Eugenics in California and the World: Race, Class, Gender/Sexuality, and Disability”

A Virtual Symposium, Friday & Saturday, June 3-4, 2021

Details to follow










California Eugenics Legacies Project: Views Inside and Out of Ivory Towers

(Project Description)

Problem Statement

We are an interdisciplinary network of academics, educators, and members of the community working to understand the continuing legacy of eugenics in the State of California and bring these legacies to public awareness. This work is part of a larger ongoing, cross-institutional, and transnational series of events running this year and into the summer of 2021 across the United Kingdom, United States, and North America and Europe more broadly, called From Small Beginnings ( Building on the momentum of the ongoing discussions around the University College London Eugenics Inquiry, the series examines and analyzes the manifestations of eugenics, the science of “better breeding,” locally and internationally. The conference will culminate in events to be held in collaboration among London and New York, among other locales, marking 100 years since the Second International Eugenics Congress in New York in 1921. Regional reflections across the United States—California, the Midwest, South, and New England—as well as Canada, Mexico, Poland and France will feed into and help shape discussions.

In a time of resurgence of eugenic thinking we believe connecting California’s eugenic past to our present is an urgent project. Issues we seek to explore include: How was science used and misused in the name of “race betterment”? How did eugenics discourse contribute to the idea of California tribes, specifically, as a "disappearing race predestined to extinction" and to the state's origin stories and discourse of progress? How does this legacy impact on-going discussions and decisions in health, medicine, human genetic science and technology, bioethics, education, psychology, and social work, among others? What can humanities bring to bear on these questions? And, how can California's institutions of higher learning best reckon with their past affiliations with and promotion of eugenic ideas and practices?

California has been at the forefront of eugenics nationally and internationally. Many people are still surprised to learn that the Golden State performed more eugenic sterilizations -- 20,000 -- than any of the 32 states that passed sterilization laws in the 20th century. Eugenics became “baked” into many California institutions, including universities, juvenile agencies, criminal legal institutions, and health and welfare organizations. These legacies are deep and sinewy and require extensive research to be illuminated and challenged. Building social, reproductive, economic, and disability justice and fighting systemic racism in contemporary multiracial California requires grappling with the history and continuing legacies of eugenics.


Proposed Objectives

The objective of this residency is to enable the working group to come together to collaborate on bringing to the fore the histories, voices, and experiences of thousands of Californians subjected to eugenic ideologies, policies, and practices, as they relate to disability, gender, sexuality, class, nation, and race in the twentieth century and beyond. To do so, we plan to hold an online symposium in May 2021 examining specifically the legacy of California’s institutions of higher learning—including UC, CSU, and private colleges and universities—in promoting, sustaining, and mainstreaming eugenics via education. Tentatively, the symposium will include four panels of scholars, students, and members of the community focused on exploring 1) the institutional legacies of eugenics; 2) new research on eugenics in higher education; 3) curricular and student activism on campuses; and 4) transnational and international contexts. The symposium will allow us to disseminate our work in a public-facing, online format (in the form of webinars) and to follow up with blog posts (such as at JAH Process), online discussions, and resources (on a website), enabling us to connect with public audiences. This would provide us, too, with the opportunity to bring research- and community-based contributions from California to the international “From Small Beginnings” conference in summer 2021.

From these events and discussions, we plan to apply for a longer-term UCHRI residency for spring 2021 or fall 2021, depending on the status of COVID19 and quarantine measures. The residency would provide us an opportunity to engage with our colleagues in London and elsewhere to think globally about eugenics and to plan a California- and UC-focused international one-to-two day public symposium on the legacy of eugenics in 2022, tentatively “Eugenics in California and the World: Race, Class, Gender/Sexuality, and Disability.”


To carry out this collaborative work, we would like to request support – funding – to hire, ideally, one-to-two graduate students to assist with the organizational and online logistics of the symposium and follow up online content, including a website. We would also ask for honoraria, or some other kind of compensation, for symposium participants in recognition of their time and commitment. As is evident from their brief biographies, they represent a diverse cohort of scholars, educators, students, activists, and community members who bring critical perspectives to on-going discussions and collaborations.


List of Participants

Chase Burton (Leiden University), Ryan Lee Cartwright (UC Davis) , Miroslava Chavez-Garcia (UC Santa Barbara), Marcy Darnovsky (Center for Genetics and Society), Troy Duster (UC Berkeley), Trevor R. Getz (San Francisco State University), Isidro González (UC Santa Barbara), Bradley W. Hart (California State University, Fresno), Benedict Ipgrave (Birkbeck), Wendy Kline (Purdue University), Rebecca Kluchin (California State University, Sacramento), Ewa Barbara Luczak (Warsaw University), Gina Maranto (University of Miami), Karen Nakamura (UC Berkeley), Osagie K. Obasogie (UC Berkeley), Donna Perkins, Tony Platt (UC Berkeley), Milton Reynolds (Longmore Institute), Susan Schweik (UC Berkeley), Jonathan Simon (UC Berkeley), Alexandra Minna Stern (University of Michigan)

Series supported by...


NADSN London Hub

Birkbeck College, University of London

UoLDOG : University of London (colleges) Disability Officers Group


Benedict Ipgrave (Programme Curator)