initiated by the Working Group and fostered by this report will help heal the long-lasting scars of this deplorable eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history and advance the pursuit of racial equality and social justice in the present.”

In a letter to Jesuits throughout the United States and Canada, Fr. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, called upon the Jesuit community to reflect upon the “sinfulness of earlier generations,” while also remaining “alert to what the Maryland Province has named the ‘moral blindness’ of our own times. Seeing the errors of our ancestors is a challenge to examine our own conscience for the blindness affecting it today.”

Fr. Kesicki also noted that other Jesuit universities are working to understand and respond to their own institutional historical ties to slavery, including Saint Louis University and the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.  John Carroll University, in University Heights, Ohio, also recently announced the initiation of a campus community working group to research and address the university’s namesake, Archbishop John Carroll’s, involvement in the management of Jesuit plantations and slaveholding.

[Georgetown University, Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States]

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