USC renames Center for International and Public Affairs for Joseph Medicine Crow

President Carol Folt said USC followed “an inclusive process to rename the building”

A photo of USC's Center for International and Public Affairs building.

USC President Carol Folt announced Thursday that the Center for International and Public Affairs is being renamed after Joseph Medicine Crow, a Native American historian and war chief of the Apsaalooké (Crow) Nation who received a master’s degree in anthropology from USC.

The move comes nearly one year and a half after Folt first announced that USC would begin “an inclusive process to rename the building.”

Medicine Crow was recommended as the building’s namesake by a diverse group of faculty, staff, students and alumni, Folt said in an announcement to the student body. His family approved of USC’s plan to rename the center.

“We really took [our] time — it means something to ask someone if you can put their name on a building,” Folt told Annenberg Media. “I think it’s beautiful that it happened in [Native American Heritage Month], but we didn’t set out in September and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

More than 200 names were considered for the building’s new namesake, Folt said, but Medicine Crow “hit every single dream” the committee had for the building.

Folt also revealed a new scholarship program in Medicine Crow’s name for Native American students. The program could feature up to five scholarships but more details will be announced in the future. As of last October, there were just 25 American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic undergraduate students at USC.

Medicine Crow attended USC on scholarship. His master’s thesis about the effects of European culture on Crow culture was groundbreaking at the time and remains in high regard.

The building’s name change was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was not something I was really wanting to announce during quarantine,” Folt said. “This was something you really want to do when people are here, and you can really celebrate it, so I think we weren’t feeling the rush to rename it during the time that we were dealing with COVID.”

The Center for International and Public Affairs was previously named after Rufus von KleinSmid, USC’s fifth president from 1921 until 1947. von KleinSmid was a heavy proponent of eugenics — the practice of selectively breeding a human population through forced sterilization to gradually exclude theoretically “undesirable” traits. He co-founded the Human Betterment Foundation, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to researching and publishing information about eugenic sterilization.

Last June, the USC Board of Trustees’s executive committee unanimously voted to remove von KleinSmid’s name and bust from the Center for International and Public Affairs. Students had previously petitioned for the removal of his name from the building.

“He expanded research, academic programs and curriculum in international relations,” Folt wrote at the time. “But he was also an active supporter of eugenics, and his writings on the subject are at direct odds with USC’s multicultural community and our mission of diversity and inclusion.”

Medicine Crow was born in 1913 on the Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana.

He enrolled at USC in 1938 and graduated with a master’s in anthropology one year later. Medicine Crow subsequently received an honorary doctorate from USC in 2003, the same year that California apologized for its 1909 eugenics law.

Medicine Crow had completed all of his coursework for a doctorate at USC when he joined the U.S. Army for World War II. He holds the distinction of being his tribe’s last war chief and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from then-President Barack Obama in 2009.

“Since learning of his incredible life, we have been inspired by his passion for storytelling, as well as his service and love for our country,” Rick Caruso, chair of the USC Board of Trustees, said. “[Medicine Crow] will serve as a foundational role model for our Trojan community.”

Following the war, Medicine Crow was the tribal historian for the Apsaalooké (Crow) Nation for more than half a century.

USC is planning a dedication ceremony for the building’s new namesake next semester. The university is inviting people “from all walks of life,” Folt said, and has already reached out to native tribes in Los Angeles.

“My goal is to make it something wonderfully celebratory, and something that really means a lot to his family and to his nation and to our community,” she said.