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‘Friends’ co-creator pledges $4,000,000 to endow African-American professorship

“Brandeis is where I learned to be a human being,” said Marta Kauffman, who graduated from the university’s African and African American Studies Department.

Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the popular sitcoms Friends and Grace and Frankie, is supporting the African and African American Studies Department at her alma mater Brandeis University in a big way.

The Class of 1978 graduate has committed $4 million to endow a professorship aiding scholars in the school’s African and African American Studies department where Kauffman once studied, according to a press release from the Waltham, Massachusetts university on Thursday.

“These professors are teaching these students who then go out into the world & they do good work, & they run for office, & they teach other people. You’re giving not only for the health and longevity of the department, but also for the future.” – @MartaFKauffman ’78, H’20 3/3

— Brandeis University (@BrandeisU) June 17, 2022

The university’s department specializing in Africa and the African diaspora will also use the funds to recruit more students and educators as well as to support interdisciplinary programs, the university said.

“It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalized systemic racism,” Kauffman, who is white, said in a statement. “I’ve been working really hard to become an ally, an anti-racist. And this seemed to me to be a way that I could participate in the conversation from a white woman’s perspective.”

Kauffman co-created and executive produced Friends from 1994 to 2004. The show’s six lead cast members were white, with white actors also comprising the majority of recurring guests on the show, according to TV Insider.

In a July 2021 appearance on CNN’s History of the Sitcom, Designing Women docuseries, Kauffman said: “It was, to a certain extent, a product of the time period. And of my own ignorance,” further explaining: “There were Black shows and there were white shows. There weren’t a lot of shows that were interracial.”

Reflecting on her tenure at Brandeis, Kauffman told the university following her endowment promise that she was exposed to people and perspectives representing all walks of life and hopes her contribution can do the same for others.

“Brandeis is where I learned to be a human being,” she said. “This is where my eyes were opened – at least, the beginning of that, they weren’t completely open, I had a lot to learn, but it was the beginning of that. It was the beginning of caring about things beyond my sphere and I credit Brandeis for that.”

President Ron Liebowitz said that the endowment is the first in program history. He said it will “ensure the study of African and African American culture, history, and politics for generations of Brandeis students—something more critical than ever.”

“This professorship is so meaningful to both our African and African American Studies Department and to the university,” Liebowitz said, thanking Kauffman “for her generosity and vision.”

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