$20 million in new giving marks growing support for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at Brown

With continued momentum in support of Brown’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, new BrownTogether gifts and grants are catalyzing research on race and inequity, and supporting students from underrepresented groups.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —  At Brown, scholarship on issues related to race, diversity, equity and inclusion continues to expand, and the communities engaged in academic work continue to become more diverse. Meanwhile, across College Hill and the globe is an increasingly diverse population of Brown students who aspire to make the world more just and inclusive through their studies, lives and careers — students who can focus increasingly on their academic goals with the financial support to pursue a Brown education.

This is possible, in part, because of growing momentum among donors who recognize that Brown’s teaching and research is exponentially stronger when individuals from a wide range of perspectives come together to solve complex problems and make an impact well beyond campus.

Over the course of this academic year and the last, gifts and grants exceeding $20 million toward the University’s ambitious BrownTogether fundraising campaign have offered new support for faculty positions, research initiatives, student financial support and other priorities outlined in Brown’s diversity and inclusion action plan. This is part of more than $157 million Brown has committed, as of January 2021, toward the plan’s priorities through a combination of operational funds and donor contributions to support diversity and inclusion over the past five years.

“As our nation continues to confront racism and discrimination while battling a pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color, the importance of addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion has never been more clear,” University President Christina H. Paxson said. “It is wonderful to see an increasingly wide range of generous donors contribute to bringing together scholars who offer a diversity of insights for the education, scholarship and research that is critical for advancing knowledge about issues facing society and communities around the globe.”

At the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, for example, scholars from across the academic spectrum are convening for urgent explorations on how anti-Black racism permeates American public health, criminal justice and election procedures. Nearby, at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, faculty and students are collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to gather stories from descendants of slaves — a project that will generate the world’s largest collection of oral histories about racial slavery and its legacies.

The generosity shown by Brown alumni, parents and friends in support of the work of these academic centers and other departments across campus, Paxson noted, is a testament to the University’s commitment to creating and sustaining an academic community that embodies the social and intellectual diversity of the world. This is important not only for strengthening the impact of teaching and research across many fields of study, but also for preparing students for successful lives and careers.

The donor support also complements a number of initiatives established or advanced in the current academic year, including a Task Force on Anti-Black Racism, a new Brown Corporation Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the full funding of a $10 million endowment to support Providence schoolchildren, and the soon-to-launch Phase II of the diversity and inclusion action plan.

“At Brown, we believe that fulfilling our commitment to diversity and inclusion makes us an even stronger academic institution,” said Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue. “These goals are accomplished through resources that are provided through grants and a community of generous donors who recognize the importance of this work.”

Catalyzing new research and global partnerships

At the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA), a new $5 million endowment established by Class of 1982 alumna Perri A. Peltz will ensure long-term financial support for the center’s directorship and for a variety of teaching and research activities.

Separately, through a $4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, CSREA and race and ethnicity academic centers at Yale, Stanford and the University of Chicago are collaborating on a series of programs that confront major issues rooted in racial inequity, from economic inequality to incarceration.

CSREA Director Tricia Rose said the funding enabled by Peltz’s gift and the Mellon grant is allowing the center to host groundbreaking discussions and exhibitions, and to produce rigorous scholarship that helps to define and investigate systemic racism in the United States and beyond.

“These generous grants and gifts are absolutely crucial to the work of CSREA,” Rose said. “Work on race is often misperceived as important only in bursts, as urgent only in response to a seemingly temporary crisis, after which we return to ‘normal.’ We are of the opinion that developing an equitable and just society requires ongoing commitment in the form of research, open dialogue, critical examination and creative imagination.”

The endowment funds are supporting, among other initiatives, CSREA’s growing virtual event offerings, which often feature research-based conversations with scholars and students. In the wake of the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, these events have drawn even larger audiences than typical. The monthly panel discussion series “Race &” in America, which confronts and examines the role that racism plays in American public health, democracy, punishment and more, frequently attracts more than 700 attendees from across the nation and world. The center also saw sustained interest in the 2020 virtual series “Underlying Conditions,” which engaged various experts on the dynamic and multifaceted impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

“I have known Tricia Rose for decades, and she has never failed to open my eyes to the crisis of institutional racism,” said Peltz, director and producer for AXIOS. “I could not be more thrilled to support the critical work she and others do at CSREA.”

Confronting racism amid COVID


Donations to the CSREA enable event series like "Underlying Conditions," which examined the multifaceted impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

Sustaining long-term work with endowments

Like Peltz, Class of 1978 Brown graduate David Haas was motivated to support scholarship aimed at addressing the impacts of racism and the legacy of slavery. At his recommendation, grants from the Wyncote Foundation and the Waterman II Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation established a $5 million endowment to permanently support the needs of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ). This is a lead gift in an effort to establish a $10 million endowment for the center. 

Haas said he had long felt pride in his alma mater for its pioneering work to investigate its historical ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And as CSSJ emerged as one enduring outcome of Brown’s Slavery and Justice Report, he learned the full extent of the now eight-year-old center’s research, scholarship and community engagement.

“It’s clear that the CSSJ has developed a strong regional, national and international reputation for its work in the field,” Haas said. “But to fulfill its important mission, it needs significantly greater resources. An endowment is crucial for long-lasting, sustained impact.”

Funds from the endowment support the recruitment and retention of world-class faculty and staff, and have enabled CSSJ to host top scholars for public conversations and major research projects, mount thought-provoking public exhibitions, and partner with esteemed museums and storytellers to shed light on untold histories.

