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. 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—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 continues to engage 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 embraced the spirit of the student proposal and are working with our Georgetown community to build the framework that will support community-based projects within 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.

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 400 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.
  • Lauinger Library facilitates several activities and resources that bring research about the University’s history to life and make it accessible for students, faculty, Descendants, researchers, and others. These include archives, collections, events, instruction, and outreach activities.
  • 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.

The Academic and Research Initiatives planning group, along with colleagues across the university, continue to advance our academic and research efforts in this important area.  In academic year 2020-2021, the group provided leadership in planning for the Spring 2021 Universities Studying Slavery conference, hosted virtually by Georgetown in conjunction with D.C. Emancipation Day in April 2021.

Universities Studying Slavery represents a multi-institutional collaboration focused in sharing best practices and guiding principles about truth-telling projects addressing human bondage and racism in institutional histories. The Spring 2021 conference brought together over 700 registrants – faculty, students, and staff from member schools, as well as Descendants and members of the public – for presentations and discussions around the historical and contemporary manifestations of slavery.

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Public History & Memorialization Anchor

Public History & Memorialization

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.

In fall 2020, incoming undergraduate and graduate students were introduced to the history of Georgetown, the Jesuits, and slavery through New Student Orientation programming.

A new planning group focused on Public History and Memorialization launched another phase in this effort.  In academic year 2020-2021, the group worked on a project to honor the lives of the enslaved people who are part of Georgetown University’s history and to support ongoing community outreach and engagement on our campus. The digital presentation premiered online as part of the Universities Studying Slavery conference in April 2021, hosted by Georgetown and held in conjunction with the university’s annual observance of D.C. Emancipation Day. The presentation will also be permanently displayed on a dedicated digital screen in the Leavey Center. The presentation memorializes the names and ages of the people who were enslaved and sold by the Jesuits in 1838, engages viewers with reflection prompts, and encourages viewers to learn more through QR links to digital resources.

The Universities Studying Slavery conference also featured a Walking Tour of Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation at Georgetown University. As part of Georgetown University’s Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation initiative, students in Professor Adam Rothman’s fall 2019 UNXD 272 class researched buildings and sites on Georgetown’s campus to provide historical context for understanding their significance. The Georgetown University Library’s Booth Family Center for Special Collections helped to develop the website in summer 2020. This walking tour is a living resource for students, researchers, Descendants, and the public, and allows anyone to tour these historic sites, either on campus or virtually.

As this work continues, there are steps we can take to mark sites on campus and increase awareness, as we further develop a framework for public history and memorialization that will support reflection, acknowledgement, and historical memory.

All of these steps have been and will continue to be taken with the deepest respect and consideration of Descendant perspectives.

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 the University’s  ongoing work related to slavery and its legacies. Since the Working Group on SMR completed their report in 2016, the university has prioritized engagement with Descendants as a foundational element of our work going forward.  Read the Working Group Report here.

Key Events and Activities

  • Dialogue process between Descendant Leaders, the Society of Jesus, and Georgetown facilitated by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to establish the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, 2018-ongoing
  • Installation of public history project in the Leavey Center, in conjunction with D.C. Emancipation Day, April 2021
  • Holy Rood Cemetery agreement for permanent upkeep, 2018-ongoing, and completion of restoration improvements, October 2020
  • New Student Orientation programming for undergraduate and graduate students incorporates the university’s historical connections to slavery, Fall 2020
  • Annual programming to commemorate D.C. Emancipation Day
    • 2021: Universities Studying Slavery conference host
    • 2020: Georgetown Slavery Archive virtual transcription event; video series; and virtual reading of the names of those enslaved and sold by the Maryland Jesuits in 1838
    • 2019: A Service of Remembrance to honor the memory of the children, women, and men enslaved and sold by the Maryland Jesuits in 1838; Georgetown Slavery Archive Crowd-Sourced Transcription Event; A Public Lecture with Christy Coleman, CEO, The American Civil War Museum on “Reclaiming the American Civil War Narrative”
    • 2018: Celebration honoring Anne Marie Becraft with the Oblate Sisters of Providence; D.C. Emancipation Day event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, April 2018
    • 2017: Emancipation Day Symposium, led by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation (see Appendix D of the Working Group Report)
  • 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 and Spring 2021 host). USS is a multi-institutional collaboration of 70+ colleges and universities, committed to research, acknowledgment, and atonement regarding institutional ties to the slave trade, to enslavement on campus or abroad, and to enduring racism in school history and practice.
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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 embraced the spirit of the student proposal and is working with our Georgetown community to build the framework that will support community-based projects to benefit Descendant communities. As an initial step, a fund – with financial resources that will meet the $400,000 commitment the University made in October 2019 (based on the amount of the proposed student fee) – has been established. While mandatory fees will not be collected, we will be inviting all members of our community to contribute to the fund.

Over the past months, community members have contributed their valuable perspectives to guide the considerations for an implementation framework. These and ongoing feedback processes will inform an implementation plan for operational processes.

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, worked to establish a framework for long-term engagement. This was an ongoing, confidential dialogue with leaders in the Descendant community and the Society of Jesus to which the University was deeply committed. At the same time, we were and continue to move 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: As an initial step, a fund – with financial resources that will meet the $400,000 commitment the University made in October 2019 (based on the amount of the proposed student fee) – has been established. While mandatory fees will not be collected, we will be inviting all members of our community to contribute to the fund. We recognize that referendum advocates proposed a mandatory fee on all undergraduate students to ensure that all students would engage with Georgetown’s history with the institution of slavery. We have taken steps to expand opportunities for all students to engage with Georgetown’s history including new programming at New Student Orientation for undergraduate and graduate students. 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 in an Advisory group. How can I get involved?

A: Advisory group members are 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 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 to be added to the news distribution list.

Q: What role will students play in planning and implementation to achieve ideas expressed in the April 2019 referendum?

A: Students play important roles in all aspects of the university’s work in slavery, memory, and reconciliation – academic and research pursuits and public history initiatives, as well as engagement with members of the Descendant community and development of a framework to support community-based projects with Descendant communities.

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

These will be reviewed and shared with colleagues as appropriate.

Q: The University is not implementing a student fee. How is what the University is 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 created 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? How was the Referendum reviewed and evaluated?

A: Since the referendum was passed by students, Georgetown leadership held several meetings with students involved in passing the referendum. Key alumni leaders also met with students, and students met with members of Georgetown’s Board of Directors. The Board of Directors discussed the Referendum during its June and October 2019 meetings. Student leaders also met with representatives of the Dialogue process in October 2019.

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 an ongoing Dialogue process with the Descendant Community and Society of Jesus.

Q: How much money will the University be contributing?

A: The University will continuously support 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 symposiums in Spring 2017 and Spring 2021), faculty research initiatives, a new public history display in the Leavey Center, 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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