The University of Michigan announced a $3 million contribution from Regent Mark Bernstein and his wife Rachel Bendit toward the new building on Central Campus that will house the Trotter Multicultural Center. The announcement and vote to name the $10 million facility — which was approved for construction in December — Bernstein-Bendit Hall came at Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting.
“Together, they are committed to our students, our faculty and our staff, and the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion, as exemplified from the multicultural center,” E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life said at Thursday’s meeting.
University President Mark Schlissel, speaking for himself and on behalf of the student body, thanked Bernstein and Bendit and said the donation will allow the community to learn from each other in new ways.
“You have taken a project, and you have let us take it to another level. You let us put it on a prime location on our campus, showing the centrality and importance of multicultural understanding,” Schlissel said.
While the building itself will be named Bernstein-Bendit Hall, the multicultural center within the hall will keep its current name: The William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center. Harper explained that a nod to William Trotter — a prominent Black activist and a co-founder of the Niagara Movement — carries strong historical context.
“The name will stay the same because it’s really important and historic, so that won’t change,” Harper said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “It’s important to honor the name and the history.”
Bernstein said both he and his wife are humbled by the opportunity to serve the community. He especially thanked the students involved in the new Trotter center project and said he was inspired by their dedication to the renovations.
“We have great faith in this institution and its leadership at every level,” Bernstein said.
Jerry May, vice president for development who is responsible for the University’s fundraising efforts, including the $4 billion Victors for Michigan campaign, also thanked Bernstein and Bendit for their generous donation to campus.
“This is an amazingly inspirational gift,” May said. “I guarantee you it will have an impact nationwide, perhaps even worldwide, in terms of other alums who will be inspired by this generous gift.
Regent Denise Ilitch (D-Bingham Farms) said it is a pleasure for her to serve on the board with Bernstein and that admires the effort he puts into his role.
“You have set a wonderful example and a wonderful bar for all of us,” Ilitch said. “On behalf of being a Regent here at the University of Michigan, thank you so much for this incredibly generous gift.”
The existing Trotter Center sits far from the diag on S. Washtenaw Avenue. Student groups such as the Black Student Union and Students Allied for Freedom and Equality have demanded a more accessible location for the center for years. Many students of color applauded the decision to move the center to a more centrally located location on S. State Street in front of Helen Newberry and Betsy Barbour.
Bernstein and Bendit have a history of contributing to the improvement of diversity and civil liberties issues. According to a press release, Bernstein has served on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and currently serves on the executive board of the Michigan Association for Justice and on the Negligence Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan.
Bendit has also demonstrated a commitment to community engagement. As an educator and attorney, she dedicates her time volunteering in many different community spaces. She served on the board of directors of the Jewish Funders Network and the Dispute Resolution Center of Washtenaw and Livingston Counties in addition to several other foundations.
As attorneys, both Bendit and Bernstein collaborated with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, an organization committed to protecting individuals’ liberties in legislature and in court.
Harper said she was not surprised by the gift, acknowledging the donors’ roles in promoting and upholding civil rights in both legal and social spheres.
“This so represents who the Bernsteins are, who Mark and Rachel are, and what their commitment has been and their concern and work with many of our students,” Harper said. “The fact that we would have two alums and a donor that would be this generous, to help us in our social justice effort that they have all their lives been involved in, to me, is just wonderful. What a way to end the academic year.”
The new center is just one portion of President Schlissel’s campus-wide strategic plan for the improvement of diversity, equity and inclusion rolling out next fall. Harper pointed to the Trotter Center as the hub of diversity education on campus.
“I think that what this relocation does is, first of all, it really signifies the importance the University is placing on diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said. “The new location makes this important work all the more visible.”