Four alumnae who forged deep friendships as undergraduates have joined together to endow a scholarship that will enable future generations to pursue their passions and dreams at Tufts.
Part of Women Impact Tufts (WIT) and matched dollar for dollar by the Schuler Access Initiative, the Champions Scholars Fund reflects the vision of Joy Ebanks-Frederick, J95; Danika Tynes, J98; Lanique Eubanks, J99; and Kalahn Taylor-Clark, J99, MG01, and the inspiration they found in quotes from Serena Williams and Billie Jean King that champions are defined not just by victories but by failure and recovery.
“We all believe that in order to be a champion, you will fail and fall. You have to be able to show how you get up again,” says Taylor-Clark.
Their friendship chain began in the fall of 1994 at a weekend orientation for entering Black students held on Martha’s Vineyard. Tynes, a Lake Tahoe, Nev., native who, she jokes, brought “geographical diversity” to Tufts, quickly gravitated toward her orientation counselor, Ebanks-Frederick, a senior born in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I really looked up to Joy,” Tynes recalls. “She was so cool and I wanted to learn from her.” Tynes, in turn, was orientation counselor for Eubanks and Taylor-Clark when they arrived at Tufts in 1995.
As women of color at a mostly white institution and with modest financial resources—all received substantial financial aid—the four shared challenges while having varied backgrounds. Ebanks-Frederick recalls that in her class of almost 1200 first-year students, only about 30 were Black. (Student diversity has since increased.) Students of color felt “tremendous pressure to be exceptional,” she says, and to conform to expectations that didn’t necessarily recognize their individual lived experiences, identities, and heritages.
“It takes a lot of mental fortitude to get through that kind of experience safely,” says Tynes. Fortunately, support came from multiple sources, including the Africana Center at Capen House and iconic faculty such as historians Gerald Gill and Jeanne Penvenne. It was Penvenne who inspired Tynes with Billie Jean King’s quote that “champions keep playing until they get it right.” Most of all, says Eubanks, Tufts was a place that encouraged “brilliant students with different ideas and principles to learn from one another” and fearlessly pursue their passions.
All four women became leaders in their fields: Ebanks-Frederick has multiple advanced management credentials and is a senior IT leader at United Health Group, Eubanks practices financial services law and is a senior counsel at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Tynes is a social impact entrepreneur with a PhD whose Sustainable Access Foundation aims to incubate sustainable community development in lower-income nations, and Taylor-Clark, who holds a doctorate in health policy, is an executive at Myovant Sciences, a biopharmaceutical firm focused on women’s health and prostate cancer. The four have continued to champion each other on their impressive professional journeys while also celebrating new babies and milestone birthdays with one another.
Although all the women felt that Tufts had offered an “incredible experience” that “changed all of our trajectories,” none had been significantly engaged with the university philanthropically, says Taylor-Clark. But when she was elected an alumni trustee—the youngest trustee in Tufts’ history—Taylor-Clark realized the untapped power of collective action.
“My friends and I were all looking for a way to give back that would be meaningful, with tangible impact that wouldn’t disappear into the ether,” she says. “It occurred to me that while my friends and I didn’t have a million dollars to give, we could pool our resources to endow a scholarship for students not unlike ourselves that would live in perpetuity as our legacy.”
The women hope other Jumbos will view the Champions Scholars model as a way to increase educational access and equity, and consider joining together in similarly meaningful ways to support WIT’s initial objective of increasing financial aid at Tufts. “Together, we are stronger,” says Tynes.
“It’s important for people to know that no matter where you start from, if you’re supported and driven, you can end up in a place where you are successful,” Eubanks says. “This scholarship is a way for things to come full circle.”
Adds Taylor-Clark, “When I walk onto this campus, there will be one or two or five or ten students who were able to be supported not just by myself but by my friends and my colleagues. And for that, I’m extraordinarily proud.”
For more information on how to get involved with Women Impact Tufts, email Meaghan.Judge@tufts.edu.