Alumni Council all in for supporting racial justice student internships

Jan. 25, 2021 — As evidence about racial inequalities and instances of racial injustices in the U.S. were brought front and center by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer, Chris Meyer ’70, Grinnell College Alumni Council president, felt the Council needed to take a public stand in support of racial justice.

“It needed to be something more tangible than just a statement or announcement,” he says. “It needed to show that the body that represents more than 22,000 Grinnell alumni is committed to a vision of improved racial justice in America.” 

In response, the Alumni Council established an Endowed Internship for Racial Justice to support Grinnell students who wish to intern with groups pursuing some aspect of racial justice. All 26 current Council members have made gifts to the internship fund as have many former Council members. At last count, 61 present and former Council members have made more than $103,000 in gifts and pledges.

The internship is now endowed and will be available to be awarded the next time student internships can be awarded – possibly as early as this summer if the slowing of the pandemic permits it.

A group photo of the Grinnell Alumni Council taken Fall 2019.
The Alumni Council posed for a group photo in the Humanities and Social Studies Center during the Council’s fall 2019 meeting.

“We are grateful for the Alumni Council’s generosity and thoughtfulness in establishing this impactful opportunity for students,” says Mark Peltz, Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service. “There are countless organizations engaged in transformative racial justice work – here in the U.S. and around the world – and this endowed fund will go a long way in preparing future generations of racial justice leaders and change-makers.”

Meyer says Grinnell’s long history of social justice commitments made it foreseeable that so many past and present Council members would join in this effort.

“I was very pleased, but I can’t say that I was deeply surprised because I know the Alumni Council members’ commitment to the College and to the greater cause,” Meyer says. “Even the younger members really stepped up with material gifts. It was gratifying that they wanted to make an outsized commitment to this endeavor.”

When Jon Gray ’73, a retired judge and partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, heard about plans to establish the internship fund, he was compelled to think about the request and the motivating purpose more deeply.

“I am led to the inescapable conclusion that this effort is one that I must support as it is my obligation to be of service to the next generation,” he told Meyer. “The eradication of bigotry, racism, sexism, and all of the other ills of our society are things that I must be about each day, in a multiplicity of ways and without regard to whether the goal will or can be achieved during my lifetime.

“My Grinnell experience has shaped many aspects of my life,” he added. “It gave me the base of knowledge that served me well through law school, and throughout my career as a lawyer and a judge, and now as a lawyer, mediator, and arbitrator. My Grinnell education also reinforced the lessons that my parents taught. I owe a debt of gratitude to the previous generation that can only be repaid by service to the next generation.”

Fundraising will continue in the future and Meyer is hopeful that eventually multiple students can annually receive funding to help them be able to take internships with organizations striving for racial justice improvements. These internships typically are unpaid and some are located in areas where it is expensive to live. Meyer says he hopes that awardees in the future will be invited to meet with the Council to tell them about their internship experiences.

“One of the nicest things about philanthropy is when you can get feedback about what was accomplished,” Meyer says. “Often times you know your giving will result in something good but feedback about specific results is really affirming. I think that will help the Council continue to support and expand this effort.”

Grinnell College has taken several steps during the past seven months to address racial injustice, including forming two new coalitions to engage the campus community in its racial justice work. The Office of Development and Alumni Relations continues to honor the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color alumni by listening and sharing their stories.

“The Alumni Council Endowed Internship for Racial Justice is part of this cooperative focus and consistent with President Anne F. Harris’ commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Meyer says. “We recognize that our nation has a long way to go in this effort. The events of Jan. 6 are just one more stark reminder of how much we need this kind of improvement. It made me feel more strongly than ever that establishing the endowed internship was the right thing to do.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Grinnellian Voices about racial justice is a selection of published pieces about or by Grinnellians as they respond to the challenges facing the nation and world. The same web page also has a collection of campus responses and resources.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.