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$10 million gift from Helen and Morgan Chu for research in support of social justice
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$10 million gift from Helen and Morgan Chu for research in support of social justice

Helen and Morgan Chu, whose student activism in the late 1960s helped launch UCLA’s ethnic studies centers, have pledged $10 million to the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, the largest gift ever made to the institute.

The Chus have been longtime supporters of the university that brought them together more than five decades ago. Their previous philanthropy led to the creation of the Morgan and Helen Chu Chair in Asian American Studies, the Helen and Morgan Chu Director’s Chair of the Asian American Studies Center and the Morgan & Helen Chu Scholarship Fund for undergraduate students.

The Institute of American Cultures was founded in 1969 to serve as the central hub of the university’s four ethnic studies centers, which are dedicated to research, community-based partnerships and civic engagement that advances social and racial justice. Through these efforts — and through events, conferences, grants, fellowships and scholarships — the centers, their students and affiliated faculty members are helping to shape social and cultural realities in the U.S. and beyond.

“We are honored and humbled by Helen and Morgan Chu’s remarkable gift, which will advance UCLA’s scholarship and teaching related to human identities and some of the most pressing issues of our time,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “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.”

The Chus’ gift is intended to 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. A portion of the gift will also fund research projects and programming across the institute that will benefit faculty, students and other stakeholders.

The investments UCLA will make thanks to the Chus’ gift are aligned with the university’s commitment to inclusive excellence and engaged scholarship, including its Rising to the Challenge and Native American and Pacific Islander Bruins Rising initiatives. In addition, UCLA is currently pursuing official federal designations as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander–Serving Institution.

During their time as undergraduates, the couple were part of the multiracial coalition of student leaders whose dedicated activism and advocacy ultimately led to the founding of UCLA’s ethnic studies centers in 1969 — a moment that established UCLA as a pioneer in the field.

Helen Chu earned her bachelor’s degree from UCLA and went on to a long career as a public school teacher. Morgan Chu earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from UCLA before earning a master’s degree from Yale University and a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School. A specialist in intellectual property, he is one of the nation’s preeminent trial lawyers.

With their continued support of the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, Helen (right) and Morgan Chu aim to ensure that UCLA remains at the vanguard of ethnic studies.

Through the years, the Chus have remained committed to the ethnic studies centers’ foundational mission of uplifting and fostering understanding of communities of color through scholarship and social impact work, which today has become increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary — through intercenter efforts like an ethnic studies curriculum initiative and training program for K–12 educators — as well as international and transnational in its scope.

“Over the course of 50 years, ethnic studies at UCLA has grown from a handful of faculty positions to numbering hundreds of affiliated faculty across all fields,” said David Yoo, vice provost of the institute and a professor of Asian American studies and history at UCLA. “This important gift from Helen and Morgan Chu will provide our faculty, students and community partners with sustainable support as they produce the knowledge we need in order to envision and build a more just and equitable society and world.”

“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. “We are proud to make a gift that will help the faculty, students and staff associated with the UCLA Institute of American Cultures to advance social justice causes in the decades to come.”

Helen Chu is a lifetime member of Women and Philanthropy at UCLA. Morgan Chu has served on The UCLA Foundation Board of Governors and has been a lecturer and commencement speaker at UCLA School of Law. He received the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor, in 2007.

“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. “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.”

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