by Natalie Kim
photo credit to Students for GU272
Growing up, I felt like I always occupied an in-between space. I never quite felt like my white peers, yet the label “minority” fit awkwardly—as if I were appropriating struggles that weren’t mine. But now I’m starting to embrace that the Asian experience is a minority experience, and I’m learning to be more comfortable with my identity. This means not fading into the background when I hear racially charged jokes or more blatant remarks like, “wasabi, wasabi! It means get the f*** out of the way!” It means not allowing my self-perceptions to define me while simultaneously acknowledging my positions of privilege. And it means acting in solidarity with other minority groups. While I acknowledge that I can never fully understand others’ experiences and that there is no consensus on the issue among members of the Georgetown community, I want to address the referendum on April 11th and urge others to VOTE YES.
The 272 Advocacy Team has put incredible amounts of effort and countless hours into this project. As a student who is not currently on the Advocacy Team nor in GUSA, I have been fortunate to see the development of this issue from its debate in the GUSA Ways and Means Committee to its current position of being voted on by the student body. I am not arguing that reconciliation is an obligation that falls solely on Georgetown’s student body, but I think that this could be a radical starting point for Georgetown and other institutions to address their complicated legacies and force institutional and national conversations about the less palatable aspects of the past. I do not believe that a financial contribution can reconcile this past debt on behalf of the university because nothing can truly rectify the fact that Georgetown’s actions damaged vulnerable populations such as the descendants living in Maringouin. But I do believe that this is a chance for Georgetown students to partake in reparative justice, making Georgetown the first of its kind to make this kind of direct investment. Georgetown hasn’t moved on this issue since the important work of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation during the 2015-2016 academic year, and the university still neglects to incorporate some of their suggestions. Real change always starts with the students, which is why I believe in the importance of this movement.
I’ve heard criticisms stating that reconciliation is Georgetown’s obligation not the students’, but this shifts the culpability in an unproductive way. As students, we are Georgetown. Our tuition helps sustain the school and this institution is nothing without its students, administration, and staff. I also understand that this proposition sits uncomfortably with some students of color and people whose families have been impacted by the legacy of slavery. But as Kendell Long said at the 272 Town Hall on April 3rd as a call to other students of color, “We have control over our own institution.” We can use this power to inspire other institutions, communities, and national conversation. Also, to put this fee of $27.20 into perspective, a Yates membership that is paid from student accounts is $222.08 per semester (and many don’t know they can request to get it back if they have not swiped in). Most students are already paying for a Yates membership, and while I recognize that these fees serve entirely different purposes and can’t be conflated, I still haven’t heard the same amount of reservations or concerns about this payment.
As a Georgetown student , I benefit from the sale of the 272 enslaved persons in 1838. Attending Georgetown is a privilege, and there is a certain amount of financial, social, and political capital that I receive. This institution would not exist today without the GU 272’s involuntary sacrifice, and as a beneficiary of this university I must grapple with what it means to be at a school that’s rooted in the history of American slavery. In the words of Adam Rothman— professor of history at Georgetown, member of Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, and principal curator of the Georgetown Slavery Archive—“read the history and fashion a response that is true to you.” This fee is not a punishment, but a way for us to show what we value as an institution. And while I want to urge others to vote yes, I also want to echo Rothman’s call to students to make their own informed decisions and act upon their convictions to vote on the Referendum on April 11th.