PROVIDENCE R.I. (WPRI) – If you were a recipient of a Pell Grant, you may have Susan Rice’s mother to thank.

During a talk at Brown University Wednesday night, Rice – who served as President Obama’s national security advisor as well as his ambassador to the United Nations — described how her mother was initially denied a college scholarship she earned as a high school valedictorian because she was black.

Lois Rice was eventually granted the benefit to attend Radcliffe College after her principal and debate coach appealed to the school. If their lobbying hadn’t happened, the elder Rice would not have been able to attend school. After that she pushed for legislation that created a subsidy to help lower-income students attend college.

“She was known as the mother of the Pell Grant,” Susan Rice said, referring to the grant named after Claiborne Pell, the late U.S. senator from Rhode Island.

“That commitment to service and to doing for people beyond yourself and your own family, that was deeply steeped in me from my mom’s side of the family,” Rice said.

Rice spoke to a near-capacity crowd in an auditorium at Brown. The talk was put on by the university’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy. Her book, “Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For,” was released last month.

In the 90-minute talk, Rice detailed her upbringing and her foreign policy work in the Clinton and Obama administrations, noting now “not much remains” from the work that was done then. She noted President Trump’s recent break from the Paris Climate Accord, the withdrawal of troops from Syria in the fight against ISIS, and the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal.

“Policy-making is under siege right now,” she said. “It’s troubling to me because there’s no policy rationale or strategy behind each of these issues. It was simply to undo what was done.”

Rice said the national security decision-making infrastructure right now is completely broken, arguing that “the president seems to take only his own counsel, with uncertain motivations.”

Rice said the world sees that “we cannot get any damn thing done in Washington. Not even the stuff we pretend to agree on.”

“Our adversaries, chiefly Russia but not limited to Russia, understand very well we have these extreme divisions,” Rice said. “They figured out they can weaken us so effectively. They can cause us to undermine our own strategic leadership and our own democracy.”

Adversary countries do so no just by “trying to mess” with elections every two years, Rice said, but by disseminating misinformation through social and traditional media, “and they’re very good at it.”

The efforts are “causing us to disintegrate within, and never having to fire a bullet to do it,” she said.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Rice told the crowd, “It’s not the end of the world everybody. Chill out.”

“We have been through much worse than this before and come through,” she said, rattling off dark moments in U.S. history from the Civil War to McCarthyism and the violent clashes during the civil rights movement.

“We have the capacity to grow and to heal and improve upon ourselves,” Rice said. “Thus far no one has ever won by betting against the U.S.’s long-term capacity to grow and heal and renew itself. And I believe it would be foolish to start now.”

Tim White ( is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook