As USC enters a new chapter with President Carol Folt at the helm, she has the unique opportunity to use her experience as the chancellor of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to effect change at the University.
One of Dr. Folt’s final acts at UNC was to remove the pedestal of a Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam” from its location on UNC’s campus.
USC has faced a similar issue with the Von KleinSmid Center — named after Rufus Von KleinSmid, a former president of the University who was a known racist and eugenicist. While USC created a task force on nomenclature to consider guidelines for renaming campus structures, little has been done to make significant changes. Folt should make it one of her first actions as president to rename VKC and start addressing other statues and structure names that no longer align with the University’s values, like Traveler, USC’s mascot white horse that may have been named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveller.
Von KleinSmid was the University’s fifth president,but he also founded a eugenicist organization in Pasadena and wrote a paper advocating for the forced sterilization of people of color.
It’s clear that Von KleinSmid’s actions and views have no place in today’s society, and therefore his name should have no place on USC’s campus.
When Folt removed Silent Sam’s pedestal from UNC, the Los Angeles Times reported that, initially, Folt advocated for the statue to become part of a “truly strong interactive [learning] center that tells our full history of this university.”
While moving the statue from a place of glorification to a learning space where people could truly understand the history behind the statue could have been a conciliatory move, Folt quickly realized that it was better for UNC’s community to remove the monument entirely.
The decision drew criticism from conservative members of the UNC community — in fact, it resulted in UNC’s board of governors removing Folt from her position as chancellor months before she had planned on leaving.
Folt understood that she would risk her job by removing Silent Sam, yet she still chose to take the strongest possible action. As USC’s president, she should act with similar strength in renaming VKC.
President Folt has come to a university rocked by scandals. Students have lost trust in the University administration, and it’s Folt’s duty to regain that trust by responding to students’ demands and needs.
Students have advocated for the University to reconsider VKC’s name for years, yet the school has taken little action.
Folt’s experience with Silent Sam proves that she is willing to take substantial steps to changing campus structures — by changing VKC’s name, she can show USC students that she is committed to righting wrongs from USC’s history.