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Statement on Referendum

April 11, 2019

Statement from Dr. Todd Olson, Vice President for Student Affairs, Georgetown University:

Since 2015, Georgetown has been working to address its historical relationship to slavery and will continue to do so. Georgetown has taken initial steps to seek reconciliation, beginning with offering a formal apology to Descendants; renaming two buildings, including one for Isaac Hawkins, the first person named in the 1838 sale; and offering Descendants the same consideration in admissions that it gives members of the Georgetown community.

Since President DeGioia traveled to Louisiana in June 2016, Georgetown has met with many Descendants and heard many important ideas about how we might move forward together. The Descendant Community, the Society of Jesus, and Georgetown are working together towards reconciliation and transformation regarding the legacy of slavery. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is providing its knowledge, experience, and resources to facilitate this work. The process is anchored in the practice of trust-building, truth-telling, racial healing, and transformation. 

We have committed to finding ways that members of the Georgetown and Descendant communities can be engaged together in efforts that advance racial justice and enable every member of our Georgetown community to confront and engage with Georgetown’s history with slavery.

We value the engagement of our students and appreciate that they are making their voices heard and contributing to an important national conversation. Any student referendum provides a sense of the student body’s views on an issue. Student referendums help to express important student perspectives but do not create university policy and are not binding on the university.

We remain committed to working with students - regardless of the outcome of the referendum - to develop education and programming that will enable all students to meaningfully engage with Georgetown’s history of slavery and support opportunities for collaboration between students and Descendants. 

In recent months, a group of students, Descendants, faculty, and administrators have been meeting to deepen our campus’ engagement with the history of slavery at Georgetown. Students have brought forth a number of ideas related to education and campus engagement that we are working together to implement. We will soon be hosting a series of events to mark D.C. Emancipation Day, opening a new exhibit featuring work from the Georgetown Slavery Archive, and exploring new curricular options for students to engage with our history starting in the next academic year.

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