Harvard University has publicly acknowledged its ties to slavery on Friday, at a conference that Harvard organized to explore the relationship between colleges and slavery. University President Drew Faust said the school must confront the grimmer parts of its past before it can move forward.

“Harvard was directly complicit in slavery from the college’s earliest days in the 17th century until the system of bondage ended in Massachusetts in 1783,” Faust, a historian, said in her opening speech. “We look at both past and present today in the firm belief that only by coming to terms with history can we free ourselves to create a more just world.”

But how does Harvard reconcile its ties? Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates suggested reparations.

“I don’t know how you conduct research that shows that your very existence is rooted in a great crime, and you just, well, shrug, and maybe at best say I’m sorry,” said Coates. “You have to do the right thing and try to make some amends.”

Coates praised Georgetown’s effort to help slave descendants but said there’s still work to be done.

Last year, Georgetown offered preferential status in the admissions process to the descendants of 272 slaves who were sold in order to keep the university afloat.

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