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Georgetown’s Guilt-Industrial Complex

At the Jesuit university, contrition for slavery is an expensive and ongoing task.

City Journal – Last month, Georgetown University and the Jesuit order agreed to hand over $27 million to the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Trust, a nonprofit that claims to benefit the progeny of slaves owned by U.S. Catholic institutions. The trust was founded in 2021 and initially chaired by Joseph M. Stewart, who claims descent from one of the 272 slaves that Maryland’s provincial branch of the Jesuit order sold in 1838 to save Georgetown University from insolvency. Broken into a $10 million payment from Georgetown and $17 million from the Jesuits, the gift nearly triples the trust’s holdings, from $15 million to $42 million. The trust says that it plans to offer educational scholarships, medical grants, and unspecified programs in “truth” and “healing.”

More than 13,000 people now claim descent from the 272 slaves sold 185 years ago—more than double the 5,000 identified in the media as recently as March 2022. The figure is likely to keep rising.

Georgetown has been busy atoning for slavery-related sins for years. In 2016, the university promised to apologize for its participation in the slave trade (which it did the following year), grant preferential university admission to slave descendants (some of whom have since enrolled), and name buildings after and erect a memorial in honor of the slaves. In 2017, the university announced that it was removing from two buildings the names of Jesuit clerics who had facilitated the slave transaction. The school renamed one building for the first slave listed on the 1838 bill of sale and the other for a nineteenth-century black woman educator.

In 2019, Georgetown students voted in favor of a non-binding campus resolution to add a symbolic $27.20 fee to their semesterly tuition payments to raise funds for slave descendants. In 2020, the university adopted Juneteenth as an official holiday a year ahead of its congressional recognition. In 2021, Georgetown’s prestigious School of Foreign Service adopted “anti-racism” as a “central pillar of its mission.” That same year, Georgetown’s law school fired adjunct professor Sandra A. Sellers for lamenting in a private Zoom conversation that her black students performed worse than did her white students. Her interlocutor and fellow adjunct professor David C. Batson, who remained silent during the conversation, resigned amid criticism that he had failed to object.

In 2022, Georgetown Law placed constitutional scholar (and current Manhattan Institute senior fellow) Ilya Shapiro under two lengthy investigations before he even began his job at the school after he tweeted his opinion that future Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson had been nominated over more qualified candidates because she was a black woman. Shapiro was cleared of wrongdoing but resigned, saying that he would be unable to work effectively in conditions infused with such racialism.

In October 2022, Georgetown announced that it would raise funds to disburse $400,000 per year via a “reconciliation fund” intended to support public-service projects in communities where the slave descendants currently live.

Georgetown’s Office of Student Equity and Inclusion (OSEI), all of whose website-listed employees are black, maintains a 14-page list of resources addressing a wide variety of exclusively black interests, concerns, and services. It includes links to Black Lives Matter and similar radical organizations widely accused of corruption; to the error-ridden 1619 Project and other dubious historical sources; to documents OSEI describes as “police abolition education materials”; to donation sites providing bail funds to individuals arrested for violent crimes; and to websites that instruct viewers how to protest. Georgetown apparently publishes no list of resources for white students.

Virtually all the university’s divisions and departments publicize their unquestioning commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), racialist concepts that the OSEI claims are “essential aspects of Georgetown’s mission and identity.” No such claim was made at any time from the university’s founding in 1789 until only a few years ago, however. “I am personally counting on all administrators, faculty, staff and students to provide enlightened leadership and cooperation in support of diversity, equity, and affirmative action,” Georgetown president John J. DeGioia is quoted as saying on the university website, though race-based affirmative action in both employment and admissions is now illegal. Following this summer’s Supreme Court decision barring the consideration of race in college admissions, I wrote DeGioia, hoping that he would announce the abolition of all race-based procedures and programs at Georgetown and declare that he regarded academic and professional discussions of race as constitutionally protected free speech. He did not reply.

If Georgetown’s commitment to racial justice seems overwrought, don’t tell that to the slave descendants and their supporters, who have steadily increased their demands as they seek an eventual $1 billion in donations and other forms of contrition. “There is so much more the university has to do,” says Julia Thomas, a Georgetown undergraduate who claims descent from the original slaves and is active in a student organization called Hoyas for Slavery Accountability. She wrote in a November 2022 issue of the student newspaper that the school’s reconciliation fund is “insufficient” and “not reparative justice” because the $27.20 slavery fee voted by students in 2019 had not been made mandatory. Her fellow activist Olivia Henry lamented that the fee was “genuinely meant to be a symbolic thing of students saying we want to increase our tuition so that it is known by all students and all university faculty that students are invested in financial reparations.” Apparently, this verbose young Hoya would also demand higher tuition for fellow students who object to the fee; those whose ancestors never owned slaves; whose families immigrated to the United States in the 158 years since slavery was abolished; and Georgetown’s many international students, who, according to the university’s website, hail from 166 foreign countries, each of which had little or nothing to do with American slavery. Presumably, she would also bill Hoyas whose ancestors were among the 600,000 almost entirely white combatants who died in the Civil War, which, as prize-winning Georgetown history professor Chandra Manning has convincingly argued, was largely fought over slavery.

These embittered Georgetown students are further miffed that the reconciliation fund will be administered by a student committee in tandem with slave descendants’ representatives, and not directly by Georgetown’s administration, which they accuse of trying to avoid responsibility. As Henry put it, “the university can use students as a scapegoat if any of these organizations [receiving fund largesse] turn out to not benefit descendant communities and cause harm.” (Isn’t it easy to imagine, though, that if the Georgetown administration were put in charge of the fund, the students would object?)

Student critics are also up in arms about the administration’s failure to rename another prominent campus building, Gaston Hall. Its namesake William Gaston was Georgetown’s first enrolled student; later in life, he urged the abolition of slavery. Inconveniently, however, he owned more slaves than originally thought and, as a North Carolina state supreme court justice, he issued procedural rulings believed to have disadvantaged slaves. “This is a continuation of Georgetown’s commitment to white supremacy,” claimed Kessley Janvier, another angry young Hoya.

It is probably only a matter of time before Janvier realizes that Georgetown’s name comes from its surrounding neighborhood, named for King George II of England, who reigned over the Atlantic slave trade for 33 years; that she studies in Washington, a city named for a slaveowner who owned more slaves than Gaston; and that Washington itself is located in the District of Columbia, named after no less villainous a European slaver than Christopher Columbus. She may also learn one day that the gray in Georgetown’s blue-and-gray color scheme is in fact Confederate Gray, adopted along with Union Blue by the school’s boating team in 1876 to foster the very reconciliation that slave descendants now say can only be achieved with receipt of a ten-figure sum.

Janvier’s college years sound like much less fun than the ones I enjoyed at Georgetown. But before you waste $81,515 per year instilling racial guilt in your children in a decaying city with a per capita crime rate twice that of New York’s, let me point out that the University of Florida now slots only two places below Georgetown in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, charges a fraction of its tuition, has a much higher acceptance rate, and will soon be DEI-free under state law. The weather is better, too.

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