After a national search, Professor Karen Umemoto has been appointed as the new director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and as the inaugural holder of the Helen and Morgan Chu Endowed Director’s Chair.
Her faculty appointments are in the Departments of Urban Planning and Asian American Studies.
Umemoto received her Ph.D. in urban studies from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and holds a M.A. in Asian American studies from UCLA and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Social Science from San Francisco State University. She had served on the faculty of the University of Hawaii at Manoa since 1996.
“We are pleased by the news that such a passionate, extraordinary, engaged scholar as Professor Umemoto will be joining the UCLA faculty and the center,” said Helen and Morgan Chu, “and excited that the Chu Endowed Director’s Chair will support and move forward the center’s outstanding research initiatives and activities in Asian American studies, ethnic studies, and the larger society.”
The Chus are both UCLA alumni and longtime and generous supporters of the center. A leading intellectual property attorney, Morgan Chu is a recipient of the UCLA Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the university. He received a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from UCLA, a M.S.L. from Yale, and a J.D. from Harvard, and has been named one of the “Top Ten Trial Lawyers” in the nation. Helen Chu served for many years as elementary school teacher and along with her husband was among the founders of the center.
“It is an honor and privilege to be the inaugural Helen and Morgan Chu Director’s Chair at UCLA,” stated Umemoto. “As one who is returning to my alma mater and hometown, I assume this role with a deep appreciation for the legacy that the center represents. I look forward to working with the family of faculty, students, staff and community advocates to advance the field of Asian American studies and its relevance in today’s times.”
Her many influential works in the fields of race relations and restorative justice include books — co-author of “Jacked Up and Unjust: Pacific Islander Teens Confront Violent Legacies” (University of California Press, 2016), author of “Truce: Lessons from an L.A. Gang War” (Cornell University Press, 2006) — and numerous journal articles and book chapters. She is also the recipient of research and service honors such as the W.E.B. DuBois Award of the Western Society of Criminology.
Her research centers on issues of democracy and social justice in multicultural societies with a focus on U.S. cities. Umemoto’s research and practice take a broad view of planning in the context of social inclusion, participatory democracy, and political transformation.
While at the University of Hawaii, Umemoto served as the director of training for the Asian Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center (2000-2010) in the School of Medicine, working to reduce youth violence in Hawaii. She has also worked on a variety of community development projects and assisted nonprofit organizations and government agencies with strategic planning.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have Professor Umemoto return to UCLA as director and professor, and the future of the Asian American Studies Center is in very good hands,” said David K. Yoo, vice provost of the UCLA Institute of American Cultures. “I and the directors of the other ethnic studies centers look forward to working with her to advance the collaborative work of social justice on campus and with our respective communities.”
The UCLA Asian American Studies Center, founded in 1969, is an organized research unit (ORU) of the University of California, and part of the Institute of American Cultures (IAC) along with the American Indian Studies Center, the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, and the Chicano Studies Research Center. The IAC and the centers will celebrate their 50th anniversaries during UCLA’s centennial year in 2019.