UW News

May 9, 2008

University of Washington awards honorary degrees May 18 to Japanese American students incarcerated during World War II

News and Information

The University on May 18 is honoring more than 450 Japanese American students who were forced to leave their studies after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 99066 in 1942, leading to the incarceration of about 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast.

A formal ceremony called “The Long Journey Home: Honoring UW Nikkei Students from 1941-42” will be held at 2 p.m. in 130 Kane Hall. The event will be webcast on UWTV.

On Feb. 21, the UW board of regents approved the awarding of honorary bachelor’s degrees, culminating efforts that began several years ago, involving many different individuals and organizations. This is the first time the UW has ever given out honorary degrees to a group of students.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” says Gail Nomura, UW associate professor in American Ethnic Studies who, along with professor Tetsuden Kashima, presented the resolution to the regents. “We need to get the story out. The students want the lesson to be learned that this should never happen again.”

UW President Mark A. Emmert will present honorary degrees to all Nikkei students or surviving family members who had their education disrupted by incarceration. Keynote speaker will be former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who also was incarcerated as a young boy but rose to become one of the highest ranking Japanese American politicians in the country.

The ceremony will also acknowledge the efforts of former UW president Lee Paul Sieg and other UW officials to help the Nikkei students to arranging their transfer to inland universities. UW faculty also were encouraged to help Japanese American students finish class work before the quarter’s end; some UW diplomas were even awarded in the incarceration camps.

Hiro Nishimura, who returned to the UW to complete his biology degree in 1948, says, “I wasn’t bitter. It’s great to be an American.” Nishimura continued at the UW for 28 years, in the physiology and biochemistry departments. “This is still the best country in the world and the best democracy.”

A photo opportunity starts at 1 p.m. in front of Suzzallo Library as all the Nikkei students will gather for a group photo before the formal ceremony.


Related articles
“The Stolen Years,” Columns Magazine,
Part One: http://www.washington.edu/alumni/columns/dec05/stolen01.html
Part Two: http://www.washington.edu/alumni/columns/march06/content/view/13/1/

“Interrupted Lives: Japanese American Students at the University of Washington, 1941-1942,” http://www.lib.washington.edu/exhibits/harmony/interrupted_lives/index.shtml

“World War II era Japanese American students get honorary degrees,” http://uwnews.org/uweek/uweekarticle.asp?articleID=40044.