UCLA Alums Pledge $10 Million to Support Ethnic Studies

The donation will fund four endowed chairs in the university's ethnic study centers and support the institution's mission of advancing social and racial justice.
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Published on February 7, 2024
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  • Helen and Morgan Chu were students at UCLA in the late 1960s and helped establish UCLA's ethnic study centers.
  • The Chus have pledged $10 million to the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, the largest gift the center has ever received.
  • The institute includes four ethnic study centers with the mission of research and advancing social and racial justice through research and partnerships.

While many diversity and ethnic studies programs are under attack across the U.S., the University of California, Los Angeles' Institute of American Cultures (IAC) is getting a boost from two alums who helped found the ethnic study center decades ago.

Helen and Morgan Chu have pledged $10 million to the IAC, which is the central hub of UCLA's four ethnic study centers: the American Indian Studies Center, the Asian American Studies Center, the Bunche Center for African American Studies, and the Chicano Studies Research Center.

The Chus were part of the multiracial coalition of student leaders whose activism led to UCLA creating ethnic study centers in 1969, one of the first institutions to do so.

The Chus have been longtime supporters of the university, previously funding the creation of the Morgan and Helen Chu Chair in Asian American Studies and the Helen and Morgan Chu Director's Chair of the Asian American Studies Center. They also support a scholarship fund for undergraduate students.

"UCLA has long been at the forefront of the examination of the histories, cultures, contributions, and experiences of different racial and ethnic groups in the United States, and the Chus' investment will allow us to deepen the impact of this essential work," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a press release.

The funding will endow an academic chair at the Asian American Studies Center and three directors' chairs at the American Indian Studies Center, the Chicano Studies Research Center, and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

The centers provide research opportunities, plan events, host conferences, and provide grants, fellowships, and scholarships to students interested in studying social and racial justice.

"Morgan and I believe that the gulfs that persist in separating people can be bridged through study and research but also through conversation and, ultimately, mutual understanding," Helen Chu said in the release.

Funding Diversity Initiatives While Other States End Them

The Chus' donation comes as state lawmakers across the country are proposing bills to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs at state-funded institutions.

There are currently more than 30 bills across the country targeting DEI funding, practices, and promotion at schools, according to an analysis by BestColleges.

As of Jan. 31, seven bills have been signed into law by a governor: two in Florida, one in each of the Dakotas, one in Tennessee, one in Texas, and, most recently, one in Utah. Only a few other bills have reached the final stages of approval while the majority are still moving through their state legislatures.

A 2023 BestColleges survey found that a majority of students support DEI education on campus and would consider transferring if their college were to abolish DEI initiatives. Hispanic, Latino/a, and Black students were the most likely to say they would consider transferring compared to white students.

"At this important juncture for ethnic studies in American higher education, our purpose with this gift is nothing less than bolstering rigorous scholarship in these fields at UCLA," Morgan Chu said in the release.

"We chose to make our gift here because of UCLA's ability to have a meaningful impact and because the institution has meant so much to us throughout our academic and personal lives."