Descendant and Community Engagement Anchor

Descendant and Community Engagement

Since our first meetings with members of the Descendant community in 2016, we have met many Descendants, welcomed them to campus, hosted visits to historical sites, supported archival and genealogical research, and held events and memorials. Students have met Descendants on trips to Louisiana and Descendants have joined our community as students. We continue our work with Descendant leaders on creating a long term and sustainable framework for engagement and partnership. We are grateful for the opportunity to build these relationships and to continue to find ways of engaging together.

During the Spring 2019 semester, a group of students brought forward a student referendum that provided a vision for how students could be engaged with members of the Descendant community. In April, students voted in favor of the Referendum, expressing their support for a new student fee that would establish a fund to support Descendants. Our students—those who put forth the Referendum and those who participated in the dialogue on this issue this year—have demonstrated a deep commitment to leadership, and we are grateful for the passion, energy, and creativity that they have brought to this important conversation about responsibility, history, and reconciliation.

The University has engaged with a variety of stakeholders, including our Board of Directors, alumni, faculty, staff, student leaders and Descendants, on the ideas outlined in the Referendum.

We embrace the spirit of this student proposal and will work with our Georgetown community to create an initiative that will support community-based projects with Descendant communities. This work will be grounded in our academic mission of education, research, and service; will provide opportunities for student leadership; and will be guided by extensive engagement and consultation with Descendants. The University will ensure that the initiative has resources commensurate with, or exceeding, the amount that would have been raised annually through the student fee proposed in the Referendum, with opportunities for every member of our community to contribute.

In the days ahead, we will establish an advisory group that will develop a plan for launching this initiative and soliciting ideas for projects. As proposed in the Student Referendum, projects would be funded beginning in the fall of the 2020-2021 Academic Year. We have prepared some “Frequently Asked Questions” to provide more information about this step forward.

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Academic and Research Initiatives Anchor

Academic and Research Initiatives

Our faculty, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students along with archivists and librarians have deeply expanded our knowledge and understanding of the relationship between Georgetown, slavery, and Jesuit slaveholding.

  • Significant work has taken place at the Georgetown Slavery Archive, led by Professor Adam Rothman, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of History. This public, digital archive has reviewed, digitized, and posted more than 365 materials related to Georgetown, the Society of Jesus, and slavery since 2016.
  • Georgetown University Library’s Booth Family Center for Special Collections, a close partner of the Georgetown Slavery Archive, has welcomed hundreds of Descendants for special presentations, and, along with colleagues at the Library, has created new opportunities for students to conduct research, facilitated exhibits, and hosted public transcription events with the Georgetown Slavery Archive.
  • New courses, including courses on Georgetown’s history, in film and media studies, on approaches to memorialization, and the connections between slavery and religion, have been created and taught by Georgetown faculty and postdoctoral researchers supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
  • We have established new programs, projects, and initiatives to deepen our commitment to African American Studies, to promoting justice, equality, and equity, and to addressing the present day manifestations of the legacies of slavery and segregation on our campus, in our city, and in our nation.

We will create an Academic and Research Initiatives advisory group to continue to advance our academic and research efforts in this important area.

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Public History Anchor

Public History

Over the past three years, we have taken steps to memorialize this history and create opportunities for public engagement. We have taken initial steps in the dedication of Isaac Hawkins Hall and Anne Marie Becraft Hall in 2017 and remain committed to a permanent physical memorial, created in partnership with the Descendant Community.

A new advisory group focused on Public History will launch another phase in this effort. In the near term, there are steps we can take to mark sites on campus and increase awareness, as we develop a framework for public history and memorialization that will support reflection, acknowledgement, and historical memory.

All of these steps will be taken with the deepest respect and consideration of Descendant perspectives and to ensure that the process of Dialogue underway continues to be supported and prioritized.

These three new advisory groups—Descendant and Community Engagement, Academic and Research Initiatives, and Public History—will be formed in the coming weeks and their work will begin immediately.

History of Georgetown’s Engagement

In the fall of 2015, Georgetown launched the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. University President John J. DeGioia charged the Working Group to make recommendations to help guide our ongoing work related to slavery and its legacies. Read the Working Group’s Report and view video reflections from Working Group members on the Working Group page. As the Working Group completed its report in the summer of 2016, Georgetown began a new phase of work focused on formal engagement with members of the Descendant community.

