USC searches for families of students in Nisei, 80 years after Japanese internment
Scanned images of manuscripts, photos, and correspondence help university leaders identify students forced to leave USC in 1942. Ghosts leave little clue, but a determined academic effort is underway to right a historic wrong and find descendants.
USC Registrar Frank Chang can read university hieroglyphics on sight. A jumble of seemingly mysterious abbreviations and numbers, augmented with handwritten symbols, can tell him what courses a student has taken based on a scanned image of a 1941 transcript. These images vary in clarity and quality. . Stains and transfers on microfiche and digital formats have tarnished them over time.
“It’s like a digital archaeological dig,” Chang said. “With the pieces that we have, we can confirm when some of these students attended, when and where they were born and, in some cases, their program of study. But there are missing links.
Righting historic wrongs against Nisei students
Chang and his team of staff and student workers are part of a historic and unprecedented effort to award posthumous honorary degrees to Nisei students at USC, US-born academics to American parents. Japanese origin. These students, along with virtually every American-Japanese family in the west of the country, were sent to internment camps during the winter months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Although many were able to continue their education at other colleges and universities, they did so without the support of USC: unlike other Western universities, USC refused to provide the necessary transcripts to the transfer.
It is estimated that about 121 students from Nisei were forced to leave USC in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Anti-Japanese sentiment has led to the displacement of over 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps.
A handful received honorary degrees ten years ago. Most were born between 1915 and 1921, none are still alive.
President Carol L. Folt’s decision to award honorary degrees posthumously to Nisei students was announced in October. The diplomas will be awarded on April 1, leaving the university only a few months to complete its quest for eligible students whose families could claim the diplomas.
Since the announcement, the university has received nearly 30 applications nominating potentially eligible candidates. The effort to locate and verify Nisei students is a joint project that includes the offices of the president, provost, and registrar. The Asian Pacific Alumni Association, led by Grace Shiba, is at the forefront of research.
It is so important to bring them here next spring to receive honorary degrees in the spirit of reconciliation.
Asia-Pacific Alumni Association
“We are working as quickly as possible to identify our Nisei students, and many of their families are in contact with USC,” Shiba said. “We are focusing on finding the remaining families. It is so important to bring them here next spring to receive honorary degrees in the spirit of reconciliation.
Searching for clues about the Nisei ancestors
Much like Chang studies academic records, Shiba sorts through lists, photos, letters, and stories. There is a list of Nisei students who received honorary alumni certificates in 2008. A priceless 1942 edition of The rodeo, the USC directory, provides photos and listings of members of the Japanese Trojan Club and other student groups. Archived correspondence researching student transcripts from the fall of 1942 listed more than a dozen names of USC Nisei students.
Anecdotal evidence from family accounts and community groups provides support, and Shiba appreciates the records of Gakusei Kai House, which at the time housed American students of Japanese descent.
“We have a strong sense of who our Nisei students are,” Shiba said. “We are inspired to continue to seek so that these honorary degrees, so well deserved, can be presented to the descendants of those who have been refused.”
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