As we return to campus, America is divided about many things, including the role of higher education. According to the former dean of Yale Law School, we are burdened by a “diversity bureaucracy” that over-regulates behavior and stifles free speech. Others point to the layers of injustice embedded in the ways higher education selects, promotes, and launches students into careers and lives of consequence.
Fortunately for us, when we welcome actual students to our school we don’t see the caricatures of today’s headlines. We see the America of tomorrow’s headlines. Our students are using the lens of generosity to understand.
For example, all of us, regardless of background, celebrate the exceptional philanthropy of the Black Church and its devotion to universal principles of freedom and equality from which African-Americans were excluded. (A video of one of our most inspiring events of the past academic year focuses on this topic.)
It is such experiences—those of struggle outside the mainstream that often turned its back on its founding ideals—that redeem the American project, allowing our founding truths to resonate today.
Our school, like others around the country, is wrestling with diversity, equity, and inclusion. We aim to practice it, understand it, and make it something we all embrace. We propose that our subject of study, philanthropy, can make a contribution and bring some light to these difficult conversations about our paths to a more just future.
Please take a look at the piece below published by the Indianapolis Business Journal that Dr. Rose Mays of our Board of Visitors penned with me as we reflected on the mission of our Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy.
As the differences among us persist in dividing our society, we call on our fellow Hoosiers to remember that diversity is not occasional, nor a concern mostly for a particular segment of our population. Diversity defines the fabric of America for each of us.
We are fortunate to be part of a unique learning experiment in Indiana that seeks to understand generosity in all our communities—not just those that attract the most attention. The Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy brings to light the experiences of philanthropy in under-represented communities, an important addition to the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.
In historically less privileged communities, we find powerful expressions of generosity. Traditions of philanthropy in African American, Latinx, LGBTQ and other under-represented communities can bring inspiration and renewal for all.
Recently, the Indiana University Black Philanthropy Circle announced that its first major collective gift is a contribution to the Mays Institute, supporting research and discussion on generosity in under-represented communities. This group of friends represents the kind of generosity frequently expressed by those too often incorrectly viewed primarily as recipients of charity. The gift echoes the philanthropy of Bill Mays and the Mays family, whose civic leadership the institute’s name honors.
We too often think of philanthropists as wealthy white men like Rockefeller or Carnegie. But in their time was also Indianapolis’ Madam C.J. Walker, a black entrepreneur who became America’s first self-made woman millionaire. Professor Tyrone Freeman, an expert on Walker’s expansive philanthropy, teaches about how people of color have long been donors.
Early research from the Mays Institute increases understanding of the robust philanthropy that is an integral part of all diverse communities and how it effects positive change. For example, the research shows that greater diversity on nonprofit boards leads to positive fundraising results.
The institute’s speaker series brings remarkable leaders to Indianapolis and the school’s website. The Chicago Community Trust’s Helene Gayle emphasized the urgency of embracing our differences in polarizing times. Reverends Starsky Wilson and Brad Braxton recounted the Black Church’s commitment to freedom, equality, and dignity amidst a history of violent oppression, illuminating generosity’s power to generate resilience in hardship. Columbia University’s Noah Drezner shared research about philanthropy in LGBTQ communities, and Sandra Vargas, former Minneapolis Foundation CEO, discussed Latinx Philanthropy. Such leaders open our eyes to the generosity that is at the heart of all communities.
The diversity of philanthropy across the human experience helps us appreciate the commonality of human generosity as we behold its various expressions. As we seek to give contemporary meaning to what unites all Americans, the lens of generosity can help by opening a window into experiences that have been overlooked and underappreciated. It can help us weave a tapestry of understanding because all of us have experienced generosity, as givers and receivers.
By elevating the stories of those whose generosity has been overlooked, we can learn, achieve dignity, and find ways of crafting new solutions for re-weaving our frayed social fabric.
Eugene R. Tempel Dean