Spelman College made history earlier this year when it received a $100 million donation from a trustee, the sector’s largest-ever gift.

The donation from businesswoman and philanthropist Ronda Stryker and her husband, William Johnston, highlights a trend of increased financial investment in historically Black colleges and universities. 

Stryker has been on the College’s Board of Trustees since 1997, according to a press release. Three-quarters of the donation will go toward endowed scholarships. The remaining $25 million will be used to “ to develop an academic focus on public policy and democracy, improve student housing and provide flexible funding to meet critical strategic needs,” the press release said. 

To delve deeper into Stryker’s historic donation, Open Campus spoke with Deborwah Faulk, a Spelman alumna and assistant professor of sociology and Africana Studies at the University of Richmond. Faulk shared insights on the evolving landscape at HBCUs and the potential impact of Stryker’s gift on Black women in higher education. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Open Campus: How crucial is representation and philanthropy, especially when it comes to alumni giving?

Deborwah Faulk: There are two sides to it: It’s both who is able to donate to the college and who is able to benefit from the donations. Sometimes, philanthropists have specific goals for their money.

HBCUs are particularly vulnerable when it comes to financial stability. In some ways, we rely often on philanthropic contributions. Spelman encourages alumni to be a part of that conversation in a way that I don’t think other institutions have to do.

Do you see the donation’s publicity having a specific impact on Black women in higher education? 

I think anytime you invest in Black women, you’re investing in the world. A targeted investment in Black women is an investment in our communities and the world around us. We go out into the world, and we impact science, medicine, fashion, film, education, and the list goes on.

What systemic and financial issues do first-generation and low-income students face at HBCUs?

As an alum and a sociologist, I would want to see the things: continued investment in students from first-generation and low-income backgrounds. 

Spelman is a diverse place, but attendance comes at a cost. There are individuals coming from communities that are less positioned to take advantage of what Spelman has to offer. 

While I’m very grateful for all of the donations and support that our institutions receive, the federal and state governments should also be held accountable for the resources that we do and do not have.

How can Spelman’s donation have any potential societal impacts?

All colleges are huge employers in our communities. Having more resources and financial stability enables the university to do more hiring of people in the community who are looking for jobs who are looking for financial stability of their own. It inspires me to want to give back in ways that I can both monetarily and in terms of my time. It just makes me so proud to know that Spelman siblings who come after me will have the resources that they need.

Kylar Gray is a fellow with the HBCU Student Journalism Network, a project of Open Campus.

Kylar is a senior at Spelman College majoring in English.