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Georgetown students push university for action on slavery reparations

Georgetown University students gathered Thursday to protest the university's lack of progress on implementing reparations for descendants of slaves once sold by the school. Students voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan in a referendum in April, but activists say so far little has been done to carry it out.

"The school has kept us in a sort of  purgatory in terms of implementation," said Nile Blass, a member of the GU272 advocacy group, which created the referendum. "I think that what we've seen is a series of meetings that stressed the importance of the referendum and what it represents without timelines, without dates, without specific plans, without specific language. How many times can you be told that progress is being made without evidence?"

The referendum proposed that each student pay a fee of $27.20 per semester to benefit descendants of 272 enslaved people sold by the school in the 19th century. It was backed by 66% of student voters. Nearly 58% of the student body participated in the vote. 

Georgetown students hope slavery reparations vote sets nationwide "precedent" 02:54

The school's board of trustees now has to vote for the fee to be implemented, which hasn't happened. The GU272 student advocacy group fears the December deadline will come and pass without any action from the board. 

Blass, who is a sophomore double major in African-American studies and government, says the longer the vote is stalled, the harder it will be to implement. "It erases our ability to plan efficiently and progressively ahead," she said, noting that if this is continuously pushed off, those who helped create and advocate for the referendum will start to graduate. 

The group wants Georgetown to at least provide a timeline for implementation, if not an immediate vote. 

"We are pushing for specific dates and dialogue, and not just platitudes," Blass said. 

Georgetown University student Nile Blass speaks at a rally supporting the referendum on reparations in April 2019. Courtesy Nile Blass

Meghan Dubyak, associate vice president for strategic communications at Georgetown, said in statement that "throughout the summer and into the fall semester, Georgetown leaders have been working through questions raised by the referendum, including 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."

But the GU272 advocacy group believes the university hasn't done enough, holding meetings with students in which the administration "spent the majority of the conversation dodging direct questions made by the advocacy team and emphasizing dialogue over tangible steps forward." 
The students protested outside the Board of Directors meeting Thursday in an attempt to push the university to take action.  

Student protesters at Georgetown University on Oct. 3, 2019. Alexandra Mucher

"A reminder that we are here, that we are present and we have expectations of response," Blass said. "We are paying attention to the results of this meeting." 

She emphasized that this issue cannot afford to be forgotten given its national implications. 

"When we were thrown into the spotlight last school year, we became a social experiment for the United States on whether or not reparative justice is something that we can deal with," she said. 

"It's the time to do this because it can have ramifications greater than us."

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