By Aziah Siid | Word In Black

Spelman Women from the Class of 1974 captured during their undergraduate years.
Spelman Women from the Class of 1974 captured during their undergraduate years.

(WIB) – Spelman College’s Class of ‘74 is approaching a milestone — their 50th anniversary. But instead of simply celebrating, these alumnae are using the occasion to give back to current and future Spelman students.

The group has launched the Women for Golden Futures fundraising initiative with the goal of raising $1 million in donations. 

The funds will establish two new awards — the Women for Golden Futures Scholarship and the Student Support Fund. Both are designed to assist students facing financial hardship and help make a Spelman education accessible.

Helping the Next Generation of Black Women

Mildred Whittier, a Spelman alum and spokesperson for the effort, tells Word In Black the decision to start this initiative was easy.

“I can’t not be involved because it’s an opportunity to do something to help young women behind us,” Whittier says. “It’s our belief they are pretty much the future, and what we want to do is make sure that we can help those students in need.” 

Finances Often Determine Where Students End Up

High school seniors already grapple with whether to attend an HBCU or PWI, and cost can put attending an HBCU out of reach. The number of students who apply exclusively to HBCUs or select an HBCU over a majority-white university is currently unknown, as this data has not been collected.

However, AframNews reported in 2021 about the difference in financial aid between HBCUs and PWIs, with one student sharing “her financial aid offer from Spelman College included a $45,000 loan for just one year and no university scholarships, while the majority of her tuition, housing, and other fees from Syracuse University were covered.” The student headed to Syracuse.

Indeed, attending Spelman is not cheap. According to the Spelman Net Price Calculator, the estimated total cost of attendance for the 2019-2020 school year was $48,451.00. The college financial aid office website states that about 85% of attendees “received some form of financial assistance to support their enrollment and success.”

It’s not that HBCUs like Spelman don’t want to give more financial aid to students. As predominantly white institutions stack cash in eye-popping endowments, HBCUs remain under-resourced. 

In 2020, the 10 largest PWI endowments totaled nearly $200 billion, compared to only $2 billion from the 10 largest HBCU endowments, according to HBCU Money

Meeting Financial Need

The new scholarship fund from the Class of ’74 will help by providing merit-based assistance, while the Student Support Fund will offer emergency grants for unmet financial needs — from food insecurity and housing to transportation, healthcare and mental health support. 

Whittier says that while the college works hard to secure funding for emergency assistance, the Class of ‘74 wants to fill in the gaps for students who want to pursue an education at Spelman. 

“The emergency fund is the one that seems most critical for us because through our research, we understand that there is a significant percentage of young women who are in financial crisis,” she says. 

Whittier notes COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues for some students who lost jobs or family members.

“Students are still suffering mentally and emotionally,” she says. “from loved ones that have succumbed to COVID, they’ve lost their part-time jobs, and they’re struggling.” 

Rallying fellow alums, Black entrepreneurs, and other supporters, the group hopes to not only meet their $1 million goal but also establish an endowment that can provide support for Spelman women well beyond their 50th anniversary year.

“Even after our golden year, we hope to pass this on to classes behind us to continue,” Whittier said. For the Spelman sisterhood, supporting Black women is what it’s all about.