USC Games on Thursday unveiled the Gerald A. Lawson Endowment fund to support Black and Indigenous students who wish to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees in video game design and computer science.

Among the contributors of substantial seed funding is New York–based video game publisher Take-Two Interactive Software, the parent company of Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games and 2K Games.

“Take-Two is honored to be the first industry partner in USC Games’ Gerald A. Lawson Endowment Fund,” said Strauss Zelnick, chairman and CEO of Take-Two. “We are confident that our shared vision for enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion in our industry will be realized through the establishment of this fund and helping to enable students from Black and Indigenous communities to pursue their passions and creative futures in USC’s renowned program. We believe firmly that one way to ensure diversity and inclusion in both our company and industry is to actively invest in developing diverse voices among those who create authentic, captivating and engaging entertainment experiences that are reflective of the audiences that enjoy them.”

The vision of USC Games, which is a collaboration between the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and the Viterbi School of Engineering, is for the initiative to expand and support other aspects of diversity and equity, such as salary support for Black and Indigenous faculty and labs and projects that address issues affecting marginalized communities.

Gerald A. Lawson, whom the fund is named after, led the team that invented the interchangeable ROM cartridge used in the Fairchild Channel F gaming console in the 1970s (it preceded the Atari system). Before his death in  2011, Lawson was honored as an industry pioneer by the Interactive Game Developers Association. In 2019, Lawson posthumously received the ID@Xbox Gaming Heroes award at the Independent Games Festival, for his contributions to the games industry.

“It’s humbling to publicly announce this fund in the wake of the verdict in Minneapolis, since Danny Bilson — the director of USC Games and chair of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media & Games Division — and I started working on its framework during the racial justice marches in summer 2020,” said USC Interactive Media & Games’ professor and head of marketing, Jim Huntley. “We felt strongly that it should honor Mr. Lawson since it will support Black and Indigenous gaming students for generations, and is only made possible with the shared vision and support from Take-Two Interactive.”

Looking ahead, donations to the fund will be ongoing while returns from the endowment will support qualifying games program students — known as Lawson scholars — in both the Cinematic Arts and Engineering schools, beginning in the Fall 2022 semester.

The initiative will be featured at the USC Games Expo, the university’s annual event showcasing student games, on May 15.

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