Task Forces Won’t Mitigate Racist Pasts, But Action Will

When Georgetown announced yesterday that it planned to take steps toward atoning for its slavetrading past, including “awarding preferential status in the admissions process to descendants of the enslaved,” it represented a major tack in what’s been largely an institutional dialogue on our nation’s ugly history.

Georgetown, in a report issued by a special university committee, should give advantage in admissions to descendants of all the slaves whose labor benefited Georgetown. The report notes that the university sold slaves – men, women, and children – in 1838 to help keep the university afloat.

This is a direct dig into the roots of inequity in the United States, rather than a continued pruning of the fruit of those roots. It would be nice to see Rutgers, as part of its Rutgers 250 campaign, make a similar move, if not more. To give them credit, RU has taken steps, creating the Task Force on Inclusion and Community Values and the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History.

And while these are positives steps, they nevertheless feel woefully academic, And when Rutgers—like many schools in the slavery era— engaged in the horror that served as our country’s socio-economic cornerstone, it must make reparations. Also, h/t to Mutgers’ Joe Amditis, who I’ve had the privilege of working with on the Citizens Campaigns “City Storytellers” initiative.

Just as we noted back in April when Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School School declined to change its name when its namesake’s racism came into sharp relief with modern equity movements like #BlackLivesMatter, I should note that schools are taking aim at their racist histories. That said, necessary task forces must be met with necessary action. Georgetown sets a good precedent. 


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