The University of California, Berkeley announced it is renaming and repurposing a research fund originally dedicated to the study of eugenics, the now-debunked practice of controlled selective breeding of humans often carried out through forced sterilization particularly against marginalized groups.
Bioethics professor Osagie Obasogie was "shocked and dismayed" to discover research money was available from the Genealogical Eugenics Institute Fund in 2018 and brought the issue to the attention of the School of Public Health's leadership, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The fund was established in 1960 as a private trust “for the primary purpose of improvement of the human race through research and education in the field of eugenics," according to Berkeley News, a news site produced by the school's office of communications and public affairs.
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Fifteen years later, the trust was transferred to the UC Regents, the governing board of the University of California, the outlet reported. It's unclear when the funds were allocated to the Berkeley campus.
The Times reported that the fund was first used in 1987 to train genetic counselors, who typically work on family planning and inherited conditions, before that program was shut down in the 1990s.
Since 2000 about $1 million of the fund has been spent on the school's budget deficit, financial aid, staff salary, travel, and miscellaneous expenses like office supplies.
Before the school froze the fund in 2018, it paid out $70,000 annually for faculty and student research unrelated to eugenics.
“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 that has caused great harm in medicine and public health, from forced sterilizations to genocides,” Berkeley Public Health Dean Michael Lu said in a letter sent out early Monday. "It was wrong then. It is wrong now."
The school is exploring a number of recommendations on how to use the remaining $2.4 million to educate those on campus and in the public about the history of eugenics and benefit communities harmed by the practice, Lu said. Faculty members have suggested using the money to increase financial aid for minority students, supporting research and establishing an anti-eugenics center.
Lu called eugenics "a racist, classist, and ableist endeavor" that was the central idea behind the Holocaust and the basis for American laws which led to the forced sterilization of roughly 20,000 people in California in the first half of the 20th century.
“The traditional narrative is that, while eugenics was popular leading up to World War II, the Holocaust forced people to confront the horrific nature of the practice, and the idea went away,” Obasogie told Berkeley News. “There are many notable examples of how that simply was not true and how eugenics continued to be embraced after the war. The eugenics fund (at Berkeley) is another example of how this idea persisted within medicine and public health.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: University of California, Berkeley to rename eugenics research fund