Wake Forest Hosts Scarred for Life: The Legacy of Forced Sterilization at Home and Abroad

Wake Forest Hosts Scarred for Life: The Legacy of Forced Sterilization at Home and Abroad

5:24pm Apr 04, 2013

Thursday and Friday, Wake Forest University will highlight the issue of eugenics through the films, lectures, and panel discussions of the conference "Scarred for Life: The Legacy of Forced Sterilization at Home and Abroad".

Students in Phoebe Zerwick’s first-year writing class watch the video of a public hearing, and they observe as one by one victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program testify to a crowded room.  For some in Zerwick’s class, this is their first introduction to the concept of eugenics, let alone to North Carolina’s startling participation in a formal sterilization program that only ended in 1974.  Over the course of the state-run program, approximately 7,600 individuals were sterilized. 

Sterilizations came out of a eugenics movement that sought to eliminate “undesirable genetic strains” in the human population. The belief was that traits such as feeblemindedness, promiscuity, and criminality were inherited.  These traits could therefore be eliminated from society by sterilizing individuals (both men and women) who displayed these characteristics.

The 2011 public hearing that Zerwick’s students watched was part of the proceedings of a five-person task force.  The group was established by then Governor Beverly Perdue to research and suggest compensation for those sterilized by the state. Zerwick served as the journalist representative on the committee. She explains how the job of this task force might have differed from that of another state addressing victims. Because North Carolina performed the majority (79%) of sterilizations after 1945, North Carolina still has "many living victims in this state".

The package for compensation suggested by the task force passed in the North Carolina House of Representatives but was then defeated in the State Senate. While measures for compensation have halted, this week’s eugenics conference addresses task force's desire for continuing education on the subject.  On Friday, the conference moves beyond North Carolina to discuss eugenics in the United States and abroad.  Angela Kocze is a Fulbright scholar currently teaching at Wake Forest, and her work addresses the sterilization of Romani women in Central Europe. She agrees that a continuing dialogue is important. She will join others such as journalist Kevin Begos, eugenics scholar and Yale Professor Dan Kevles, as well as former director of the NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation Charmaine Fuller Cooper as a speaker during the program.

For a complete schedule of Scarred for Life: The Legacy of Forced Sterilization at Home and Abroad click here.  
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