Undergraduate students at Brown University have voted overwhelmingly that the institution should offer reparations to descendants of slaves who were affiliated with the school and its founders.
Undergraduate students at the Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island, voted on two referendum questions last week during its annual election. One asked whether Brown should make "all possible efforts to identify the descendants of enslaved Africans who were entangled with and/or afflicted by the University and Brown family and their associates." The other asked whether Brown should provide reparations to those descendants of slaves. The questions were approved with about 89 percent and 85 percent, respectively.
The students voted for reparations in multiple forms, including preferential admission for descendants of enslaved people, direct payments to descendants and targeted investments in Black communities, according to the Undergraduate Council of Students.
Brown would not be the first higher education institution to weigh whether to issue reparations to descendants of enslaved people who were associated with the university — the ballots referred to 2019 efforts at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where students voted for the university to offer financial aid to descendants of the enslaved people who labored there. While the 2019 referendum called for a mandatory fee to fund the aid to be charged to students, the fee has not been implemented. According to a spokesperson for Georgetown, the university is committed to matching the funds that the fee would generate for a reconciliation fund.
The same year, Princeton Theological Seminary announced a $27 million commitment for initiatives to recognize how it benefited from slavery. Last summer, the Reparations at University of Chicago Working Group called for the university "to develop a comprehensive reparative justice process to fully make amends for the University's past while building a new relationship" with the Black community.
More recently, the Virginia House passed a measure Feb. 4 that would require five colleges in the state to offer "tangible benefits," such as scholarships or development programs, for nearby Black communities. The bill advanced to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is likely to pass.
Just over 2,000 of Brown's nearly 7,000 undergraduate voters cast ballots. The Undergraduate Council passed a resolution last month "calling upon Brown to attempt to identify and reparate the descendants of slaves entangled with the university."
In a 2006 report examining its historical ties to slavery, the university said it owned slaves but was not a major slave trader. In a letter in 2004, the president at the time, Ruth Simmons, the first Black president at an Ivy League school, said: "the committee's work is not about whether or how we should pay reparations. That was never the intent nor will the payment of reparations be the outcome."
The current president, Christina H. Paxson, has yet to comment on the vote. Brian Clark, a university spokesperson, said in a statement: "Confronting questions of reparations and institutional reckoning with connections to the transatlantic slave trade has a deep history at Brown. The University interrogated this issue as a full community from 2003 to 2006, and Brown committed to a series of actions whose impact persists in our education, research, engagement with historically underrepresented groups and ongoing work in diversity, equity and inclusion. The current work of Brown's Task Force on Anti-Black Racism will make recommendations on more Brown can do to address the legacy of slavery."
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