Congressman David Trone and his wife June gave $10 million to Furman University, with $8.5 million dedicated to student mental health services and $1.5 million to support Furman’s Hillel, the Jewish Student Association. The gift makes Trone, a 1977 Furman graduate and a member of the Board of Trustees, one of the university’s largest living donors.
“As a proud alumnus of Furman University, I am honored by the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way on an issue of great personal importance,” said Trone, a Democratic U.S. representative from Maryland who also is founder and co-owner of the retail chain Total Wine and More.
The $8.5 million for mental health will transform services, enabling the university to reach more students in need of care earlier, and with new approaches, making Furman a model for mental and emotional health care – what Trone calls “mental health fitness” – in higher education.
Trone has championed many mental health and addiction initiatives in Congress. He co-led the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, is founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force, and has spoken publicly about his nephew Ian Trone’s death from a fentanyl overdose.
“In this day and age, it is vital that we work together to break the stigma surrounding mental health, ensure tolerance in our diverse communities, and equip our students with the tools and resources to succeed,” said Trone, who gave $3.5 million to Furman in 2013 to renovate and name the Trone Student Center. “With this gift through the David and June Trone Family Foundation, I trust that Furman University will continue to positively impact and shape our nation’s future leaders.”
The gift gets to the heart of The Furman Advantage and its emphasis on helping students create lives of purpose and impact, said Furman University President Elizabeth Davis.
“The Furman Advantage helps students become resilient and adaptable to change in the face of adversity. Mental fitness is vital to developing these skills, ensuring our students are able to succeed academically, socially and emotionally,” Furman University President Elizabeth Davis says. “David and June’s generous donation clearly will make a significant difference in our students’ lives and in our campus community, now and for generations to come.”
Mental health problems among college students have been on the rise in recent years. Several studies show that increase was made worse by the pandemic. A spring 2021 national Healthy Minds Network Study showed that 41 percent of college students screened positive for depression, and 34 percent had anxiety disorder. In a fall 2021 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, nearly 73 percent of more than 33,000 respondents reported moderate to serious psychological distress.
In a recent survey of Furman students, 65 percent said the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted their mental health and 63 percent said it affected their loneliness and isolation.
“The impact of the Trones’ gift will kickstart a more integrative approach to mental health and launch us on a trajectory of prioritizing wellbeing as part of a student’s educational pathway,” said Vice President for Student Life Connie Carson.
With $1 million of the Trone gift, Furman will expand and renovate its counseling center to create more group space and areas to practice mindfulness, as well as provide more flexible space for the expansion of other services and programs. The space will be renamed the Trone Center for Mental Fitness.
Another $7.5 million will create the Trone Family Fund for Student Mental Health and Well-Being. It will fund positions to ensure a consistent level of professional staffing that adapts as methods for engaging in mental fitness change, starting with the hiring of a health and wellbeing coordinator. It also endows the position that oversees mental health and ensures the hiring of a diverse staff to reflect the student population.
But the rising need for mental health services can’t be met by only hiring more counselors. The Trone gift will allow Furman to expand mental health and wellbeing services beyond the walls of a therapist’s office, integrating mental fitness into a variety of student activities, such as mentoring and advising. The goal is to help students develop lifelong healthy habits that promote mental wellbeing, while giving students tools and skills to help them build resilience when health challenges arise.
“We want to be up front about the importance of wellbeing as fundamental to a student’s success inside and outside the classroom,” Carson said.
Programs could include peer mentoring, body image and disordered eating programs, continual screening of all student athletes, alcohol and drug prevention, sexual health, stress management skills and suicide prevention training for students, faculty and staff. Some of these can be integrated into the Pathways program, a two-year course of personal, academic and professional growth that every Furman student takes in the first and second years.
The remaining $1.5 million will create the Hillel Endowment Fund to provide permanent support to expand and enhance the Furman Hillel for a more robust Jewish life for all students and the broader community. The Hillel also provides important aspects of mental fitness by giving students a place where they feel welcomed and valued, and where they can satisfy their spiritual needs.
“By creating The Hillel Endowment Fund, we are able to expand and enhance the Furman Hillel for a more robust Jewish life for all students and the broader community,” June Trone said.
“David and June have once again identified a tremendous need among our students,” Davis said. “We are grateful for their generous spirit and we applaud their leadership and their willingness to make a difference.”