Wednesday, December 8, 2021

University of Southern California building renamed in honor of American Indian alumni

One of the most prominent buildings at the University of Southern California, stripped of the name of a leading eugenicist and former president of the university last year, will be dedicated to Joseph Medicine Crowe, an American Indian alumnus who wrote influential works on Native American history and culture and served in the US Army. during World War II and was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civil recognition.

In an effort to come to terms with the racist chapter in its history, USC removed the name of Rufus B. von Klein-Smid from the Center for International and Public Affairs in the center of the campus. Von Klein Smid held a leading position in the California eugenic movement.

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

(Chip Somodeville / Getty Images) #

In the spring, the university is planning an opening ceremony to complete the transition. In addition to the renaming, USC will be offering scholarships to Native American students starting next fall as a way to further develop Medicine Crow’s legacy, USC President Carol L. Foult said.

Students urged the university to remove von Klein-Schmid’s name after the campus community began to oppose his involvement with the Human Betterment Foundation, a Pasadena eugenics group that supported a California law of 1909 that authorized the forced sterilization of those deemed “unfit.” Von Klein-Smid himself believed that people with “defects” should be sterilized.

As the fifth president of the university from 1921 to 1947, von Klein-Schmid led USC through an expansion that raised the school’s prestige. But his stance on sterilization “directly contradicted” the university’s mission of inclusion, Folt said when the university announced the expulsion. A bust of von Klein-Schmid was also removed from campus following a unanimous vote by the executive committee of the board of trustees.

Folt said there is a broad consensus to celebrate alum, which has made great contributions to society and will inspire students.

“We wanted to make a very different statement from the previous one, and we wanted to celebrate alum, a man who really made a big impact on his community and the world,” said Folt. “We thought that every student who entered this building and learned a little about [Medicine Crow] will be a little proud of his beliefs and his potential. “

Universities across the country have removed the names of campus leaders in recent years following calls from alumni and students about their controversial or racist heritage. The University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Hastings College of Law, and the California Institute of Technology are among those who have stripped a building or institution of their titles.

To rename the building, the university created a Naming Committee of the Center for International and Public Relations, which included staff, faculty, students and alumni, to identify alumni who reflected the values ​​of the university. With more than 200 names, the committee unanimously agreed that Medicine Crow was a worthy person to be paid tribute, and the university received the support of his family.

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For Native American students and alumni, this decision has implications for a group that is often underrepresented in the media and academia.

Resident Mato Soldier, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, graduated from USC in 2020. As a student, it has become clear over the years that von Klein-Schmid’s role in supporting the eugenics movement must be addressed. he said.

As president of the Native American Student Assembly, he participated in conversations to make sure the university supported students in the community. He noted that the Medicine Crow title shows indigenous students that the journey to higher education is a space that they too can occupy.

“In many of these white-dominated establishments, indigenous children can feel overwhelmed, very underrepresented and marginalized,” said Standing Soldier. “Seeing a name that is clearly native can go a long way.”

Regan Kirby, a junior student at the University of California and a member of the executive board of the Native American Student Assembly, said she sees naming as an example of cultural appreciation and shows “how a university takes a step of appreciation over appropriation.” She added that it could give prospective Indigenous students “a little peace of mind” knowing that they are represented in the school.

Born in 1913 on the Raven Reservation in Montana, Medicine Crow was the last war chief of the Apsaaluke (Ravens) tribe. He graduated from USC in 1939 with a master’s degree in anthropology, the first of his tribe to earn a master’s degree. When World War II broke out, he was going to get his doctorate. During the service, Medicine Crow captured 50 horses from the Nazi camp and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier whom he spared. He was later awarded an honorary doctorate by USC.

In 2009, former President Obama awarded Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At a White House ceremony, Obama said the life of Crow Medication “reflects not only the warlike spirit of the Crowe people, but America’s highest ideals.”

He died in April 2016 at the age of 102.

His son Ron Medicine Crowe said the family was grateful for the university honoring his father, who often reminisced about his days at the University of Southern California and how he befriended football players. His father decided to go to the University of Southern California after learning from his uncle that they were offering scholarships to Native Americans, he recalled. When his mother and father were married, they drove to Los Angeles and stopped at the University of Southern California to inspect the campus.

“We are very pleased and proud that USC will do this as a memorial and tribute to my father,” he said, adding that he looks forward to visiting Los Angeles for the dedication ceremony and “following my father’s steps through USC grounds. campus “.

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