Former UC Berkeley School of Public Health eugenics fund to be renamed, repurposed

Photo of Osagie K. Obasogie
D’Lonra Ellis/Courtesy
Bioethics professor Osagie Obasogie, along with other UC Berkeley School of Public Health faculty, spearheaded the effort to further uncover the origins of the fund and confront its existence in the school’s possession.

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A UC Berkeley School of Public Health fund originally created to support eugenics research was frozen in 2018, but the school is now ready to move forward by renaming and repurposing the fund.

After receiving permission from the UC Office of the General Counsel in June to rename and repurpose the fund, School of Public Health Dean Michael Lu sent an email to the school community Monday requesting feedback on the fund’s new name and purpose. While Lu maintains the fund was not used to support eugenics in any way since it was received, he said in the email that the school must acknowledge its role in eugenics, which is the idea of reproducing “good” human traits and eliminating traits considered to be a “burden on society.”

“By accepting and using these funds over the past four decades, we must acknowledge that Berkeley Public Health has been a part of this horrific legacy of eugenics and its disastrous impacts,” Lu said in the schoolwide email. “It was wrong then. It is wrong now.”

Bioethics professor Osagie Obasogie, along with other School of Public Health faculty, spearheaded the effort to further uncover the origins of the fund and confront its existence in the school’s possession.

In an email, Obasogie said the fund’s presence “undermines the values” of the school and UC Berkeley as a whole.

“Eugenics is a remarkably harmful idea that offends the dignity of every person, and has had particularly damaging effects for women, people with disabilities, racial and religious minorities, and other marginalized groups,” Obasogie said in the email.

While the school is in its early stages of renaming and repurposing the fund, it plans to take some steps this year to make things right, according to the schoolwide email. This includes launching the 1907 Project, which will explore the impact of eugenics in society through a series of essays, and establishing UC-wide events discussing eugenics in the state.

Other ideas for the fund include putting it toward financial aid for underrepresented minority students, aiding research endeavors with communities that have been impacted by eugenics and creating an anti-eugenics and anti-racist center at the school, according to the schoolwide email.

Lu said in an email that he is unable to determine when the fund’s resources will be used again. The school’s administration is accepting feedback from the community until Nov. 20. The administration will then determine what to do next, Lu added.

“Hopefully, we can embolden and inspire other institutions to do the same, and that’s what being a changemaker school is all about,” Lu said in the schoolwide email.

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.