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Marta Kauffman ’78 donates $4 million to Brandeis AAAS program

Marta Kauffman ’78, co-creator of the NBC sitcom “Friends,” donated $4 million to the Brandeis African and African American Studies (AAAS) program as a part of the Marta F. Kauffman ’78 Professorship in African and African American Studies in June. This endowment will support the addition of distinguished scholars with a specialization in the study of African and African American cultures and peoples and other initiatives to the Brandeis AAAS program. 

The Brandeis AAAS program was established in 1969 and is one of the oldest such programs in the nation. As described on the AAAS webpage, the program’s mission is to enable the scholarly exploration of “intellectual, cultural, economic, political, social and historical issues related to Africans and people of African descent” through courses from the humanities and social sciences. 

Despite its popularity, “Friends” received backlash for an overall lack of diversity in the characters. Kauffman reflected on the criticism the show recieved during the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the ensuing nationwide protests. These conversations catalyzed her decision to support Black lives by promoting the importance of Black culture and history at her alma mater, Brandeis. 

In a recent interview sponsored by the Brandeis Alumni Association, current chair of the AAAS program and Samuel J. and Augusta Spector Chair in History Chad Williams and Kauffman discuss the AAAS program and her donation. Kauffman describes her motivation to donate, saying, “It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalized systemic racism, and I’ve been working really really hard to become an ally, anti-racist, and this seemed to me to be a way that I could participate in the conversation from a white woman’s perspective.” 

Williams commented on the impact of donation for the program in the interview, saying, “I think we have an incredible opportunity to build on this momentum, to think about ways in which the department can continue to grow, what type of new initiatives programs we want to to now prioritize, to think about more endowed professorships in the department. So the future is really exciting.”

As shown on the AAAS webpage, Brandeis trustee and AAAS graduate Curtis Tearte ’73 commented, “This endowed professorship means a lot to me and my fellow alums of color. The academic rigor, the global culture that I experienced at Brandeis, as well as the foundation of social justice, those are three things I’ve carried through my professional career, and that’s why I feel this is a very significant, watershed moment.”

Overall, the donation is expected to serve the advancement of the AAAS program and will bolster growth in numerous departmental initiatives.

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