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New UMass Boston leader starts scholarship to honor George Floyd

Marcelo Suárez-Orozco will take over as chancellor of UMass Boston in August.
Marcelo Suárez-Orozco will take over as chancellor of UMass Boston in August.

Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, who will officially become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston on Aug. 1, has started an endowment to honor George Floyd, whose death sparked worldwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality this summer.

Suárez-Orozco and his wife Carola gave $50,000 to launch the George Floyd Honorary Scholarship Fund to help UMass Boston students pay for their education. The fund has grown to more than $100,000 and includes contributions from UMass Boston psychology professor Jean Rhodes, the UMass Foundation, and UMass system president Martin Meehan.

Suárez-Orozco said Floyd’s killing in late May by police is a reminder that much of the inequalities in society stem from racism and that education can be path to creating more equal and just communities.

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“The racist hatred and the killing of a human being, the killing of a human being because of the color of his skin, is antithetical to everything that animates the spirit of higher education,” Suárez-Orozco said. “In education we find a a pathway to a more just, more engaged, and more equitable future for all.”

Suárez-Orozco, whose academic work has focused on immigration, education, and globalization, said he was struck by how Floyd’s killing resonated not only with communities in the US, but around the world, highlighting that the fight against racial injustice is the one the most important issues globally.

“This defines our futures,” he said.

Suárez-Orozco is the former dean of the University of California Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

At UMass Boston, he replaces Katherine Newman, who until recently was the interim chancellor of the campus. Newman is now the system’s chancellor for academic programs.

UMass Boston, which enrolls 16,000 students, is the most diverse campus in the state’s public university system and educates the largest share of low-income students. It also has the lowest graduation rate of the system’s four undergraduate campuses.

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During the height of the pandemic in Massachusetts, many of the university’s students continued to work at part-time jobs in retail stores, food pantries, nursing, and adult-care homes.

The university has decided that most of its classes will be held online in the fall, in an effort to protect students and faculty, many of whom live in neighborhoods that were hardest hit by the pandemic and would have to take public transportation to come to school.

Suárez-Orozco said a committee would determine how to distribute the George Floyd scholarships, but that he hopes that more donors will come forward and contribute so that additional students can afford to earn their college degrees at UMass Boston.

“The pandemic has both revealed and exacerbated inequalities in the United States,” Newman said in a statement about the launch of this fund. “With this transformative gift, they will enable generations of UMass Boston students to complete the education they so richly deserve.”


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.