Georgetown University students vote to pay $27 per-semester fee for slavery reparations

Georgetown University students have voted to pay a $27 (£20) per semester fee in reparations to the descendants of slaves sold by the elite institution in the 1800s.

The ‘Reconciliation Contribution’ fee would create one of the first reparation funds of its kind in the US and provide money for the education of the slaves’ descendants.

The creation of the fund was approved in a student referendum run by the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) with 2,541 voting in favour of the measure while 1,304 opposed it.

It would levy a $27 fee on students each semester to create a fund for the descendants of 272 slaves sold by the university’s Jesuit founders in 1838 to pay off debt.

If they succeed in getting the fund created, it would raise more than $400,000 (£306,000) in its first year, based on the university’s current undergraduate enrollment figures.  

The money would be administered by a board made up of students and descendants of the university’s slaves to provide money for the education of descendants and health care initiatives.

The fee would be added on to an already high academic bill, which is around $54,000 (£41,000) a year in tuition and fees for undergraduate students. Room and board costs average an additional $16,500 (£12,600), bringing the yearly cost of attendance to more than $70,000 (£53,500).

However the results are not binding on the university, which was founded by Jesuits in 1789 and is located in the leafy Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington DC.

Todd Olson, the school’s vice president for student affairs, said the university "values the engagement of our students."

"Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery," Mr Olson said in a statement.

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"We understand that the goals of the student referendum are to honor the 272 enslaved individuals sold by the Maryland Jesuits in 1838".

"There are many approaches that enable our community to respond to the legacies of slavery," he said.

"This student referendum provides valuable insight into student perspectives and will help guide our continued engagement with students, faculty and staff, members of the descendant community, and the Society of Jesus," he added.

The move comes as Democratic presidential candidates debate whether the US should provide compensation to the descendants of African-American slaves.

Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president, and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton did not support the idea. 

But several 2020 Democratic hopefuls, including senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have said they would sign a reparations bill if elected president.

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