Anthony Bogues, the center’s director, said the endowment has catalyzed important new projects. The Wyncote Foundation recently supported a partnership between CSSJ and Firelight Media, the producer of an upcoming PBS miniseries about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Together, the media company and faculty and students from the CSSJ delved into critical stories, historical figures and sites of significance related to the slave trade, and their research will feature prominently in the miniseries.

“The CSSJ’s mission is to tell the story of racial slavery in all its complexities, not just through academic avenues but also through public-facing avenues,” Bogues said. “Endowment funds from David Haas, the Wyncote Foundation and the Philadelphia Foundation are truly important, because they allow us to not only sustain our existing work but also deepen and expand it. Funds like these also allow the center to initiate impactful projects in partnership with other institutions and individuals.”

A separate $1 million gift from Jerome and Mary Vascellaro, both Class of 1974 graduates, is supporting additional work critical to the CSSJ’s mission, including slavery and justice research fellowships for graduate students at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities. Bogues said these fellowships will help to ensure the field of public humanities becomes more diverse: Past fellows from historically underrepresented groups have advanced to careers at the Smithsonian Institution and its National Museum of African American History and Culture, where they have enriched public exhibitions with fresh perspectives on history. 

Like CSREA, CSSJ is also a beneficiary of a Mellon Foundation grant. A recent $4.9 million grant to Brown and CSSJ, Williams College and the Mystic Seaport Museum will enable the three institutions to use maritime history as a basis for studying historical injustices and generating new insights on the relationship between European colonization in North America, the dispossession of Native American land and racial slavery in New England.

Supporting students from historically underrepresented groups

Donors aren’t just driven to support scholarly work on race, ethnicity and inequality. They’re also driven to support Brown’s efforts to identify, recruit, retain and support students from groups historically underrepresented in higher education. This is aligned with the University’s view that building a more diverse and inclusive academic institution is integral to Brown’s mission of advancing knowledge.

A generous seven-figure bequest from Class of 1958 graduate Alvin Mullery will establish a new scholarship for undergraduates, with preference given to graduates of Providence’s Classical High School — from which Mullery graduated — who come from historically underrepresented groups. Mullery grew up in a low-income household in Providence, neither of his parents attended college and he relied on scholarship support to enroll at Brown. Years later, after earning a graduate degree from Harvard and becoming a research scientist at IBM, he sought to support students with high financial need much in the way he received support.

“My world was greatly expanded at Classical, but it exploded at Brown,” Mullery said. “I was very happy to direct my gift toward future students who, like me, could benefit greatly from attending Brown.”

Mullery, who has been living in France for several decades, is one of countless Brown alumni and families who have offered financial support for students from groups underrepresented in higher education — including those who are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, from low-income families or the first in their families to attend college. Many are driven by their own experiences; others recognize the ways in which teaching, learning and research benefit when participants bring a wide variety of perspectives and experiences.

Knowing that others want to see me beat the odds makes me want to do just that — and more.

Zakiyah Whitaker Class of 2023
Zakiyah Whitaker

Dr. Galen V. Henderson, who graduated from the Warren Alpert Medical School in 1993, and Dr. Vanessa Britto, who received her M.D. and a master’s degree in medical science in 1996, created a fund to provide full financial support to a medical student from a group underrepresented in medicine. Matthew Crowe, a Class of 1994 graduate who concentrated in East Asian studies, created a fund to provide scholarship support to Brown students from historically underrepresented groups, with preference given to students from Massachusetts. And in the last three years, multiple donors have contributed to the Mercedes Domenech Brown University Latino Alumni Council Endowed Scholarship Fund, named after a longtime admissions officer who worked tirelessly to recruit Latinx students.

In June 2018, the Inman Page Council — a community of Black alumni named after the University’s first Black graduate — established a scholarship to support incoming Black students for all four years of their undergraduate experience at Brown. In fiscal year 2020 — amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased economic hardship and worldwide activism against anti-Black racism — donations to the fund quadrupled. As a result, the scholarship has expanded to support seven students during the 2020-21 year.

Recipients have said the council’s support alleviated financial concerns, allowing them to focus instead on the academic experience and to thrive at Brown.

“I feel very honored to be recognized as a recipient of the Inman Page Black Alumni Council Brown Annual Fund Scholarship because it means that individuals who don’t even know me are rooting for me,” said Zakiyah Whitaker, a current sophomore concentrating in public health. “Knowing that others want to see me beat the odds makes me want to do just that — and more.”

Students from underrepresented groups have also received expanded support from donations to the Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion Impact Fund, established to support Brown’s diversity and inclusion action plan. Since 2019, gifts have provided emergency support to undergraduates from low-income families; increased the number of courses related to issues of power, privilege and inequality; and funded centers that support students from underrepresented communities, such as the Brown Center for Students of Color and the Undocumented, First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center. In the last year, donations and pledges to the fund have increased more than tenfold.

Delalue said she believes the recent gifts and grants in support of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives represent strong support for Brown’s mission to make the world a more just, inclusive place.

“The generosity of these donors speaks to the kind of institution Brown is — one that isn’t afraid to tackle the tough issues of our time and in turn inspire its alumni to make a difference,” Delalue said. “The ability to conduct research and teaching on a wide range of topics with a diverse group of students, as Brown and its alumni understand, is integral to the mission of higher education.”