Honoring Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow

April 10, 2022
Remarks delivered at a gala dinner celebrating the naming of the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow Center for International and Public Affairs

We gather in the twilight of this evening, to celebrate a new dawn tomorrow, for a landmark academic building at the heart of our campus.

For all of us, the dedication of this building, and its renaming to become the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow Center for International and Public Affairs, is a meaningful moment, of redefinition and reflection on, our purpose as a university.

We all know that names of the places where we work are deeply symbolic.

Khalil Gibran once said, “Symbols (or names) are powerful, because they are the visible signs of invisible.”

For decades, USC students, faculty, staff and alumni have been saying, the invisible represented by the name of President von KleinSmid was in fact highly visibile – and, it did not speak to the purpose, of education, peace, global understanding and ethical leadership, that is the mission of our university.

And so tomorrow, we’re rededicating this academic center with a new name — that of a man whose life of purpose and honor provides a meaningful symbol of our true, aspirational and life-affirming mission.

It will be consonant with what you all do there everyday – “pursue goodwill among nations.”

And it will be aspirational as you seek to create “an excellent environment for the study of world affairs.”

I don’t think there is anyone, who better exemplifies that honorable purpose, than our own alumnus, Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow.

And now, a few greetings and thank yous.

It’s so wonderful to be here with all of you.

Thanks so much to our honored guests, USC Trustees, members of the Dornsife Board of Councilors, academic leaders, Dean [Amber] Miller, our faculty, students, staff, and alumni, and friends.

And thank you to the wonderful members of the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow family who came a long way to be with us, and our indigenous students, faculty, staff and alumni, for sharing your stories.

I coudn’t decide which Yogi Berra quote to use, but he always has something that works – “You can observe a lot by just watching” seems pretty “in the moment” – as I have been happily watching all of you having lots of fun.

But there is also the more serious, “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Well, tonight and tomorrow are about about history, and publicly righting one of those historical mistakes, by renaming this important academic center of learning with a name that represents hope and understanding for the future.

Names are important – the name we see and pass every day and our grand purpose of education and global understanding taking place within its walls should be deeply aligned.

The playwright Eve Ensler once said, “Naming things, breaking through taboos and denial is the most dangerous, terrifying, and crucial work.” She goes on: “Freedom begins with naming things. Humanity is preserved by it.”

Recognizing our history is also critical, crucial work, and I say that, aware I am talking to many outstanding historians and learned thinkers about culture, history and restorative justice.

To understand why we are renaming this academic building, is to appreciate that by keeping the name of President Rufus von KleinSmid on this building, the university had for decades ignored the pleas of those who cried out that we should not honor his legacy of exclusion and discrimination.

History tells us, he was a known Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite. He barred our Nisei students – who were forced to leave USC in 1942 for relocation camps – from returning to USC to complete their education.

He also was racist, an active supporter of the eugenics movement, and his writings on this are deeply disturbing.

Not only are those beliefs at direct odds with our current dreams and mission, they were at odds with USC’s founding mission.

In fact, USC opened in 1880 on a foundation of diversity – to be a great city, the founders (an ecumenical group) believed that Los Angeles needed a great university, that would be of, and for, the already diverse people of the region.

And while not perfect, USC was at the forefront of diversity and inclusion at that time, and strives to be so today.

For example, the valedictorian of our first graduating class in 1884 was a woman. Our first black graduate was Laura Gertrude Brown, who graduated with a degree in music in 1894. And in 1914, a group of international students founded the USC Cosmopolitan Club to “promote friendship” among students from Asia, Latin America and Europe.

Tomorrow we formally change the narrative of this place, by proudly dedicating this wonderful academic home for so many outstanding departments and scholars, to the legacy of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow.

He too was a historian, and understood the power of symbols, names and places.

He was, in many ways, very contemporary.

As a scholar, he used history to preserve memory, to help us better understand one another, and to bring people together across cultures and communities.

His passion and capacity were evident at USC.

His master’s thesis was so original it contained no references and no footnotes. And he used his time on campus to learn new skills and connect with so many people from all walks of life. 

He worked hard to preserve the memory and history of Native American people, so that current generations could embrace and draw strength from their culture and identity.

He also used history to encourage newer generations to shape their own narratives with pride and hope.

Dr. Medicine Crow inherited the stories of his grandfathers, great grandfather, and the Crow Tribe, via oral tradtions.

