Years of injustice, pain, and sacrifice in the lives of Black Americans came to a head in 2020 and continue to mandate change. Thanks to a timely investment, UCLA is gaining momentum in influencing such change.
Supporting Scholars in Shaping Society
An intellectual hub for Black studies on campus and across the country, the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies continues to unify campuswide efforts more than 50 years after its founding. Core to its work is the Bunche Fellows Program, which engages students in research with faculty in fields ranging from medicine to world arts and cultures. Together, these teams put cutting-edge research to real-world work. From examining health outcomes in Black neighborhoods to correlating data on over-policing and incarceration, students get the opportunity to learn laboratory work, data analysis, archival research, creative production, and more. Their applied scholarship on the Black experience aims to help understand and improve conditions of Black life past, present, and future.
After relying on initial state funding, the Bunche Center recently received a commitment of $800,000 for the Bunche Fellows Program, a gift that will support students for two years. Funds will enable UCLA to train the first privately funded cohorts of ten undergraduate and ten graduate students each year, in addition to two postdoctoral scholars.
Building Careers and Community
Established in 2019, the Bunche Fellows Program extends the center’s decades-long ethos of strengthening a pipeline for Black scholars and scholarship across the academic career arc. Interdisciplinary and intergenerational, the program not only trains the next generation for further education and future positions but also builds community among mentors and mentees alike. And it provides a safe space for participants to process deeply personal questions, including how to raise their voices in scholarly activism alongside more visible protests and advocacy.
“Community-building couldn’t be more important, especially during the pandemic,” says Dr. Lorrie Frasure, who is acting director of the center and mentors students through the program. “It’s so important that students can see themselves represented — that an undergraduate can see what it’s like to be a graduate student, who can learn alongside postdoctoral scholars, and they’re all working with junior and tenured faculty. This intellectual community feeds the souls of all.”
A Turning Point
Enhancing the program plays a key role in UCLA’s response to the uprisings of 2020. Rising to the challenge, UCLA’s chancellor and other leaders committed to investing in Black students and empowering Black-led scholarship and partnership, a needed first step on the long road toward racial justice. Bunche Fellows will not only contribute but will play a leading role as the conversation continues at UCLA, in the UC system, and in society at large.
The new gift also spurs the Bunche Fellows Program as UCLA seeks to make it a permanent part of the Bunche Center. It’s a long-term vision that carries on the center’s legacy and creates ripple effects far into the future, as Dr. Kelly Lytle Hernández, MA ’00, PhD ’02 sees it.
“I hope that 50 years from now, we’ll be able to look back on a generation of young scholars who came out of the Bunche Fellows Program and became freedom fighters advancing research that improves Black lives in every direction,” says Hernández, who will return to serving as Bunche Center director after a sabbatical this year. “We will have invested in, loved, and supported new engineers, doctors, dancers, artists, and academics who transform their disciplines and the world.”
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Published February 2021