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New Orleans Education Advocate Takes On Georgetown University Slave Debate

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If you've spent any time reading up on education in New Orleans (including Education Week's own coverage), you will have come across a quote or two from one of the city's most vocal education advocates: Karran Harper Royal.

She has long advocated on behalf of public school parents in New Orleans, and, since Hurricane Katrina, become a forceful voice of opposition to the proliferation of charter schools in the city.

(Here she is talking to Education Week about whether education has improved in New Orleans over the past 10 years.)

Now, Harper Royal is getting involved in a very different debate unfolding in the nation's capital: Whether Georgetown University, which recently announced it would give admissions preference to the descendants of slaves it sold in 1838 to help keep the university afloat, is doing enough to atone for its past participation in slavery. The preference in admissions will also extend to the descendants of slaves whose labor benefited the university.

Harper Royal and her husband are both descended from Georgetown University slaves, and she's part of a group of 500 others who are lobbying the university to go even further in its efforts to make amends for its sale of 272 slaves to plantations in Louisiana. She writes in The Washington Post:

"We are committed to organizing all of our Georgetown brothers and sisters in a sustained movement to reconcile the nation with the legacy of slavery. Our goal is to unshackle the hearts and minds of those who were never physically in bondage but who still live and work today under that terrible system's vestiges. This is the beginning of a huge conversation in this country, and we want to help our Georgetown family be a pivotal player in it. We have invited Georgetown to partner with us to support a new organization, the GU272 Foundation, to promote reconciliation, education and uplift for the descendants and all of mankind. We want this foundation to serve as a model for other institutions and result in meaningful actions to address the legacy of slavery and its aftermath."

"... For descendants who go on to attend Georgetown, the university must offer scholarships, not just a leg up in admissions. The foundation we partner with Georgetown to create will support the educational aspirations of descendants regardless of where they go to college. Our ancestors' lives propped up the university generations ago at a time when most students didn't pay tuition. If Georgetown is going to atone for its part in slavery, descendants shouldn't have to pay, either."

Harper Royal goes on to say that the university should also support efforts to identify more descendants—a task she has personally found to be made somewhat easier by the fact that it was run at the time by Jesuit priests who kept meticulous records.

You can read her full article in The Washington Post, here.

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