Following a Friday sit-in, Georgetown University president John J. DeGioia announced that the school will be changing the names of two buildings— Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall—that explicitly link the university’s legacy to slavery.
Mulledy Hall is student dormitory opened in August that was named for past university president Thomas F. Mulledy, who authorized the sale of 272 enslaved black people to a Louisiana plantation to pay off university debt. McSherry Hall was named for past president William McSherry, who was involved in that sale and others. Per the recommendation of the president’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation, which he convened in September, Mulledy Hall will become Freedom Hall until officials choose a permanent name. McSherry Hall will be called Remembrance Hall.
Protestors first called for the name change back in August, but last week’s actions appear to be the impetus for the change. The Washington Post reports that about 250 students and activists held a solidary demonstration in Georgetown’s Red Square to stand with other students fighting back against marginalization on campuses nationwide. And on Friday, about 50 students staged a sit-in outside DeGioia’s office in protest of the building names.
Queen Adesuyi, a Georgetown senior who helped organize the demonstration and sit-in, said activists “used the momentum” from student protests on other campuses to build support for the name changes. She said many protesters, who first called for the name change in August, believed DeGioia had appointed the working group to pacify them while stalling on a decision.
“We recognized we can’t be complacent anymore,” said Adesuyi, who is from the Bronx. “The fact that the sale [of slaves] helped Georgetown to be the prestigious school it is now is an important part of our history that’s important to recognize. It’s a history not being told.”
The students are also demanding that university officials:
- Change the building names to honor the 272 enslaved black people who were sold
- Install plaques on known unmarked graves on the campus to honor the legacy of the enslaved people who contributed to the campus
- Implement an annual program that honors the slaves’ legacy and educates the community about their sacrifices
- Revise the campus tour to include information about sites that pertained to the slaves
- Establish an endowment that would match the current value of the money the school made from the slave trade and using it to fund scholarships or a relevant professorship
- Implement mandatory training for all professors on engaging with student around issues of identity and diversity
Those demands were not addressed in DeGioia’s announcement.