Valerie Rainford, FCRH ’86, is the driving force behind the new Diversity Fund, which will provide financial aid to economically disadvantaged undergraduates and those from underrepresented groups who are living on campus.
“The difficulty of getting into college if you don’t have the ability to pay is enormous. The ability to stay in college without the proper means is even harder. And if you’ve managed to get in, there’s also the setback of working and paying off student loans,” said Rainford, a Fordham alumna and University trustee who spent 17 years paying off her student loans. “It’s disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx students, and Fordham needs to give these students a more equitable opportunity to attend. This fund was intended to do some of that.”
The goal of the new fund is to encourage a diverse student body, Rainford said. She explained that it will provide “last-dollar” financial aid, including funding for student housing, to undergraduate students at the Rose Hill or Lincoln Center campuses. Funds can also be used for University-accredited study abroad programs.
“It’s almost like a top-off fund,” Rainford said. “There’s a student that wants to come to Fordham, we want them to come to Fordham, and we do not want them turning down a Fordham education because they don’t have that final $2,000 or $5,000.”
Rainford, a Bronx native who overcame many hardships as a young woman, is now the founder and CEO of Elloree Talent Strategies, a consulting firm that helps senior leaders increase diversity and inclusion within their companies. She was previously a managing director at JPMorgan Chase, where she led the company’s Advancing Black Leaders strategy, and a 21-year veteran at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where she became the first Black female senior vice president.
Two years ago, Rainford created the Valerie Irick Rainford Scholarship Fund to help students of color attend Fordham. But she said there were still many students who didn’t receive enough financial aid. Rainford said she wanted to multiply her initial effort, especially after a year marked by racial unrest. So at the end of 2020, she set the wheels in motion for the Diversity Fund.
“There’s something to be said about diversity in the leadership positions. This is the kind of thing you can do and spark others to do when you have a seat at the table,” said Rainford, who joined the Board of Trustees in 2019.
Several other trustees have already donated to the fund, including Thomas J. Regan, S.J., co-chair of the board’s Mission and Social Justice Committee and rector of Fordham’s Jesuit community.
“The Jesuits at Spellman are happy to contribute to the Diversity Fund in the hope of advancing the University’s goal to make Fordham the most diverse and welcoming community it can be,” Father Regan said.
Rainford said anyone can contribute to the fund, and she challenges more members of the Fordham community—alumni, parents, families, friends, corporate sponsors—to help her meet this new commitment.
“The goal is to have others match what I’m trying to do: to create more opportunities for students of color to attend an elite school when they may not have the funding to,” Rainford said. “Funding should not be the thing that keeps them from going to college. This is intended to close that gap.”