USC renames VKC, implements preliminary anti-racism actions

The Von KleinSmid name and bust were removed Wednesday night following a unanimous vote from the Board of Trustees executive committee. (Photo courtesy of Jerome Ching)

The Von Kleinsmid Center will temporarily be renamed The Center for International and Public Affairs as USC removes its former title, President Carol Folt announced in a communitywide email Thursday. The change follows months of petitions and scrutiny stemming from former University President Rufus von KleinSmid’s status as a known eugenicist. 

“This moment is our Call to Action, a call to confront anti-Blackness and systemic racism, and unite as a diverse, equal, and inclusive university,” the email read. “You have asked for actions, not rhetoric, and actions, now.”

The Board of Trustees executive committee voted unanimously to remove the name and bust of von KleinSmid Wednesday night. The renaming comes more than a year after former Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Quick announced the formation of a nomenclature committee February 2019 comprising students, faculty and staff. 

“He expanded research, academic programs, and curriculum in international relations,” Folt said of von KleinSmid. “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.” 

The email also announced the implementation of an advisory board for the Department of Public Safety, five years after its recommendation from the Provost’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. To be composed of faculty, staff, students and members of the surrounding campus community, the board will be led by Provost Charles Zukoski and report directly to Folt on safety protocol, policing and engagement with the community on- and off-campus. Folt also said the board, which she hopes will materialize in a matter of weeks, will examine DPS’ relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department and its history of racial and identity profiling. 

The Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, formed in 2015, which recommended more than 20 action items though few were implemented, will also be expanded to include new members of students, faculty and staff. The new committee will aid the taskforce in identifying structural and institutional bases of inequality on campus and developing initiatives such as mandatory implicit bias training and sensitivity and course offerings on racism. 

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Folt said the taskforce will also evaluate student demands on defunding DPS and cutting ties with the LAPD. 

“[These are] decisions that need to be done in consultation with people, and I personally believe what we want is a wonderful, safe environment with great community engagement,” Folt said in the interview. “We want to do it in the best possible way, and I think we lead with our mission, and then we take the actions necessary to get it.” 

Folt also wrote that Zukoski and Senior Vice President of Human Resources Felicia Washington will spearhead the search for a Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, a position the University aims to fill by fall. 

In addition, Folt wrote that she has tasked Washington to work with the community to develop an online Mandatory Unconscious Bias Training program for Fall 2020. 

“We urgently need training to raise awareness of conscious and unconscious biases,” her email read.

Spaces for underrepresented students will also be created on two floors of the Student Union in the fall as part of Vice President of Student Affairs Winston Crisp’s multi-year initiative to expand on-campus and cultural community spaces including for Black, Latinx and LGBTQ students, Folt announced. USC will also launch First Generation Plus, a program to provide resources to first generation, spring, transfer and undocumented students.

In the interview with the Daily Trojan, Folt said she has been attempting to enact these changes to campus since her inauguration but has dedicated significant attention to addressing the issues created by the coronavirus pandemic. As the University makes the transition to return to on-campus living, Folt looks to continue to address anti-Blackness with the advice from diversity committees and other advisers. 

“It’s pretty critical for a leader not to lead with their chin but to bring people with them and lead with the things that are going to take real action, and can avoid the mistakes of the past,” Folt said in the interview. “You always wish you could do more and do it faster and do it better, but I really do think we’re in a really good position to act quickly.”

Folt’s letter comes after criticism of her previous email May 31, with many students calling it a performative gesture acknowledging the killing of George Floyd and other Black victims at the hands of police brutality with no administrative action. Following the email, students called on the University to address and acknowledge racism on and off-campus, to cut ties with the LAPD and to rename VKC via a Black Lives Matter solidarity march Saturday. Petitions from students such as rising senior Jephtha Prempeh and letters from campus organizations including the Black Student Assembly and USC Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation made similar demands. 

According to Folt, these are the first of several actions the University will implement to address racist institutions and structures and support its Black and marginalized communities. 

“This is a long journey, and it’s going to take a lot of commitment,” Folt told the Daily Trojan. “It’s a chance for us to really get a good look but start taking actions pretty precipitously with as broad involvement as possible. And if we do that, a month from now, it’ll be better, and two months from now, it’ll be better. And I think that’s the point … to keep moving forward, involving people and making actions that can get us moving ahead.”

Nathan Ackerman, Ana Mata, Shaylee Navarro and Sarah Yaacoub contributed to this report.