It is oftentimes so easy to be swept up into the whirlwind of youth-led political movements––I have found myself captivated and engaged as I have seen people my age stand up for issues like climate change, gun violence, racial equality and women’s rights, among many others.
So, I felt inspired when I first read the open letter written by alumnae Carly Matsui and Sarah Faber, which spoke out against the school’s recent $20 million donation from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation. The letter quickly sparked the anti-establishment rebel within me. I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself, and I was determined to see what changes would come as a result of the efforts put forth by former and current students. Still, I chose not to sign the petition because I wanted another day to think about the issue as a whole before I completely attached myself to it. The next day, I woke up and I realized that I had made far too many assumptions and made a judgement too quickly.
Upon reflecting on some of the criticisms put forth by students, I came to understand that the movement to reject this donation was not deserving of the support that the aforementioned progressive causes received. As outlined on their website, the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation advocates for what I believe is a misinterpretation of historical events and an unwarranted glorification of the Founding Fathers. Furthermore, there are ties between the Davis Foundation and several conservative organizations which I think have had a negative impact on our society.
The Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, for example, played a major role in electing former President Donald Trump, and they have been described as having had a significant influence on staff selections and judicial appointments made under his administration. Overall, I think that their contributions to organizations who supported Trump is flat-out wrong. That being said, just because this foundation supports organizations and efforts that have different political and societal beliefs than me (and many of us at Masters) does not mean that their gift should be rejected–or unappreciated. How many of us have different political views than our parents or grandparents, but willingly accept and appreciate their “gifts” of money, time and love every day?
Upon researching the other charities and organizations that are beneficiaries of the Foundation, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were numerous organizations that had nothing to do with their apparent political orientation. According to the organization’s 990 form, the Davis Foundation shells out millions of dollars to medical causes, the environment and various organizations which focus on human and individual rights. Thus, in some cases there does not intuitively appear to be a correlation between the Foundation’s apparent political orientation and where they choose to spend their money.
In addition, the $20 million gift to our school is not “dirty money.” The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation is not in any way like the Sackler family, who profited off the millions of opioid addicts in this country. Shelby Cullom Davis, the father of Diana Davis Spencer, worked as a New York investment banker and served as the head of his own company which specialized in insurance securities. There is no indication that the wealth he accumulated through his ownership of this business is tainted.
By all accounts, the Davis Foundation has been a long time, generous benefactor of this school, supporting our mission and our beliefs. Their most recent gift will provide a path for more girls to get involved in STEM and give low-income students the chance to work with computers and technology to which they would not otherwise have access. We would only be hurting ourselves and the hundreds of other kids who are going to get to work in the new Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center by rejecting this gift. Masters can take so many positive and progressive steps as a result of this money. Just this past year, current and former students and faculty asked Ms. Danforth and the administration to make our school more inclusive, more equitable and more diverse. They are now able to accomplish one of the many goals that we tasked them with because they chose to work alongside and respect a family foundation with different political views than most of us. This is exactly the kind of progress we need to see more of in society right now–in fact, it’s a gift.