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Georgetown students vote overwhelmingly in favor of paying a slavery reparations fee as part of their tuition
Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Georgetown students vote overwhelmingly in favor of paying a slavery reparations fee as part of their tuition

If approved by the university, a new tuition fee would go to a fund for the descendants of slaves sold nearly 200 years ago

Georgetown University's undergraduate student body has overwhelmingly passed a referendum to add a reparations fee to their tuition. If approved by the school's board of directors, a fund would be set up for the descendants of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuit institution nearly 200 years ago.

What are the details?

The New York Times reported that in 1838, the priests who ran the nation's premier Catholic institution of higher learning — known as Georgetown College back then — sold the slaves owned by the school in order to keep it afloat. After news of the sale surfaced in recent years, the university apologized, renamed two campus buildings in honor of individuals who had been sold, and implemented an admissions program giving favor to the descendants of any of the 272 slaves.

But many students say more should be done to try to right the wrongs of the past. Student leadership put forward a reparations proposal that would tack on an additional $27.20 tuition fee each semester, to go to the relatives of the slaves. The amount was selected to symbolize the number of slaves sold without placing too heavy a financial burden on students.

According to ABC News, not all students were on board. During a discussion ahead of the vote, some argued it wasn't their responsibility to pay to correct the actions of the institution from long ago — especially while working their way through college. Others expressed concern over how the funds would be spent.

On Thursday, the measure passed overwhelmingly with two-thirds of the vote. If Georgetown's board of directors give it a nod, the fund is expected to raise roughly $380,000 annually.

How did the university respond?

In a statement to ABC, the university's media relations manager explained, "Student referendums help to express important student perspectives but do not create university policy and are not binding.

"The university will carefully review the results of the referendum, and regardless of the outcome, will remain committed to engaging with students, Descendants, and the broader Georgetown community and addressing its historical relationship with slavery."

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