Senator Preston Fregia and Senator-elect Michaela Murphy presented a resolution at the Undergraduate Student Government meeting Tuesday to address concerns regarding the name of the Von KleinSmid Center.
The proposed resolution would create a task force comprising students, administrators and alumni who would decide the best way to address the connotations of the building’s name and how it threatens USC’s mission for diversity and inclusion on campus.
The building is named after Rufus Von KleinSmid, the fifth president of USC, who was an active supporter of the eugenics movement in the United States. Von KleinSmid co-founded the Human Betterment Foundation, a eugenics organization in Pasadena.
Fregia spearheaded this campaign to rename the building and created a petition on March 1 advocating for the name change, which had garnered 502 signatures at the time of publication. However, there has been some resistance to the initiative, according to Fregia.
“Ever since this petition has gone live, I have received a multitude of death threats pouring into my emails and my messages,” he said. “People who understood VKC and what he stood for do not like someone challenging that power.”
As justification for the task force, Murphy said Von KleinSmid had engaged in questionable behavior during his time as president of the University.
“During his tenure as president of USC, Dr. Rufus Von KleinSmid both withheld transcripts to colleges enrolling Japanese-American students after being released from internment camps and donated to national eugenic groups who advocated for sterilization in legislative policies,” Murphy said.
Senator Noah Silver noted that the resolution does not call for specific action in changing the name, but merely for the establishment of a task force.
“I’m wondering if there is a reason why in the actionable part of the resolution, it is not explicitly called for the name to be changed,” Silver said. “It seems to me that the task force may be created and the administration may determine that they do not need to change the name of the center.”
Murphy acknowledged the concern, but emphasized that USG must allow for dialogue to occur between the administration and USG and not to be too forceful at the outset. Murphy also said that it is unclear whether legal hurdles will hinder the renaming of VKC.
“What we wanted to make a point of was that there was a need for these communications and conversations to happen, to open that door with this task force,” Murphy said. “This is very much a first step.”
Fregia acknowledged that the resolution is largely symbolic, but emphasized that it has the potential to inspire more student activism.
“The most important aspect of this resolution is that this is now the student body taking a stand,” Fregia said. “I think that what everyone can do going forward is organize groups that can go and make rallies, sign petitions, and keep this grassroots movements alive.”
USC Provost Michael Quick addressed the idea of renaming VKC in a statement emailed to the Daily Trojan.
“This could be the topic of an interesting, intellectual conversation about our University’s history,” Quick said in the statement. “I welcome that discussion.”
The Senate also voted 11-0 in favor of an STI testing resolution first introduced in last week’s Senate meeting. The STI testing resolution allocates funds from the student health fee toward subsidizing sexually transmitted infection and sexually transmitted disease tests through Engemann Student Health Center.
In last week’s meeting, Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler Matheson and Senator Buck Andrews said that the resolution would most likely be altered significantly before the vote on Tuesday. However, the only changes made at the meeting were to the wording of the resolution.