Students at Georgetown University have approved a fund that would benefit the descendants of slaves sold by the elite Jesuit school in the 1800s.
Creation of the reparations fund was approved in a student referendum and the results were announced late Thursday.
The Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) said 2,541 students voted in favour of the measure while 1,304 opposed it.
It would levy a $27.20 fee on students each semester to create a fund for the descendants of 272 slaves sold by the university’s Jesuit founders in 1838 to pay off debt.
The fund would be the first of its kind in the country. It would be administered by a board made up of students and descendants of the slaves to provide money for the education of descendants and other charitable purposes.
The results are not binding on the university, which was founded by Jesuits in 1789 and is located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington.
Todd Olson, the school’s vice president for student affairs, said the university “values the engagement of our students.”
“Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery,” Olson said in a statement.
“We understand that the goals of the student referendum are to honor the 272 enslaved individuals sold by the Maryland Jesuits in 1838,” he said.
“There are many approaches that enable our community to respond to the legacies of slavery,” Olson said.
“This student referendum provides valuable insight into student perspectives and will help guide our continued engagement with students, faculty and staff, members of the descendant community, and the Society of Jesus,” he added.
The Georgetown referendum comes as Democratic candidates for president debate whether the United States should provide compensation to the descendants of African-American slaves.
Barack Obama, America’s first black president and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton did not support compensation for the descendants of slaves.
But several 2020 Democratic hopefuls, including senator Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, have come out strongly in favor of reparations.
Georgetown University has an undergraduate enrollment of more than 7,000. Tuition for undergraduates in the 2019 fiscal year is $53,520.