University of Vermont president apologizes for school’s eugenics research

Associated Press
Published: 6/25/2019 10:11:33 PM

MONTPELIER — The outgoing president of the University of Vermont has apologized for the school’s involvement in eugenics research in the 1920s and 1930s that helped lead to sterilizations.

President Thomas Sullivan released a statement on Friday, calling it “unethical and regrettable.”

Last year the university decided to remove a former school president’s name from the school library because of his support of the Eugenics Survey of Vermont and its leader, a UVM professor.

Under the eugenics movement, some Vermonters of mixed French Canadian and Native American heritage, as well as poor, rural whites, were placed on a state-sanctioned list of “mental defectives” and degenerates and sent to state institutions. Some had surgery after Vermont in 1931 became one of more than two dozen states to pass a law allowing voluntary sterilizations for “human betterment.”

Sullivan, who became president in 2012 and is leaving to finish a book, said he believed it was appropriate to state unequivocally that “the Eugenics Survey of Vermont (1925-1936), supported by UVM on its campus, contributed to the stereotyping, persecution, and in some cases, state-sponsored sterilization of members of certain groups,” he wrote.

“We recognize and deeply regret this profoundly sad chapter in Vermont and UVM’s history,” Sullivan wrote.

Seven Days first reported on Sullivan’s apology.

Don Stevens, of Shelburne, Vt., chief of the Nulhegan Band of Coosuk-Abenaki Nation, said he has been pushing for an apology for the last few months as a way for both sides to heal.

“This is a really positive and historic moment, I think,” he said Tuesday. “We can always do more. But it’s a first step.”

His grandmother was listed as a “cripple” in the survey and changed her name several times to avoid recognition, he said. He hopes the state of Vermont will issue a similar apology soon. The social and cultural climate is changing so the time is right, he said.

Last month, the Vermont Department of Libraries said it was changing the name of a children’s book award that honors a prominent author and activist accused of once being connected to the eugenics movement. The move came after the State of Vermont Board of Libraries last year recommended that the late Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s name be removed to better match contemporary times and connect with young readers.

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