Georgetown is a Jesuit school trying to atone for an episode in its past:
In an effort to acknowledge its ties to slavery, Georgetown University will offer the descendants of nearly 300 slaves preferential treatment in its admissions process.
In 1838, the school sold 272 slaves who were working on plantations in southern Maryland to pay down its debts.
Now, the school said it will give the descendants of those slaves “the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community” when they apply. That means that the applicants will “receive an extra look” and that their relationship to the university will be considered.
It’s not as though these descendants aren’t required to meet certain standards; they are. It’s just that the standards are slightly lower, and equivalent to those required for what used to be called “legacies.”
And Georgetown is free to do whatever it wants concerning admissions. I suppose this would not be considered any more discriminatory than already-existing preferences for “diversity” (racial, geographic, economic, what-have-you) or the already-existing preference for the descendants of those who have attended the school and/or given it money.
However, I have reservations about this one (not that Georgetown cares). The first is that it is a rather arbitrary thing. The slaves themselves were wronged by being sold into conditions that were almost certainly worse than those they were already enduring (they had been in Maryland and ended up in Louisiana). Their immediate descendants of the next couple of generations likewise probably suffered. But, eight generations later (that’s what I calculate an 18-year-old living today would probably be)? Can we really assume that that person today is still feeling some effects of that 1838 sale, and should be given preferential treatment because of it?
Also by my calculations (which are both rough and quick, so I certainly might have made errors), if you imagine two descendants for each of those eight generations, there would now be 139,263 descendants in all. How on earth could those people be found? Apparently, “research conducted by Georgetown and other organizations, including The New York Times, has identified many living descendants of the slaves.” But I bet it’s only a very small fraction of the actual descendants. Another interesting question is whether any of these descendants are white, and what’s to be done about them. Do they get special treatment, too? After all, when people track their DNA, it’s not at all unusual for people who are to all intents and purposes white to find they have some black ancestry, which could be assumed to have occurred for many of them back in the days of slavery. Do those descendants get special treatment, too?
As I said, Georgetown is free to do this. My guess is that it has more to do with the Georgetown administrators’ own feelings of guilt for something that happened about 175 years ago, an act perpetrated by people they have nothing to do with except for ties to the same institution. How far back does one take guilt, I wonder? And does this really change anything, except Georgetown’s PR?
[NOTE: If you want to learn the backstory of the pressure that was brought to bear on Georgetown regarding its slave-selling history, please see this. It’s been going on for a long time. Daniel Berrigan was instrumental in the preface to it many decades ago, as part of his general leftist (and in his case, Catholic and Jesuit) focus on American and Western guilt.]