In fact, when reporters came with questions about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he translated a first-person account, thus preserving the important history and Native American perspective from a time before reservations were created.

And he dedicated his life to keeping these stories alive and to sharing the contributions of Indigenous people everywhere.

Now, a little bit about the building itself. I think that almost everyone here tonight, regularly streams in and out of this building and sits on its steps to relax in the sun.

It was built in 1966, designed by architect Edward Durell Stone. The building and its globe-topped tower are icons of USC.

In 1994, he received the highest honor given by the American Society of Landscape Architects, for his many contributions, including this building, contributions that had a unique and lasting impact on the welfare of the public and the environment.

It was built with the highest ideals, and now its namesake, will reflect those ideals and more.

Starting tomorrow, people from everywhere will stream past the image of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow and know a new era has begun at USC.

As exciting as this is for all of us who study and work here, it is exciting for the Medicine Crow family as well.

They’ve been getting to know more about the USC and the Los Angeles that Joseph loved.

On Friday, they took a special tour of the campus and Coliseum, to experience where he lived and worked during his time here. His son, Ron, spent time with our students, and the family visited Disneyland.

And tomorrow, we’ll stand together to dedicate this acadmic home for so many, in his name and bring it back in line with our university’s founding values. A home:

  • where inclusivity, scholarship and love of learning thrive;
  • where global nations build bridges of mutual understanding, peace, and unity;
  • and where a great city stands together with a great university, in celebration of our diversity.

We hope you’ll all feel the spirit of this vision when you see Dr. Medicine Crow’s name on this building, his image etched in the center courtyard, as you visit the new historical exhibit in the library, read his writings in the newly named reading space, and as we welcome annually a new program of scholarship students that will bear his name.

Last, before we continue our dinner service, we’d like to show a short video.

Many thanks to Meredith Cruse and her team — for producing this film which would not have been possible without the Medicine Crow family’s generosity with their time and their memories.

The program will return with Dean Amber Miller to talk about the programs here, Professor Bill Deverell to give a historian’s perspective, and Bethany Montagano, Director of USC Museums, to talk about the new art and exhibits coming.

[Following dinner service, USC Dornsife Dean Amber Miller and Professor Bill Deverell provided remarks. Dr. Folt then continued her remarks.]

Thank you, Amber – for reminding us of the work being done in this iconic academic center – and the vibrant community that moves USC’S mission forward.

Thank you Bill – for sharing its history. It was Bill and Steve Ross who most helped me understand the history of this building’s previous name.

And special thanks to everyone who called for change. Some things take longer that you want, but here we are!

Thank you to the USC Board of Trustees who voted unanimously to do this, to the naming committee led by the fabulous Dr. Paula Cannon, to everyone who made the events, the art, the refurbishment of the building and more happen, and to all of you who move forward the mission of our university in its walls every day.

Now, I would like to introduce Bethany Montagano, the Director of USC Museums. She brought her visionary and creative expertise in museum curation to help create a beautiful, welcoming, and educational environment.

She was previously Director of the USC Pacific Asia Museum, and took on her new role late last year in the midst of this project.

Please join me in welcoming her to share more about the art we will see in the building tomorrow.

[Dr. Folt continued after Bethany Montagano’s remarks.]

Thank you, Bethany.

You and your team have captured the spirit and soul of Dr. Medicine Crow.

Dr. Medicine Crow was an artist, as well.

He used words to paint colorful scenes of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and World War II, and to bring Crow traditions to life.

He played five instruments, including classical guitar, saxophone, and drums.

And as Ron put it: his father “sang like an opera singer.”

At the dedication, we’ll hear a recording of two songs performed by Dr. Medicine Crow.

Now, please welcome the Thornton Quartet, who will perform Rachmaninoff’s “String Quartet No. 1.”

The musicians are Albert Yamamoto, Olena Kaspersky, David Kang, and Quenton Blache.

[Following the performance, Dr. Folt provided closing remarks.]

Thank you for that beautiful performance.

I’d like to close this memorable evening with the words of Henry Real Bird, who also grew up on the Crow Reservation…

He writes:

“My grandfather once said,

If you are lucky enough,

some day you will hear the sound

of the sun rising.”

Tomorrow feels a bit like that to me, that with this dedication, I can hear the sun rising – and I am looking forward to sharing that moment, the rising glow of this dedication with all of you. Thank you and Fight On!