Georgetown University will give preference in admissions to the descendants of slaves owned by the Maryland Jesuits as part of its effort to atone for profiting from the sale of enslaved people.

Georgetown president John DeGioia told news outlets that the university in Washington, D.C., will implement the admissions preferences. He says Georgetown will need to identify and reach out to descendants of slaves and recruit them to the university.

On Thursday morning, a university committee released a report that also called on its leaders to offer a formal apology for the university's participation in the slave trade.

In 1838, two priests who served as president of the university orchestrated the sale of 272 people to pay off debts at the school. The slaves were sent from Maryland to plantations in Louisiana.

Georgetown Slavery

Georgetown University will also create a memorial to the slaves whose sale benefited the school. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

The transaction was one of the most thoroughly documented large sales of enslaved people in history, and the names of many of the people sold are included in bills of sale, a transport manifest and other documents. Genealogical research conducted by Georgetown and by other organizations, including the New York Times, has identified many living descendants of the slaves.

The university will reach out to those descendants and recruit them to the university, and they will have the same advantage in admissions that's given to people whose parents or grandparents attended Georgetown, said university president John DeGioia. While universities around the U.S. have taken various attempts to atone for their participation in slavery, the establishment of an admissions preference appears to be unprecedented.

Georgetown Protest

Students sit in front of the president of Georgetown University's office in November 2015 in part to demand the name change of Mulledy Hall on campus. Former president Thomas F. Mulledy, S.J., authorized the sale of slaves. (Astrid Riecken for Washington Post via Getty)

"We will give descendants the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community in the admissions process," he wrote in a letter to the university community.

The university had already committed to renaming two buildings that had been named for the priests who orchestrated the sale. On Thursday, DiGioia announced that those buildings will be named after Isaac, the enslaved man whose name is the first mentioned in documents of the sale, and Anne Marie Becraft, a free African-American woman who founded a school for black girls in the Georgetown neighbourhood in 1827.

Georgetown also will create a memorial to the slaves whose sale benefited the university, and it will establish an Institute for the Study of Slavery and its Legacies to support continued research into the history of slavery and engagement with descendants.