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October 18, 2016

Working Group Member and Student Talks Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation

By Ayodele Aruleba

The Dialogue on the intersection of Catholic social teaching and the response to the findings and recommendations of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation symbolizes progress in addressing a situation that is not unique to Georgetown, while also being intentional about developing a response that is.

As a senior, and a member of the working group, I approached the Dialogue reflecting on what would help me find meaning. In light of the evidence that students in the early nineteenth century brought personal slaves to campus, just as students today would bring printers, or decorative posters to aid their transition to college life, I was reminded by Father Matthew Carnes, S.J., the extent to which the forced bondage of people of African descent was recognized as a normalcy, and the participants in the dreadful institution of slavery were products of their time. When initially asked to join the working group, I hoped to find clarity around how the history of slavery at Georgetown, and peer institutions across the country, are connected to the contemporary issues of race and racism I have spent my time and energy challenging throughout my tenure at Georgetown.

Whether that be traveling to participate in demonstrations against police brutality in Ferguson during the fall of my sophomore year, or helping organize demonstrations on our own campus to bring attention to the sale of slaves orchestrated by Fathers Mulledy and McSherry, I wished this would spark a movement beyond the stories of individuals, and towards addressing the continuing structures of racial inequality in American society. In his remarks accepting the recommendations of the working group in early September, President DeGioia laid out a unique framework for how Georgetown—a leading twenty-first century research university in the nation’s capital—can aid in exposing those inequalities, and more importantly, in creating solutions. I hope that as we continue to embark on this journey of memory and reconciliation, we remember the words of Dr. Diana Hayes highlighting one of the key tenants that grounds Catholic social teaching: the dignity of each human person. This inherent dignity should inspire our work by virtue of the reality that all human beings were created in the image and likeness of God, and thus reminds us that forms of oppression resulting from the social construction that is race cannot stand when we invoke our unity as one human family.

Ayodele Aruleba (C'17) is an undergraduate studying government at Georgetown.