Key Events and Activities

  • Dialogue process between the Society of Jesus, Georgetown, and Descendants, facilitated by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2018-ongoing
  • Celebration honoring Anne Marie Becraft with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, April 2018
  • D.C. Emancipation Day event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, April 2018
  • Holy Rood Cemetery agreement for permanent upkeep, 2018-ongoing
  • Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope, April 2017
  • Dedication of Isaac Hawkins Hall and Anne Marie Becraft Hall, April 2017
  • Delegation including students, staff, and Descendants for UN Slavery Remembrance event, March 2017
  • Admissions special consideration for Descendants, 2016-ongoing
  • Establishment of Georgetown Slavery Archive, 2016-ongoing
  • Participation in Universities Studying Slavery consortium, 2015-ongoing (Spring 2017 host)
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Frequently Asked Questions Anchor

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the next steps for moving forward on the ideas expressed by students in the April 2019 referendum?

A: The University is launching advisory groups to move forward on projects and activities in three areas: Descendant and Community Engagement; Public History; and Academic and Research Initiatives.

The Descendant and Community Engagement advisory group will be responsible for developing an implementation plan for an initiative that will support community-based projects that will work with and support Descendant communities. This work will launch in Fall 2020.

Since 2018, the University has supported a Dialogue process that was initiated by leaders in the Descendant community. This Dialogue process, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is working to establish a framework for long-term engagement. This is an ongoing, confidential dialogue with leaders in the Descendant community and the Society of Jesus to which the University is deeply committed. At the same time, we are moving forward to implement complementary ideas that have emerged from the Georgetown community.

Q: How is a “community-based initiative” defined? What is an example of a potential community-based initiative?

A: Community-based initiatives invite the Descendant community into the process of creating and implementing projects and activities that support Descendant communities. A community-based initiative is one that partners with and benefits a broad community, such as developing a new preschool program or health care initiative, with a long-term impact.

Q: How would the community-based projects be funded?

A: They will be supported by voluntary contributions to the fund. Any member of our community can contribute—students, but also faculty, staff and alumni/ae. We will develop fundraising materials to support this initiative. The University will ensure that the fund has financial support commensurate with, or exceeding, the amount outlined in the student referendum.


Q: I want to be involved on an Advisory group. How can I get involved?

A: Advisory groups will be formed over the coming weeks, and will begin meeting before the end of the semester. Members will be engaged for their expertise and interest in the specific subject area of the group. If you would like to be considered as a member, please email slavery@georgetown.edu with a few sentences explaining your interest.

There are many other ways to get involved as well—through academic courses, research, and events.

If you are interested in following the developments and activities of the groups, please also email slavery@georgetown.edu to be added to the news distribution list.

Q: What role will students play in the Descendant and Community Engagement advisory group?

A: Students will play important roles on all three advisory groups.

Student members of the Descendant and Community Engagement advisory group will be involved in developing the plan to launch this initiative in Fall 2020, as well as in the ongoing work of the initiative.

Q: I have an idea that I want to share for this Initiative. How can I get involved?

A: Ideas for initiatives and expressions of interest or support from members of the Georgetown community can be emailed to slavery@georgetown.edu.

These will be reviewed in the coming weeks and shared with the advisory groups as appropriate.

Q: The University is not implementing a student fee. How is what the University doing different from what the students voted for?

A: As we engaged with members of our Georgetown community and with Descendants, we learned that there is broad interest in supporting this work and in providing a mechanism that would let anyone across the University participate. We want to create a common framework in which everyone can contribute to making this initiative successful. The University is committed to ensuring that the fund has resources commensurate with, or exceeding, the amount that would have been raised through the student fee.

Q: What happened after the students voted for the Referendum in April? How was the Referendum reviewed and evaluated?

A: Since the referendum was passed by students in April, Georgetown leadership has held several meetings with students involved in passing the referendum. Key alumni leaders met with students in May. Students met with members of Georgetown’s Board of Directors in June. The Board of Directors discussed the Referendum on several occasions including at its June and October meetings. Student leaders also met with representatives of the Dialogue process in October.

During this period of consultation, comments were raised about governance structures, the university’s non-profit status, sources of funding, consultations with the Descendant Community, and connections to our ongoing Dialogue process with the Descendant Community and Society of Jesus.

Q: How much money will the University be contributing?

A: Each year the University has supported projects and activities related to the Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation initiative. In recent years, this has included undergraduate and graduate student researchers working at the Georgetown Slavery Archive and at Lauinger Library, annual student learning trips to Louisiana for courses in American Studies/History and Film and Media Studies courses, annual programming to commemorate Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia, participation in Universities Studying Slavery consortium gatherings (and hosting the USS symposium in Spring 2017), faculty research initiatives, and collaborations with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The University will ensure that the fund has financial support commensurate with, or exceeding, the amount outlined in the student referendum. The University will support fundraising efforts that will help to grow the initiative over time.

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