Trojan Tales

USC Von KleinSmid Center Named After Eugenics Supporter

The Von KleinSmid Center Library for International and Public Affairs radiates international exuberance and diversity. The brick courtyard is draped in flags from across the world and its halls are filled with students studying global affairs.

The building was named after Rufus von KleinSmid, who became the fifth president of USC in 1921 and served until 1946. During this time, he created the first school of cinematic arts and the first school of international relations in the country. Through the first seven years of his presidency alone, university enrollment increased 160 percent.

While von KleinSmid established schools at USC, he also co-founded the Human Betterment Foundation, an organization investigating the positive effects of "eugenic sterilization" on society, in 1928. Eugenics is the science of population control based on the reproduction of people with desired genes.

The university does not include this information in von KleinSmid's online biography, which may be why many students don't know of his support for eugenics.

"It's definitely interesting," sophomore Emma Waldfogel said. "But I mean, I guess… USC is very much associated with research on the Holocaust so I guess that makes sense in part."

After learning about von KleinSmid, senior Rafael Vergnaud felt like the university should change the name of the building.

"In terms of like naming things and having name on it. I don't really pay attention to that, it's not significant to me," he said. "I do see why some people might be upset and I would agree with them."

In his paper, "Eugenics and the State," von KleinSmid wrote that he believed eugenics was an important duty of the social scientist. "We must all agree that those who, in the nature of the case, can do little else than pass on to their offsprings the defects which make themselves burdens to society, have no ethical right to parenthood," he explained in his paper.

University of Michigan professor and author of, "Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America," Alexandra Minna Stern said the science of eugenics was not unusual for this time period in America.

Eugenics was a popular science, especially in California. According to Stern, California had the most number of eugenic sterilizations than any other state, around 20,000 sterilizations from 1920 to 1953.

"Eugenics was different beliefs about how to organize society more efficiently and in accordance with scientific norms," Stern said. "We look back on it now and think it was a crazy idea… but really [people studying eugenics] weren't the fringe."

Professor George Sanchez, the Vice Dean of Diversity and Strategic Initiatives for Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences previously compiled research about von KleinSmid. According to his work, von KleinSmid prevented Japanese-American citizens from enrolling at USC after World War II. Sanchez refused to comment for this article.

Political science student Danya Rafiqi says she's concerned by the history of the building she studies in.

"It's pretty bothersome," she said. "I think that political science and international relations is huge on morality and ethics, and I mean it's annoying that the guy… worked towards things that I completely disagree with."

Several universities are beginning to recognize the significance of historical building names. Georgetown University, Vanderbilt University and University of Oregon are among schools in the process of renaming buildings on campus named after people with ties to slavery and racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.