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Celebrating AANHPI Heritage Month and honoring cultural heritage for a more equitable future

This month, as we celebrate National Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, our community is coming together to honor the outstanding and wide-ranging impact that our Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, faculty, staff and alumni contribute to our University and the public we serve.

Our UW community is enormously enriched by Asian Americans and people of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander descent across our three campuses and among our alumni, including many who have left a lasting imprint on our world, like Gordon Hirabayashi. Hirabayashi was a three-time UW alumnus who, as a UW senior, courageously refused to be forcibly removed to an incarceration camp during World War II. The Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously awarded to him currently resides in the UW Libraries Special Collections among his collected papers.

His legacy of bravery and commitment to a society founded on equality and justice lives on in so much of the work and leadership happening across our institution today. Dean Eddie Uehara, who is stepping down as Dean of the School of Social Work after an extraordinary 17 years at the helm, was the first Asian American woman to be a UW dean. Her trailblazing leadership has made the School of Social Work a national model thanks to her commitment to racial equity and social justice as requirements for progress. Seventeen years later, our University leadership ranks more fully reflect the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of our state and region, including Dean of the College of Built Environments Renée Cheng and Dean of the College of Education Mia Tuan. That diversity is also reflected within our Board of Regents and across our world-class community of educators and researchers, from the Burke Museum, to the Jackson School of International Studies, to scholars who are advancing knowledge, art and scholarship in virtually every discipline.

Students have always played a central role in fostering a University environment that welcomes and celebrates AA and NHPI heritage and national identity. From the Hui Hoaloha ‘Ulana- Hawai’i Club to the Filipino American Student Association to the Polynesian Student Alliance, the UW is home to dozens of student organizations that not only bring people into community to explore their shared identity, but invite others to discover what is special and important about a specific culture. This interplay between creating spaces for people to bring their authentic selves to campus and creating the conditions for cultural exchange are part of what make our academic community so special and valuable.

In May and throughout the year, let’s make the most of this rich mosaic of cultures, identities and heritage that forms our community. As we celebrate the AA and NHPI people and organizations that help shape us, we deepen our shared understanding of who we are: a University that is strengthened by our incredible diversity  and a community that recognizes there is more work to be to done to achieve an equitable and just world for all.