Support for university-based efforts to advance social justice is nothing new. But it tends to come from institutional grantmakers who look to campus scholars, research centers and law schools to move the needle on issues like poverty, democracy reform, or racial and gender equity.
What we see less often are patrons like Seymour S. “Sy” Bluestone.
Bluestone, a former doctor, was a longtime supporter of social justice initiatives at Brandeis University. He passed away in September at the age of 96. And though he only visited Brandies once in his long life, he left the school an $8.4 million bequest earmarked for social justice initiatives.
Bluestone's request will provide financial aid for four to five students in the university's Sustainable International Development (SID) program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, which trains students for professional-level positions in the international development field.
It will also support research and program development in the Center for Global Development and Sustainability, and fund the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program, which prepares students from under-resourced high schools for a competitive liberal-arts curriculum through a combination of small classes, rigorous academics, and academic support.
So what's the backstory, here?
Born in Brooklyn in 1921, Sy Bluestone served as a medical officer in the U.S. Army in Korea from 1945-47, reaching the rank of captain. Later, he held a number of medical positions, including serving for 10 years as director of the New York State Rehabilitation Hospital, where he expanded medical and research services and promoted staff education.
According to Brandeis, Bluestone carried a calling card that included his name, contact information, and two other words: "One World." The phrase reflected his belief that "many of the world’s challenges can be solved only on a global level; that people suffering anywhere on the planet should be a concern of people everywhere."
He began making small gifts to Brandeis in the 1990s at the request of family friends. His sole visit to the school came in 2000, when he and professor Laurence Simon, the founding director of SID, discussed the university's social justice programs and anti-poverty work.
The conversation clearly made an impact on Bluestone. "Sy connected with the quest at Brandeis to act on values and issues of social justice," Simon said. A year later, Bluestone created the Jesse F. and Dora H. Bluestone Scholarship, in memory of his parents, to support students in the SID program.
"Like Sy, the Heller School is committed to making positive social change," said David Weil, dean of the Heller School. "His gift will help strengthen the Heller School’s efforts to prepare our graduates to address global issues effectively."