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Hutchins Funds $10 Million to Study Inequality Among Boston's Black Residents

By Brittany N. Ellis, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: October 7, 2016, at 12:28 p.m.

The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research received $10 million from the family foundation of prominent Harvard benefactor Glenn H. Hutchins ’77 for a new study of inequality experienced by African and African American residents in Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.

Hutchins helped found and endow the Hutchins Center in 2013 with a $15 million donation. The Center supports research on African and African American history and culture through sponsoring visiting fellows, art exhibitions, publications, conferences, and research projects. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a University Professor in the Department of African and African American Studies, serves as the Center’s director.

Hutchins, co-founder of private equity firm Silver Lake and former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton, also serves as co-chair of the University’s capital campaign and has made significant donations to the House renewal project.

Hutchins’s latest donation to the Center will support a new study on housing, labor, criminal justice, and child welfare in poverty stricken areas in Boston with the ultimate aim of influencing public policy. Hutchins said in an interview that he hopes the grant will allow the University and African and African American Studies scholars to continue “building an organization that could serve generations.”

University professor and sociologist William J. Wilson, who will lead the study, explained in an interview on CNBC Thursday that the study is innovative in its combination of empirical surveys, anthropological fieldwork and interviews, field experiments, and big data to look at race, economics, and “cumulative adversity.”

“By cumulative adversity, I mean people who have been exposed to multiple, different, and reinforcing hardships, racial hardships, and economic hardships,” he told CNBC. “We hope to analyze these problems simultaneously.”

Georgene Bess Montgomery, president of the National Council for Black Studies and associate professor at Clark Atlanta University, said the donation “speaks to the value of Black Studies.” She said she hopes the donation and the work of the Hutchins Center will set a precedent for other Black Studies centers and research projects across the country.

“People’s perceptions of Black Studies is wrong—many people perceive Black Studies as a feel-good course and something just for black people when Black Studies is way more than that,” she said. “Black Studies is a discipline in and of itself in the same way that English, history, math, biology are disciplines, and all of those have theory that are connected.”

Hutchins expressed similar sentiments, saying the presence of the Center helps make African and African American studies more “central” in academia.

“We’ve created the largest center in the world for African American, African, and now African Latino studies,” he said.

The donation comes at a time of increased dialogue on race both nationally and at Harvard, which has seen race-related activism including Black Lives Matter demonstrations within over the last several years on campus.

News of the donation, first reported by the Wall Street Journal and CNBC, came on the same day as the Center’s annual W. E. B. Du Bois Medal Ceremony, which honors people who have contributed to African history and culture and who more broadly advocate for cultural understanding and human rights.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven did not immediately confirm the gift by press time.

—Staff writer Brittany N. Ellis can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @britt_ellis10.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: October 7, 2016

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Georgene Bess Montgomery is an assistant professor at Clark Atlanta University. In fact, she is an associate professor.

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