The GUSA Senate Ways and Means Committee unanimously passed a resolution calling for a referendum to be put to the student body on implementing a reconciliation contribution for descendents of the 272 enslaved people that the university sold in 1838 during their Jan. 23 meeting.
The resolution calls for students to vote on the referendum alongside the spring Senate elections. If passed, it would lead to the creation of a “GU272 Reconciliation Contribution” that would begin at $27.20 in the fall of 2020 and rise with inflation. The proceeds would be used to benefit the descendants of the 272, especially those residing in underprivileged communities. The allocations would be made by a board that would be chartered upon the passage of the referendum.
The resolution was initially introduced at the Ways and Means Committee meeting on Jan. 15 by Senator Sam Appel (COL ’20) and students Hannah Michaels (SFS ’21) and Mélisande Short-Colomb (COL ’21), who herself is a descendent. Michaels and Short-Colomb also introduced the resolution in support of a memorial to remember the legacy of the GU272 this past semester.
The resolution was tabled at that first meeting due to debate over the implementation of the board. Several senators expressed concerns that the process was being rushed, and they had not had the text of the resolution for enough time to adequately decide whether to pass it. Senators Hayley Grande (COL ’21) and Dylan Hughes (COL ’19) also expressed concerns the first version of the resolution, which only prescribed the formation of a board without chartering it, did not do enough to ensure the funds were being used appropriately.
In both meetings, debate over the resolution revealed just how sensitive the issue is to students. Although Appel was accused of grandstanding, he insisted the cause was deeply important and urgent. Short-Colomb said that if the referendum does not pass “it will say a lot about who these students are.”
The resolution passed on Jan. 23 was the first resolution ever introduced in the GUSA senate to be sponsored not by senators. All those at the meeting acknowledged the GU272 advocacy team played a large role in the drafting and presentation of the resolution. “This could not have originated in GUSA and actually been meaningful in the way it needed to be,” said Michaels.
The advocacy team, including Michaels and Short-Colomb, drew up a charter for the GU272 Reconciliation Board of Trustees to be presented along with the resolution itself at the Jan. 23 meeting. This was intended to alleviate the structural concerns senators had expressed at the Jan. 15 meeting.
Another debate centered around how members of the GU272 Reconciliation Board of Trustees would be chosen. The board was designed to be comprised of five descendants and five students. While Hughes felt that GUSA should be involved in the selection of the student members, the committee voted to have the descendents on the board choose who would serve alongside them.
All those in the meeting agreed that there was merit to the idea, and that it should be put to the student body. Michaels echoed the words of the working group report that “reparative justice requires a meaningful economic commitment,” emphasizing her strong feelings that not enough has been done by the university for the descendants of the 272.
The resolution will be put to the full senate body at their next meeting on Jan 27.