SMITHFIELD, R.I. ― When individuals and private corporations decide to give to colleges and universities, they often earmark their donations to the library, athletics and academic departments.
But a recent $1.35 million gift to Bryant University from PwC, the world’s largest accounting firm, to support diversity initiatives focused on student scholarships and leadership development, has redefined philanthropic giving. The hefty donation is part of the university’s historic capital campaign.
In February, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at the private university, located about 15 miles from Providence, was renamed after the professional services firm. Founded in 1863, Bryant has long emphasized both business and liberal arts training.
“You don’t often see this kind of investment in a diversity center,” says Dr. Mailee Kue, executive director of the PwC Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Bryant. “Symbolically, this sends a very positive message and encourages other companies to think about diversity issues.”
As colleges and universities continue to grapple with how best to create inclusive and diverse campuses, many institutions have not set aside the requisite dollars for training, programming and other initiatives designed to make marginalized groups feel more comfortable.
Many minority students say they, too, want the university to be more attuned to their concerns. The university recently formed a number of focus groups around the topic of diversity and student leaders not long ago met with President Ronald K. Machtley, who pledged his commitment to working with them to foster a spirit of inclusiveness on campus.
“My role is to really make sure there is open communication between students and the administration and student and faculty,” says Kue, a seasoned diversity practitioner who has worked in the field for more than two decades. “We are actively working on ways to assess students, faculty and staff feelings about the climate on our campus.”
Though the university is small, with an overall enrollment of about 3,600, “domestic” multicultural students account for about 17 percent of the population, while “international” students comprise about 8 percent of the population.
Kue says the PwC gift will enable the center to provide more scholarships for students of color, develop a diversity speaker’s series and support access programs that allow area high school students to spend the summer on campus.
In addition to the focus on racial inclusiveness, the center also hosts a Women’s Center, a Pride Center for LGBTQ students and is actively working on disability issues. The Interfaith Center and Campus Ministry also fall under the auspices of the center. Dr. Marian Watkins, a diversity consultant, says diversity gifts of this kind are rare but sorely needed.
“Like anything else, you need money and resources to identify programming for diversity-related programs and instructions,” says Watkins, who works with colleges and universities throughout the nation. “Somehow, when we talk about diversity efforts, people tend to think these things just happen without much capital and that, of course, is just not true.”
The partnership with PwC makes sense. The firm currently employs more than 300 Bryant alumni, 16 of whom are partners and who volunteer at the university on many fronts, including guest lecturing and serving on the accounting advisory board and the Board of Trustees.
Kue says that the university will also fund an emergency book fund to help struggling students afford to purchase materials for their classes.
“Because we are a private school, many of our students get just enough from the federal government to get here,” she says. “For our students of color, the cost is often a mountain.”
“The unique partnership between Bryant and PwC is beneficial to the students of the university and the clients of our firm,” adds PwC partner Bob Calabro, a Bryant alumnus and a current member of the Board of Trustees.
“The next step in that relationship will broaden what we can offer to help train and develop young diverse talent well into the future.”
Machtley says that the $75 million capital campaign Expanding the World of Opportunity: The Campaign for Bryant’s Bold Future, which was launched in 2014, is the largest fundraising effort in the university’s history and has raised more than $54 million to date.
“Bryant is extremely grateful for our longstanding partnership with PwC, which has contributed so much to the transformational learning experiences of our students,” says Machtley. He adds that, beyond PwC’s financial support, “PwC partners generously contribute their time and expertise to enhance the vibrant educational experience of Bryant students.”
For Kue, who spent 14 years at the University of Rhode Island before transitioning to Bryant, the center signifies a commitment to the ongoing work of inclusion.
“This is very hard work and there is potential for burnout and prevention,” says Kue. “But my approach is from a health prevention model. I see this as an ongoing process where we can offer people enough positive perspective to change behavior.”
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected].