Georgetown University undergraduate students will vote Thursday on a referendum that proposes a new fee to honor the descendants of the 272 slaves the university sold in 1838.
The non-binding GU272 referendum calls for the university to create a "Reconciliation Contribution" that would begin in the fall 2020 semester. Each semester, undergraduate students would pay a fee, similar to the school's student activities fee.
The referendum, entitled "Establish a New GU272 Legacy and Create the Reconciliation Contribution," was introduced in February by the Georgetown Student Association Senate and the GU272 Advocacy Team, a student organization trying to get the measure passed.
Initially, the fee would be $27.20 to honor the 272 slaves sold by Georgetown "in recognition of their involuntary role in the founding and preservation of our University."
Even if a majority of Georgetown students vote in favor of the referendum, it does not guarantee it will pass, Maya Moretta, a sophomore and member of GU272 Advocacy Team, told News4.
The Board of Trustees would still need to approve the measure.
Georgetown will review the results and then decide what further action to take, a university spokesman said in a statement to News4.
"Student referendums help to express important student perspectives but do not create university policy and are not binding on the university," Georgetown University spokesperson Matt Hill wrote in an email. "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 to slavery."
Over the past few months, the GU272 Advocacy Team has advocated for reparations and has educated students on Georgetown's ties to slavery and history.
"The students will show what they care about and that they want to act in reparative justice," Moretta said. "If you have a large group of the student body who want to provide reconciliation, then I think the Board of Trustees will listen."
After the news surfaced about the 1838 sale of slaves, Georgetown University announced initiatives including preference in admission to descendants and renaming two buildings and a memorial, but some say that's not enough.
One of the descendants was attending Georgetown University because of the policy was a retired New Orleans chef, Mélisande Short-Colomb. She began classes in fall 2017 at age 63.
Voting on the measure by Georgetown undergraduates began at midnight on Thursday and will end at the start of Friday.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," Moretta said about the referendum. "The Georgetown student body can be grossly apathetic and we have to beat down that apathy."
Editor's Note (April 11, 2019 at 6:03 a.m.): This story has been updated to add a statement from Georgetown University stressing that the resolution is non-binding.