Univ of Cal

UC to grant Japanese WWII internees degrees
Jul.21, 2009

(07-16)— Since 1942, Grace Obata Amemiya has dreamed of the University of California degree that slipped through her fingers when the U.S. government forced her to abandon her studies & ordered her & 120,000 other Japanese Americans to inland internment camps.

On Thursday, 67 years later, the University of California Regents formally acknowledged the historic injustice, voting to grant special honorary degrees to the hundreds of former students like Amemiya who never finished their UC education because of the World War II Japanese American internment.

The decision ended a 37-year ban by the University of California on granting honorary degrees. The regents authorized the suspension of the moratorium exclusively for the interned students, living & deceased.

About 700 University of California students were sent to internment camps in 1942.

A few hundred of them later earned their UC degrees, finishing their studies in the camps, where professors arrived to push final exams through the fences, or after the war. They won’t receive honorary degrees.

About 400 individuals, many of whom graduated from college elsewhere, will be eligible for the honorary degrees – the first conferred since 1972, said UC officials, who are cross-referencing records in an effort to find them.

Among those on the list to receive them are Harvey Itano, the first Japanese American elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and George Ichiro, killed in action in 1945 in the Philippines & posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

“A whole race of people were removed & interned out of fear,” Regent Eddie Island said. “We embrace this as a way to express our profound sorrow & regret.”

Executive Order 9066 was signed by Pres. Franklin Roosevelt in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The order excluded anyone of Japanese ancestry from military areas, which included California.

Amemiya was a student at the UCSF nursing school when she & her family were given 7 days’ notice before being sent to Turlock, a temporary stop before they boarded a train for Gila River camp in Arizona.

Now 88 & living in Iowa, she said the forced internment was hard to accept.
“It was a shocking experience,” she said in testimony Thursday before the Regents Committee on Education Policy. “And yes, you can start your life over again with just 2 suitcases.”

She never moved back to California. She earned her nursing degree in Minnesota after her year in the camp, later serving in the Army Nurse Corps, where she tended to injured soldiers, many of them former prisoners of war in Japan.

“We, with patriotism in spite of prejudice, did our best,” she said.

Even as she raised a family & grew older, Amemiya said she couldn’t forget her childhood wish to graduate from Cal.

“This is a dream I was living all this time,” she told the regents. “Please know our hearts will be full of joy.”

Each honorary degree, issued by the University of California rather than a specific campus, will include the Latin phrase Inter Silvas Academi Restituere Institiam: To restore justice among the groves of the academy.

Justice was a long time in coming for these former students, many are now well into their 80s.

“I would urge you to issue these degrees in all due haste,” Regent Leslie Tang Schilling said during the committee hearing before the full board vote. “It’s getting late.”

UC officials were working out the details for officially conferring the degrees in the fall or spring at campuses where the students attended.

Where are they?
UC officials need help in identifying students who were unable to graduate because of internment during World War II. Anyone with questions or information is asked to e-mail honorarydegree@ucop.edu or call (510) 987-0239.

Source: page D – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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