Tuesday marks Boston University’s seventh annual #GivingTuesday, a day that celebrates the spirit of donating. Last year, BU focused its GivingTuesday efforts on community causes and initiatives.
In light of increased national awareness of social justice issues, including police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, the University has decided to make this year’s fundraising theme diversity and inclusion.
Brown University centered its 2020 GivingTuesday on increasing financial aid for students during the pandemic. Tufts University posted a variety of fundraising challenges to raise money for departments such as athletics, COVID-19 response and financial aid.
While focusing on diversity is indisputably positive — given BU’s track record with inaction from the Residence Life leadership toward implicit racial bias and the University’s refusal to match the joint fundraiser by Student Government and UMOJA — there remains concern over whether this year’s theme is performative. Though the highlighted fundraisers cover a range of inclusive causes, the one that has raised the most funds is the BU Center for Antiracist Research.
Is the administration using this charitable opportunity as a way to gain more recognition for its newly minted research center?
More importantly, how will the money be used? The GivingTuesday website is incredibly vague about its efforts.
For example, the Howard Thurman Center Fund — listed as one of the highlighted fundraisers — only states “the search for common ground … will take on extra dimensions, open new hearts, and shape even more lives.”
The bottom line for the Center for Antiracist Research’s fundraising campaign is “racial research, research-based policy innovation, data-driven educational and advocacy campaigns, and narrative-change initiatives.”
No concrete, actionable steps can be found for either fundraiser.
To ensure these efforts are genuine and hold the University accountable, students and donors deserve more transparency on how the fundraised money will be used. There must be accessible information detailing BU’s plans, as well as a system for the community to observe how these initiatives are being implemented.
Transparency is especially important — students and University administrators, who are much higher in the chain of command and thus lack a crucial understanding of students’ experiences and concerns, have an inherent disconnect.
Furthermore, BU needs to better communicate its long-term plans. What will happen after GivingTuesday is over and the funds are distributed?
BU’s new Strategic Plan also includes diversity, equity and inclusion as one of its five pillars. But, on its “Next Steps” page, it states: “By early 2021, we will have a clear road map and action plan established for bringing the Strategic Plan to fruition.”
Which is to say, they have no plan yet.
It is definitely not the first time BU has chosen inaction. We can all remember the administration’s long silence regarding police brutality this summer, followed by a belated and inappropriate letter from President Robert Brown regarding the killing of George Floyd.
BU’s GivingTuesday website showcases a one-minute-long video about the University’s history of inclusive efforts. Though it’s meant to be self-congratulatory, there are many gaps in the timeline that suggest complacency from the school.
It isn’t a good look when two of your biggest inclusivity milestones are nearly a century apart, jumping from 1873 to 1955 — capitalizing once again off of prominent graduate Martin Luther King Jr.
Therefore, it’s all the more important to include students in conversations about these initiatives and action plans.
These funds should go toward training professors in inclusivity, both in the classroom and their curriculums. Moving away from required readings authored by white men would be a welcome change — in African American or Chinese studies, for example, it’s disrespectful for the majority of texts to be from the white, male perspective instead of people of color.
BU could also promote diversity and inclusion by creating an accessible college application process and hiring professors who reflect the student body. The vast majority of faculty is white.
Overall, the efforts BU has made on GivingTuesday should still be recognized. Despite its rigorous — and presumably costly — COVID-19 testing and response system for students on campus, the University chose to focus a huge portion of its fundraising on diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism instead.
But, the administration should remember that in order for its fundraising to make a genuine impact, it first and foremost needs to demonstrate transparency and accountability.