Content warning: This article mentions police brutality, violence, and racist comments against Black individuals.
Georgetown will observe June 19 as an official holiday every year, University President John DeGioia announced in a university-wide email sent on June 18. The GUSA Senate also passed a resolution in support of this decision at their meeting on June 21.
June 19, or Juneteenth, is a holiday that commemorates the final notification of the end of slavery in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, two months after the end of the Civil War, Union General Gordan Granger informed then-enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas that the Civil War had ended and they were free, marking the emancipation of the last slaves in former Confederate states.
Since the emergence of nationwide protests against police brutality, many across the nation have called for Juneteenth to receive increased recognition from the non-Black community. The matter also gained widespread publicity following a campaign rally for President Donald Trump’s reelection that was originally scheduled on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the destruction of Black Wall Street by a white mob in 1921.
President DeGioia’s announcement recognizes that the voices of Georgetown community members were influential in the university’s decision to observe the holiday. “Many, from across our community, have expressed the importance of honoring Juneteenth,” his email reads. “I wish to express my gratitude to our colleagues who brought forth this idea.”
DeGioia’s email also comments on Georgetown’s continued relationship with the institution of slavery. In 1838, the Jesuits associated with the university sold 272 enslaved people for financial gain. “We have an opportunity in this moment to examine and reflect on the ways that our work must continue to address the legacies of enslavement and segregation still present in our day,” he wrote.
“We do so in recognition of our institution’s historical involvement in enslavement and our ongoing work to engage with our past.”
Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny sent an email on June 19 further commenting on Georgetown’s recognition of Juneteenth in light of its history of slavery. “At Georgetown, we also remember June 19, 1838, a day in which 272 enslaved people owned by the Maryland Jesuits were sold to enslavers in Louisiana, rather than freed, in order to benefit Georgetown College and other Jesuit projects,” the email reads.
“Acknowledging the triumph of freedom, as commemorated on the day of Juneteenth, we cannot forget those times when freedom was denied.”
The GUSA Senate resolution supports Georgetown’s commemoration of Juneteenth and asks that Georgetown respect the student body’s decision in voting for the GU272 referendum.
The referendum, voted on and passed on April 12, 2019 by a vote of 66 percent in favor, asked that Georgetown increase the tuition of all undergraduate students by $27.20 to fund a reconciliation contribution for the descendants of the 272 slaves sold by Georgetown.
Despite the student recommendation, Georgetown announced in October of 2019 that it would make contributions to the fund voluntary but would allow faculty, staff, and alumni to contribute as well. The GUSA resolution asks the university to instate the recommended mandatory fee instead.
Sen. Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS ’23) was not present at the meeting but provided the Senate with a written statement in support of the bill. “The Georgetown educational experience, much like the history of this nation, is inextricably intertwined with the perpetual oppression and colonization of Black bodies. We are all beneficiaries of the proceeds of that sale, and the over two centuries of trafficking that occurred across the Middle Passage,” he wrote.
“If we truly want to honor the spirit of Juneteenth, which came on the 27th anniversary of that sale… we must honor the vision of the GU272 Referendum and we must commit to a greater spirit of anti-racism.”
The resolution passed non-unanimously by a voice vote.
In addition to the Juneteenth resolution, the Senate also passed a resolution in support of a letter written by students Angel Reed (COL ’21) and Briana Thomas (COL ’21). The letter documents concerns of Reed, Thomas, and other students regarding Prof. Timothy Wickham-Crowley, an associate professor in Georgetown’s sociology department. These concerns include allegations of racist behavior and insensitive comments made by Wickham-Crowley over the duration of his course SOCI 155: Social Movements in 2019.
The letter was written on April 3, 2019, and sent to several administrators on April 9, 2019, asking them to open a formal investigation into Wickham-Crowley’s behavior. Reed and Thomas say they were only contacted once and have not received further updates about the situation. The resolution calls for the university to take action against Wickham-Crowley and to issue a public apology and explanation to Reed and Thomas for Georgetown’s lack of prior action.
The resolution passed unanimously by a voice vote. There was one abstention.
The last piece of legislation passed by the Senate was a resolution proposing that Georgetown College establish an environmental studies major. The resolution is based on a policy proposal released by the GUSA Executive detailing what an environmental studies major could look like.
The resolution passed unanimously by a voice vote.
The next Senate meeting will be held on June 28 at 5 p.m. EST over Zoom.