Duke was founded on the philanthropy of James B. Duke. Now, its students have found a way to give back—in class. 

Students in the first-year seminar, named Values in Action, partnered with the Philanthropy Lab, a national philanthropic organization, to present a combined $101,000 in grant funding to a variety of organizations Monday. President Vincent Price, speaking before the students at the presentation, said that he believes philanthropy is ingrained into the culture at the school. 

“Virtually everything that is done at this University day in and day out—every course like this we teach, every new discovery made, every life that is saved or improved by our health system—is a direct outgrowth of the wonderful philanthropy that sustains this university,” Price said. “We value philanthropy and live by philanthropy in many respects.”

Taught by professor of religious studies Laura Suzanne Lieber and Christy Lohr Sapp, associate dean for religious life at Duke Chapel, the class was the first ever to partner with the Duke Philanthropy Lab. Students were placed in subcommittees of various topics throughout the course of the seminar to decide where to allocate funds. 

“The most enjoyable part of this is the decision-making that you’ve undertaken is allowing you to provide some resources that will be put to some extraordinarily good use,” Price said. “At the end of the day, that is what drives the philanthropic impulse—to do good works and do things that would not otherwise be achievable without philanthropy.”

The recipient that hauled in the largest grant—at $20,000—was the Asian University for Women, a need-blind liberal arts school for women in Bangladesh. According to the Philanthropy Lab's website, it and its partners had given out $6.8 million since 2011 across the United States but had not yet donated to anywhere in Southeast Asia, as one student noted.

“We noticed that the Philanthropy Lab has never given to areas in Southeast Asia, so we wanted to give back to an education that we hold deeply in our hearts,” said first-year student Thea Dowrich, who hails from Japan. 

Most of the other organizations were local—the third largest grant, at $15,000, was given to North Carolina’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter. Based in Raleigh, the chapter fights for a number of issues consistent with the national organization’s priorities, including criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom. 

“We were passionate about it because we were passionate about the overall values of the ACLU, but wanted to keep it nice and local,” said first-year Multazem Oliver. “We believe in our community. Especially with the political environment right now, it’s very important we keep our values in mind and work towards the representation of all human rights in our community.”

Another local organization, Clean Water for North Carolina, which fights for "clean, safe, accessible water" for all in the state, received $6,000. The “water justice” organization has notably opposed private water companies' "excessive fees" and fracking in the state and has particularly worked to protect low-income and minority water users.  

“Clean Water for North Carolina is deeply grateful and honored to receive an award from the values and action Duke Philanthropy Lab,” wrote Executive Director Hope Taylor in a statement read at the ceremony. “Funding from the Duke Philanthropy Lab will allow us increase our public outreach, assistance with low-income users, and organizing with impacted communities. Your help with this group will bring about stronger protections for all of us.”

A sizable amount was also presented to Church World Service, which received $14,000 and is located just off East Campus. The organization helps refugees get the resources and social services to establish themselves in the area and help them learn how to achieve “long-term self-sufficiency.” 

“We could really tell that the organization was making a difference in the lives of these refugees,” said first-year Hannah Rubin. “When we walked out of the office, we were wondering—what can we do to help this refugees and maximize our efforts?”

Among the other recipients were A Child’s Place, which helps homeless children stay in school, with $9,000 given to the group, and the Dogwood Alliance, which was granted $6,000 to protect southern forests. 

Another big focus was on human trafficking prevention organizations—Justice Matters and The Exodus Road combined received $31,000. Justice Matters focuses on North Carolina and is a pro-bono legal organization that helps survivors of human tracking in the state. On the other hand, The Exodus Road intervenes in trafficking situations all across the globe.