On Thursday, Sept. 17, the University made public what The Daily Princetonian reported in June: With a $20 million donation, Kwanza Jones ’93 and José E. Feliciano ’94, a married couple, have given the largest gift by Black and Latino alumni in the University’s 274-year history.
According to the University’s announcement, Jones and Feliciano made the gift to support Nassau Hall’s long-term goal of expanding the undergraduate student body. The gift will fund, in part, the construction of two adjoining dormitories in one of the two new residential colleges being built on campus. The dormitories will bear the names of their donors — one named for Jones and the other for Feliciano.
The two new residential colleges — to be located south of Poe Field and east of Elm Drive — are slated to open in time for the 2022–23 academic year and will allow the undergraduate student body to expand by 10 percent. One of the colleges will be named Perelman College, in recognition of the Perelman Family Foundation’s lead gift, while the other remains unnamed.
Jones and Feliciano are the co-founders of the Kwanza Jones and José E. Feliciano SUPERCHARGED Initiative (KJSI), which describes itself as an impact focused investing and philanthropic organization with four core pillars — education, empowerment, equity, and entrepreneurship. Their guiding directive reads, “For every investment in a for-profit venture, we make a contribution to a non-profit organization.”
For Jones, their gift is about making clear to students and alumni that “Princeton is a place for all of us.”
The gift was sparked by progress they saw in the University’s culture of inclusivity, Feliciano said.
“We have been giving to the University pretty consistently, but things started to crystallize and accelerate when we started seeing the University become more inclusive, more embracing of its entire student body, and the broader alumni network as well,” he told the ‘Prince,’ citing the University’s organizing of alumni affinity group gatherings in the past few years as a pivotal moment.
“As we saw the University make an effort to embrace all of its alumni, we felt more enthused and excited about reciprocating and contributing in a meaningful way to future generations.”
When deciding which initiative to donate to within the University, Feliciano said the couple was guided by “where we felt we could make the most immediate but also lasting impact.”
“President Eisgruber has been vocal and very forward thinking about expanding access to Princeton to a larger and more diverse group of deserving students,” he added, stressing the various aspects of diversity, including Eisgruber’s focus on socioeconomic diversity and increasing the proportion of Pell Grant recipients among students. “Expanding access to education is very consistent with KJSI’s mission and core pillars.”
In the University’s statement, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 stressed those same goals.
“Through their visionary gift, Kwanza and José are enabling us to increase the number of outstanding undergraduates we admit and to attract and support talented students from all backgrounds,” he said.
But beyond sheer access, the two donors pointed to another dimension to their donation: the symbolic representation of being the first Black and Latino alumni donors to have campus buildings constructed in their names, and, in Jones’ case, being the second woman — following Meg Whitman ’77, who donated to establish Whitman College — to have her name on a building due to a contribution.
“We approached this gift with humility and the knowledge that putting your name on a building may have implications or even negative perceptions, but I think you can’t underestimate the impact and symbolism of having two buildings with names like José E. Feliciano and Kwanza Jones on our fellow alumni, on current students, and on future students or applicants of different backgrounds,” Feliciano said. “Our hope is that they will feel differently and more positive about Princeton’s ability to welcome them and embrace them.
Jones remembered how, when she was an undergraduate, some eating clubs still barred women from becoming members.
“For women, as well, what does it mean to see yourself represented?,” Jones said. “Beyond seeing ‘Kwanza Jones Hall,’... for female students, alumnae, faculty, and staff, collectively, my Princeton sisters, it means we belong in meaningful and significant ways. It shows Princeton will not contribute to the all-too-common occurrence of women being written out of history. We will not be erased.”
“It’s been a little over 50 years since Princeton became co-ed,” she added. “This building stands as a testament that we exist and we will not be a footnote in Princeton’s history.”
Earlier this year, Jones spoke out about the need for racial justice and equity initiatives on campus. In an “open love letter” to the University, she called on Eisgruber to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs — advice which he heeded just five days later.
At the time, she told the ‘Prince,’ “All people have to do the work of dismantling systemic racism.”
Last week, the Department of Education (DOE) launched an inquiry into the University, after Eisgruber wrote that “Racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton” in a recent letter to the community.
The DOE deemed that statements in Eisgruber’s letter “admitted racism” and is investigating the University for “discrimination on the basis of race” since Eisgruber took office in 2013.
Feliciano saw Eisgruber’s letter in a light “very different from the DOE.”
“What’s underlying our gift is that when we embrace the talents of our entire society, then we are all better as a society, as an institution, as a nation,” he said.
“I saw the letter as an acknowledgement that things are not perfect — nothing has ever been — but that Princeton is committed to continuing to improve and lead in the nation’s service.”
Jones added that because “Princeton is a microcosm of America,” Eisgruber’s letter should serve as “a model for how America can move forward by addressing, not solely Princeton’s racist past, but also America’s,“ especially since “Princeton’s past actions did not exist outside of America’s racist systems and structures.”
“It takes courage to admit when you are wrong. It takes leadership to move forward,” she said. “I applaud Princeton for acknowledging, apologizing, and answering the call to do and be better. That is what all academic institutions, and our country and government, should be doing. You see, that is the Princeton I know and love. It’s Princeton being in the service of humanity.”
As for the DOE’s inquiry in particular? Jones’ opinion was clear: “That’s not something Princeton should be berated or investigated for. It’s something Princeton should be lauded for.”