Berkeley universities

USC building renamed in honor of a Native American alumnus


One of USC’s most prominent buildings – stripped last year of the name of a prominent eugenicist and former university president – will instead honor Joseph Medicine Crow, a Native American alumnus who wrote influential works on Indigenous history and culture, served in the United States Army in World War II and received the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

In order to come to terms with a racist chapter in its history, USC banned the name of Rufus B. von KleinSmid from the Center for International and Public Affairs in the heart of the campus. Von KleinSmid played a leading role in the Californian eugenics movement.

President Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to Joseph Medicine Crow in 2009.

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The university is planning a groundbreaking ceremony in the spring to finalize the transition. In addition to the name change, USC will be offering scholarships to Native American students starting next fall, to continue Medicine Crow’s legacy, USC President Carol L. Folt said.

The students urged the university to remove von KleinSmid’s name after the campus community began to confront his involvement with the Human Betterment Foundation, a Pasadena-based eugenics group that supported a 1909 California law that allowed forced sterilization of people deemed “unfit”. Von KleinSmid himself allegedly believed that people with “defects” should be sterilized.

As the university’s fifth president from 1921 to 1947, von KleinSmid led USC through an expansion that elevated the school to prestige. But its stance on sterilization was “in direct contradiction” to the university’s mission of inclusion, Folt said when the university announced the withdrawal. A bust of von KleinSmid was also removed from campus after a unanimous vote by the executive committee of the board.

Folt said there was a broad consensus to honor an alumnus who has made great contributions to society and who would inspire students.

“We wanted to make a very different statement than the name that was there before, and we wanted to recognize an alum, a person who has really made a big impact in his community and the world,” said Folt. “We thought that every student who walked into this building and learned a bit about [Medicine Crow] will feel a little more proud and a little stronger of their own beliefs and their own potential.

Universities across the country have in recent years removed the names of prominent campus figures after calls from alumni and students about their controversial or racist legacies. UC Berkeley, UC Hastings College of the Law, and CalTech are among those who stripped buildings or institutions of their titles.

To rename the building, the university established the Center for International and Public Affairs Naming Committee, made up of staff, faculty, students and alumni, to identify an alumnus who reflects the values ​​of the university. After compiling over 200 names, the committee unanimously agreed Medicine Crow was the right person to honor – and the university received support from his family.

For Native American students and alumni, the decision is significant for a group often under-represented in the media and academia.

Mato Standing Soldier, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, graduated from USC in 2020. As a student, it has become clear over the years that the role of von KleinSmid in supporting the eugenics movement needed to be addressed, he said.

As president of the Native American Student Assembly, he participated in conversations to ensure that the university represented students in the community. The Medicine Crow name shows Indigenous students that a higher education journey is a space they too can occupy, he noted.

“In many of these predominantly white institutions, Indigenous children can feel very silenced, very under-represented and very marginalized,” Standing Soldier said. “Seeing a name that is unabashedly native can go a long way.”

Raegan Kirby, a USC junior and Native American Student Assembly board member, said she sees the appointment as an example of cultural appreciation and shows “how the university is taking precedence over it. ‘appreciation rather than ownership’. She added that for potential Indigenous students, it might give them “a little bit of peace” knowing that they are represented at the school.

Medicine Crow, born in 1913 on the Crow Reservation in Montana, was the last tribal warlord of the Apsaalooké (Crow) nation. He graduated from USC in 1939 with a master’s degree in anthropology, the first of his tribe to earn a master’s degree. He was on the verge of obtaining a doctorate at the start of World War II. While on duty, Medicine Crow captured 50 horses at a Nazi camp and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier, whom he spared. USC then awarded him an honorary doctorate.

In 2009, former President Obama awarded Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During the White House ceremony, Obama said that Medicine Crow’s life “reflected not only the warrior spirit of the Crow people, but America’s highest ideals.”

He died in April 2016 at the age of 102.

Ron Medicine Crow, his son, said the family were grateful the university honored his father, who recounted his days as a student at USC and how he befriended players from the United States. ‘football team. His father decided to go to USC after learning from his uncle that they offered scholarships to Native Americans, he recalls. When her father and mother got married, they traveled to Los Angeles and stopped by USC to see the campus.

“We are very happy and honored that USC is doing this as a memorial and a tribute to dad,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to visiting Los Angeles for the dedication ceremony and “retracing the traces of my father walking on the grounds of USC Campus. “