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Why Georgetown's Announcement About Its Slavery Past Matters

Why Georgetown's Announcement About Its Slavery Past Matters

Georgetown University announced Thursday that the school will continue to acknowledge its ties to slavery by giving admission preference to the descendants of the 272 slaves the university profited from selling in 1838.

President John DeGioia wrote in a letter to students and faculty that these prospective students will get "the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community" when they apply, and that their relationship to the university will be strongly considered.

"I believe the most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time," DeGioia wrote.

On top of the efforts the university began in February (which included a new center focused on racial justice and the hiring of more faculty dedicated to this work), DeGioia said the university also plans to create a memorial to honor the enslaved people the school sold to pay its debts, rename two buildings named after the former president responsible for the sale, and offer a formal apology.

Crystal Walker, 22, an activist and former Georgetown student, was part of the integral Working Group of Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation at Georgetown made up of students, staff, and alumni that worked to address how the university can reconcile its history with slavery and improve racial justice on campus. The group published a 102-page report that detailed the school's deep roots of slavery through archival history—including that the Jesuit priests who founded the school in 1789 relied heavily on the sale of slaves to fund the school.

Since graduating in May, Walker is mapping out her next move and hopes to join the Peace Corps. She spoke with "Glamour" about the university's decision and how she hopes it will affect other universities.

GLAMOUR: How did you feel when you saw Georgetown's decision to award preferential status to descendants of slaves that apply to the school?

Crystal Walker: I felt it so deeply. The whole culmination of everything that’s happened—being a part of the working group, participating in the protests, formulating support, to see it all published and come to fruition—it was a very deep and humbling feeling. But I also had the feeling of this is not the end. Because everything in this report needs to be put into action. I just hope that everything that was written in this report becomes part of Georgetown. That it’s put into action in a way that will benefit the Georgetown community and also respect the lives of the 272-plus enslaved people who are the reason why Georgetown is still standing. I don’t want this work to be done in vain. I want this to be a conversation that is forever had at Georgetown and these people are remembered in a way that is respectful and honors their history no matter how ugly the history may be.

GLAMOUR: Do you think the report going to bring about real change?

CW: Georgetown is dealing with this so intimately that they can’t just formulate a working group, have all of these discussions on campus, go through protests, write this over 100-page report, and then not do anything. I definitely think the university is taking the situation very seriously and I think that good will come out of it. As long as there’s a system of checks and balances, I think that everything in the report can definitely happen. It may not happen as quickly as I may want or some people may want, but it can definitely happen.

GLAMOUR: Is there anything else that you wish they would have added to the report?

CW: The report is very detailed and overall I’m pleased with it. I do want to make sure the students are always kept at the forefront. Because I think a lot of the things in the report can be very macro level, not very micro level, in terms of focusing on students. Especially black students on campus who feel this so deeply, I hope that their feelings will be assessed and prioritized.

GLAMOUR: How would you like this to affect other universities?

CW: I hope other universities look at Georgetown as a model to see how you can engage in this history in a significant manner, and one that doesn’t whitewash or totally dehumanize the enslaved people that were affected, but recognizes their humanity and the importance of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I think a lot of universities and people don’t want to recognize this affects us all. I just hope that universities see that’s it’s possible to engage with this history even if it may feel uncomfortable, and that it’s important.

More From Glamour:
• Georgetown University Takes Steps to Atone for History of Slavery
• Get Ready, Georgetown: Angelina Jolie Will Teach a Class at the University
• These Are the Biggest Misconceptions About College Women
• 2016 College Women of the Year: Daniela Fernandez

Photo Credit: Getty Images