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DSU receives record $20M donation

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The historic donation will in part provide additional investment in the university endowment, as well as support the Del State Global Institute for Equity, Inclusion, and Civil Rights and the ongoing acquisition of Wesley College. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSU

DOVER — Delaware State University (DSU) announced Tuesday that it has received a $20 million donation from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, marking the single largest donation in the university’s 130-year history.

DSU President Tony Allen lauded the donation as a reinvestment in the future of the university, which is Delaware’s only historically Black university with an estimated enrollment of 4,870.

“Generally, only 3% of colleges and universities are HBCUs [Historically Black colleges and universities] and yet we represent 25% of students of color, particularly African Americans, graduating today,” Allen said during a Tuesday press conference announcing the donation. “We believe that our investments in us have a sound return. We couldn’t thank [Ms. Scott] enough for believing in us.”

Unlike most donations to higher education institutions, Scott’s donation comes completely unrestricted and does not direct recipients on how the funds should be used.

DSU reported that the $20 million gift will be used to grow its endowment; support its acquisition of nearby Wesley College; and support the recently established Global Institute for Equity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, which was designed to build capacity toward an inclusive economy.

The university pledged to not use funds from its annual operating budget to acquire Wesley College, a liberal arts college in Dover, and the donation will help achieve that goal. Pending regulatory approval, Allen said the hope is to create an integrated College of Health and Behavioral Sciences in the city’s downtown.

“Being able to have this transformational gift at this time fits well with what we’re trying to accomplish overall with Wesley,” said Devona Williams, chairwoman of DSU’s Board of Trustees.

Scott, an author and the former wife of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, announced on Medium that she and her team first started with a list of about 6,500 organizations that work to address long-term systemic inequities deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her team undertook more research to cull the list to 822, looking at factors like evidence of impact and management.

From there, 438 organizations were put on hold due to waiting on more evidence or to allow further inquiry. DSU and the YMCA of Delaware are two organizations from the First State to make the final 384 who were selected.

“Not only are nonprofits chronically underfunded, but they are also chronically diverted from their work by fundraising, and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them,” Scott wrote. “They help by delivering vital services, and through the profound encouragement felt each time a person is seen, valued, and trusted by another human being. This kind of encouragement has a special power when it comes from a stranger, and it works its magic on everyone.

Scott, who is worth about $60 billion, has signed “The Giving Pledge,” a commitment by some of the world’s richest philanthropists to donate at least half of their wealth to charity. In July, she also gave $1.7 billion to organizations that included 10 HBCUs.

After a summer of civil unrest that spotlighted inequity in the country and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris marking the first time a HBCU grad to ascend to the White House, Allen said the momentum is here to help his students reach new heights.

“We’ve actually faced two pandemics this year, COVID-19 and racial injustice that ravaged this summer,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with corporate leaders in my career, and in the last six months, I’ve told them to look harder for talented students of color. DSU has now positioned itself to deliver on that opportunity for our students.”

By Katie Tabeling

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