Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students

Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students

USC Games is proud to announce the creation of the Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students.  Our goal with the fund is to educate and train more Black and Indigenous Game Developers, two demographic groups that have chronically been under-represented in the Games Industry. 

With a lead gift from Take-Two Interactive Software – the first of what we hope are many industry partners in this endeavor – the Lawson Fund is set up to receive additional donations to add to its principal, with proceeds from the fund earmarked for Black and Indigenous student support. With sufficient funding, we hope to create similar initiatives that financially support the hiring of additional Black and Indigenous faculty and the development of academic projects and labs that further racial equity.

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

USC Games has been the #1 Games Program in North America for 11 years and the secret to our success rests in our commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. As a joint initiative between the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the foundation of our program is collaboration. Our students from these prestigious schools learn and work together. In addition, we regularly partner with schools across the University including the USC Thornton School of Music, the USC Roski School of Art & Design, the USC Marshall School of Business, and the Keck School of Medicine of USC. 

A commitment we make to USC Games students is not only to prepare them for careers in today’s industry, but for tomorrow’s. Part of that commitment is working with partners and thought leaders to bring more equity to Games and Tech, opening up opportunities in those spaces for under-represented groups and people.

The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund

To aid in this critical effort, we’ve created the Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students, named in honor of Gerald "Jerry" Lawson. Mr. Lawson is widely considered one of the fathers of modern gaming for his pioneering work that led to the development of removable, commercial ROM cartridges. While the medium has evolved, it all started with Mr. Lawson’s innovation in 1976.  

Jerry Lawson oversaw the development of the Fairchild Channel F video game console, the first to use interchangeable cartridges

Mr. Lawson passed away in 2011, but his contributions continue to influence the industry we teach, work and play in. We are honored to have been allowed by his family to name this initiative after him.

Historic Challenges & Opportunities

Many companies, such as our launch partner Take-Two Interactive Software, are aggressively and successfully working to improve minority representation, but there’s more industry-wide work to be done. In the most recent IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey and Diversity Report, only 4% of Game Developers identified as “Black/African-American/African” or “Indigenous,” whereas those groups make up nearly 15% of the US population, causing a gap in representation between creators and players. 

The Games Industry’s attempt to address that gap is further challenged by a widening divide between Black and Native American College graduates and their contemporaries. A primary reason is that college tuition nationwide has nearly doubled over the last 20 years and regularly increases at twice the rate of inflation. And for those Black and Indigenous students who go on to earn their degrees, they graduate with much higher student debt, putting them at a disadvantage as they begin their careers.  

We are not immune to these trends. The most significant challenge faced by students from underrepresented groups is financial support. Although 85% of our students receive financial aid, most graduate with student loan debt.

With the Lawson Fund, we have the opportunity to make our prestigious program more accessible to under-represented minority groups, and become a part of the solution. But we can’t do it alone.

Pressing “Start”

The Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund for Black and Indigenous Students would not be possible without the support of Take-Two Interactive Software, publisher and developer of the renowned Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and NBA 2K series, among other popular titles. Their lead gift will support our undergraduate and graduate Games students beginning in the Fall 2022 semester.  

Our goal is to build off of this initial gift and create a continually increasing pipeline of diverse talent to infuse into the games industry, allowing for new stories and interactive experiences to be told and shared. We’d like as many donors as we can to grow the Lawson Fund and provide greater support to even more students. 

We also need YOU.  Your gift today, no matter the amount, will help expand access to the leading game design program in the country for talented and deserving Black and Indigenous students. 

There was only one Jerry Lawson, but the world deserves more like him. 

Organizations interested in donating to the fund can contact Sabrina Espinoza (Senior Director of Development, Academic Support) at swarren@cinema.usc.edu