The University of California Board of Regents today (July 16) voted to grant special honorary degrees to hundreds of men and women forced to leave their studies at the University of California as a result of the internment of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
The Regents' Committee on Educational Policy took the action after UC President Mark G. Yudof said that addressing the "historical tragedy" in this manner was long overdue and merited a one-time suspension of a 37-year-old UC moratorium on honorary degrees.
Approximately 700 students enrolled at four UC campuses -- Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Davis -- were removed from the West Coast in 1942 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order giving the military the power to send Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals to internment camps.
All of those students, whether living or deceased, will be awarded honorary degrees, as recommended by a UC task force co-chaired by Vice President of Student Affairs Judy Sakaki and UC Davis Professor of Law Daniel Simmons. The diplomas will bear the inscription Inter Silvas Academi Restituere Iustitiam -- or "to restore justice among the groves of the academe."
Yudof noted that the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Commission, established by Congress in 1980, found that relocation and internment were not justified by military necessity, and that the broad historical causes were "race prejudice, war hysteria and the failure of political leadership," resulting in a "grave injustice."
"This action is long overdue and addresses an historical tragedy," Yudof said. "To the surviving students themselves, and to their families, I want to say, 'This is one way to apologize to you. It will never be possible to erase what happened, but we hope we can provide you a small measure of justice.' "
The University of California is encouraging family members and others to help identify students who were unable to graduate because of internment and asking that e-mails with information be sent to HonoraryDegree@ucop.edu or call (510) 987-0239.
"I am extremely proud of the action that the regents took today to address this 'unfinished business,' " Sakaki said. "It means a great deal to me personally, to all former internees and to the entire Japanese American community."
The UC students were among more than 110,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans forcibly relocated to "War Relocation Camps" in the wake of Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt's Order 9066 led to military commanders excluding all people of Japanese ancestry from "military areas," including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington.
At the time, UC faculty and administrators protested the inclusion of students in the order, arranged for some students to complete the semester's course work from internment camps and helped arrange for some students to enroll in universities outside the exclusion zone. After the war, some students eventually completed their studies and earned degrees at UC, but the majority did not.
One of the students, Aiko "Grace" Obata Amemiya from Iowa, was at the Regents' meeting and said, "Today's vote for honorary degrees fills my heart with joy. I'm glad the university is recognizing that what the government did was wrong, and now my classmates and I can finally take our place as full-fledged UC alumni."
For more news and information about the University of California, please visit www.universityofcalifornia.edu.