By Claudia Luther
Los Angeles, Calif. (February 17, 2010) – The University of California at Los Angeles is searching for Japanese American students from the early 1940s who were forced to interrupt their education at UCLA when federal orders sent Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II. This historic “wrong” will be righted on May 15, when UCLA bestows honorary degrees on these students.
Some of the former students, most now in their 80s and 90s, are expected to attend the ceremony, and family members will receive diplomas on behalf of others who are unable to attend. Still others will receive diplomas by mail. Many former students are deceased.
Approximately 700 University of California students were affected by the World War II directive, more than 200 of whom attended UCLA. The UC Board of Regents voted last July to suspend its moratorium on honorary degrees in order to recognize the students forced from UC classrooms.
“It’s never too late to join with others throughout the nation in recognizing that the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was wrong,” said Don Nakanishi, who is chairman of UCLA’s honorary degree task force, professor emeritus and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. “More than 700 UC students had to terminate their studies at UCLA and other campuses, and most never received degrees from these institutions.”
Nakanishi added that by honoring these former students, “We acknowledge the many diverse contributions they made to campus life in student government, athletics and academics and formally welcome them back to our academic communities.”
The keynote speaker at UCLA’s honorary degree event will be state Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-South Los Angeles County), who carried legislation in the Assembly calling on California’s higher education institutions to extend honorary degrees to individuals whose college education was disrupted. The ceremony at UCLA, which is the fourth of the UC campuses to bestow these honorary degrees, will take place on the same day as the campus’s annual Alumni Day.
UCLA is encouraging family members and others to help identify UCLA students who were unable to graduate because of internment and is asking that information be sent to Patricia Lippert, associate director of special events and protocol at UCLA: [email protected] or 310-794-8604.
In addition to Nakanishi and Lippert, the members of the UCLA honorary degree task force are Anita Cotter, UCLA registrar; Margaret Leal-Sotelo, assistant provost in the chancellor’s office; Gann Matsuda, technology director of the School Management Program at the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies; Valerie Matsumoto, professor of history and Asian American studies; Karen Nakasato, internal vice president of the Nikkei Student Union; Julie Sina, chief of staff for the College of Letters and Science; and Paul Terasaki, professor emeritus of surgery.