Jessie Ball duPont Fund
To hear Mari Kuraishi, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, describe her philanthropy’s mission is to catch a distinctly American ethos at work.
“This country was founded on the idea that all men, women included, are created equal,” Kuraishi said. “The idea is not that we have equal endowments. Some of us are tall. Some of us are short. You are limited by the accident of your birth in so many ways, but we believe education is the great equalizer. It allows someone who is motivated and willing to rise above their circumstances.”
Berea College, therefore, with its mission to educate regardless of circumstance, is a natural fit. Jessie Ball duPont, an educator who wanted to help people go to college, made her first gift to Berea College in 1946 and directed that her support should continue after her death. Today, the Fund prioritizes academic and social supports that help underrepresented populations succeed.
That success, according to the Fund, depends on a sense of belonging. The Fund’s mission to foster belonging among various groups finds a home at Berea, where belonging has been an essential component since its founding. This too, is fundamentally American to Barbara Roole, the Fund’s director of equity. She describes Berea College as a melting pot.
“There’s this sense of belonging with Berea,” Roole said. “Berea has a really diverse group of students.
You have African American students, white students, Latino students, international students, students from
all over. When they get to Berea, we want those students to feel like they’re coming home. We want them to feel like they belong in the place because once they have that sense of belonging, we know they are going to stay and graduate.”
The feeling that one belongs, though, comes in different ways for different groups of people. For this reason, the Fund prioritizes programming specific
to a particular group’s needs. The Jessie Ball duPont Fund has sponsored the Latino Male Initiative to encourage belonging and success among this population. More recently, the Fund provided support for F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. (Fierce Appropriate Beautiful Unique Loving Outstanding Understanding Serious) at the Black Cultural Center, a program geared toward improving retention and graduation rates of Black female students at Berea.
“These are things that make students feel like they are a part of a community, where they feel they are accepted and thereby belong on this campus,” Roole said. In the case of F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S., “these young women were doing great academically, but they were struggling with the social part of being at a predominantly white institution. Often, students of color need spaces to support each other.”
The Fund also provides support for the Yahng Discovery Center in Berea’s Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health building because it extends science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to the community outside the College.
Kuraishi says duPont’s support of these programs and Berea College, in general, offers the Fund a chance to “double down” on its mission of equity. “Because Berea doesn’t charge tuition, it’s focusing its entire educational mission on students who would not otherwise be able to afford it,” she explained. “Berea is about making the promise of this country come through.”