Delaware State University receives $20 million donation

DOVER — Delaware State University President Tony Allen believes that “investments in us have sound return in our future.” On Tuesday, the university received quite the investment from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott — to the tune of $20 million.

“We believe we are an institution whose time has come,” Dr. Allen said Tuesday as the donation was announced, “but we’re also very, very excited about what it portends.”

The donation, which is an unrestricted gift, will help fund several initiatives at the university. It is the largest donation the university has ever received. The donation is part of a larger pledge from Ms. Scott, who announced numerous donations in a post Tuesday.

Some of the funds will go to the Global Institute for Equity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, which includes the Center for Neighborhood Revitalization Research, the Center for Global Africa, the Academy of Trauma Healing Research and the University Center for Economic Development & International Trade.

The Global Institute was founded recently as a way to connect the university to the communities it serves.

“We will build the capacity of our very, very talented faculty and staff so that they can extend themselves in deep, substantive ways that we believe will contribute to the global sustainability of our smaller and more interconnected world,” Dr. Allen said.

Funding will also support the acquisition of Wesley College. The university had previously pledged funds would not be taken from the annual operating budget to complete the acquisition.

Dr. Allen said the university has been working collaboratively with the college’s counterparts, and it anticipates the first day Wesley will be under the DSU flag will be July 2021.

With the transition underway, he said there have been early plans made regarding the college and university’s health and behavioral sciences disciplines.

“So really bringing one of our colleges together with Wesley College, making it a themed campus in downtown Dover, I believe, is going to position us to have a significant health science discipline that will rival any institution in our region,” he said.

Other funds will help grow the university’s endowment, which will support student scholarships “to make sure they can get to the finish line,” Dr. Allen said.

“By investing a portion of the award in our endowment, we’re investing in the university and the students we serve,” he said.

Devonna Williams, chairwoman of the board of trustees for the university, called the gift “transformational.”

“It is historical and that does not go unrecognized,” she said. “We know these transformational gifts not only help us achieve our mission but continue to help us work toward our vision. They help us not only meet our mission and serve our students better, but it allows for the sustainability of our institution, the furtherance of Delaware State University.”

The university is among 15 other HBCUs to receive a donation from Ms. Scott, according to a news release.

This is the second round of donations Ms. Scott has made. Over the summer, she gave $1.7 billion to a smattering of organizations, which included other HBCUs.

Ms. Scott is a novelist and philanthropist from California. She was recently listed by Forbes as one of the world’s “most powerful women,” according to a news release.

In her statement about selecting organizations Tuesday, she said that and her advisors “took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.”

That’s led to $4.158 billion in gifts to 384 organizations across all 50 states.

Last year, Ms. Scott joined the Giving Pledge, a way for billionaires to publicly commit to giving a majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Ms. Scott is the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Mr. Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man, has not signed the pledge himself.

When Ms. Scott’s first donations were made over the summer, Donna Patterson, chairwoman for Delaware State University’s Department of History, Political Science, and Philosophy and director of Africana Studies, had noted that there had been increasing momentum around HBCUs.

That momentum only seems to be picking up speed.

“We are very proud of our enormous 130-year legacy. I think many have heard me talk about HBCUs generally. Only 3% of all colleges and universities are HBCUs, yet we represent 25% of all students of color, particularly African-American students, graduating today,” Dr. Allen said Tuesday. “We’re a good investment, with a sound return and that return is growing each and every day.”

He noted that the donation helps the university “look more ably in the future,” and “thinking about who we want to be, how we carry out our vision of being the most diverse, contemporary HBCU, and the things we need to focus on,” he said.

With that, the students come first, he said.

The United States is facing two pandemics, he added. One is COVID-19. The other is the racial unrest that was sparked this summer.

“On the COVID front, we wanted to take care of our students,” he said. “We know that African-American and Latino families and communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. We also know that college matriculation rates for those students are lower than our mainstream counterparts and we did not want the COVID-19 pandemic to impact their academic continuity.”

He cited an ongoing partnership with Testing for America, a nonprofit that helped DSU form its COVID-19 testing plan. Students were back on campus up until Thanksgiving break; they’re slated to return in the new year.

As racial unrest unfolded across the country over the summer — sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer — he said the university “wanted to speak into the moment.”

“This is a place where our students had been very active, very involved in demonstrations, asking that the university do more as it relates to talking about these issues, bringing in our alumni who were law enforcement executives and officials to talk to our students about these issues,” he said. “I believe that being a leading voice for Delaware in that way, folks began to take notice.”

Looking toward the future — with $20 million more — Dr. Allen reflected that he has often heard in corporate America that talented candidates of color can’t be found.

“My common retort is, ‘You’re just not looking hard enough.’ Delaware State has now positioned itself to make sure that we can deliver on that promise,” he said. “We have an enormous number of talented students and have had those students with us for 130 years. I think the moment has exposed the opportunity and people are noticing and wanting to invest in us as a result.”

Staff writer Brooke Schultz can be reached at 741-8272