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Dillard University Receives $5 Million Gift From Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott

Aubri Juhasz
Dillard University seniors Dinah Cador and Eric McGlothen stand on Dillard's campus in front of Rosenwald Hall, Aug. 14, 2020.

Dillard University announced a fundraising first on Tuesday: $5 million from a single donor. The money comes from billionaire MacKenzie Scott, a novelist who was once married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Scott committed to giving away the majority of her wealth when she signed the Giving Pledge in 2019. Since then, Scott has been strategic in her donations and has focused on organizations that advance equity and social justice.

She’s given large sums of money to historically Black colleges and universities, organizations that support women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, and groups fighting climate change and racial injustice.

Scott’s wealth has climbed over the course of the pandemic and is currently valued at more than $60 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

For her latest round of gift-giving, Scott worked with a team of advisors to identify organizations helping those hurt most by the pandemic. The gifts are “paid upfront” with “full trust and no strings attached,” Scott said Tuesday in a blog post.

Over the course of four months, Scott has made donations to nearly 400 organizations totaling more than $4 billion.

Dillard University and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana both made the list, with gifts of $5 and $10 million respectively. Both organizations said the gifts are the largest single donations they’ve received from an individual.

Dillard President Walter Kimbrough said in a statement that the University was grateful to be included, while Marc Barnes, vice president for institutional advancement, described the money as a game-changer.

“This gift will enable us to carry out strategic initiatives that will be beneficial not only during the pandemic but will also position Dillard to reach greater heights well into the future,” Barnes said.

Dillard is a small liberal arts school and historically Black university. Its campus is located in Gentilly and its student body numbers fewer than 1,300 students.

Over the summer, Scott donated $20 million to another larger New Orleans HBCU, Xavier University.

Both schools offered in-person and virtual classes this fall and reported very few COVID-19 cases on campus. Enrollment was largely steady, despite fears that the pandemic would cause students to postpone college or dropout.

Buoyed by large donations, institutions like Dillard and Xavier have become increasingly equipped to deal with the pandemic. Projections that COVID-19 would hit HBCUs particularly hard, due to the disproportionate impact the virus has on Black Americans physically and financially, haven’t materialized.

Scott’s donations come after decades of underinvestment from private donors as well as from state and federal officials. Chronic underfunding and small endowments have made historically Black colleges and universities likely to fold during periods of prolonged economic instability. Many blame systemic racism.

After a summer of racial reckoning, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, wealthy individuals and organizations are pledging resources to address racial inequality.

Other HBCUs that have received donations from Scott in recent months include Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Tuskegee University in Alabama.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated $120 million this summer to be shared between Morehouse College and Spelman College in Georgia as well as the United Negro College Fund.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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