Bellevue College VP Put on Leave After ‘Removing History’ on Mural for Japanese American Concentration Camps

Bellevue College, a public college in Washington state, has apologized for editing an art installation that commemorated the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The display, titled “Never Again is Now,” features an 11-foot mural of two Japanese American children from a concentration camp in California, placed alongside a placard description.

Image via @aka_carol

The project was reportedly completed in time for the Day of Remembrance last month, which marks the date President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing Japanese concentration camps in 1942.

Unfortunately, it did not take long before it was altered — and by no less than one of the college’s nine vice presidents.

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Gayle Colston Barge, Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Bellevue College. Image via Gayle Colston Barge on LinkedIn

Gayle Colston Barge, vice president of institutional advancement at Bellevue College, removed a line from the mural’s description that references a local businessman who pushed for the exclusion of Japanese Americans.

“After decades of anti-Japanese agitation, led by Eastside businessman Miller Freeman and others, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans included the 60 families (300 individuals) who farmed Bellevue,” it stated.

Image via @aka_carol

Three years after the enforcement of Executive Order No. 9066, Miller’s son, Kemper Freeman, Sr., bought a 10-acre (4.05-hectare) tract of land that is now home to Bellevue Square, according to The Hill.

The shopping center, which currently houses about 200 stores, is part of the Bellevue Collection run by Miller’s grandson, Kemper Freeman, Jr., founder of the Kemper Development Company.

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Miller Freeman

Barge reportedly whited-out the line before taping a laminated description (without that sentence) on top of it.

“I feel the feelings associated with both sides of my family being forcibly removed from Seattle — erased, unimportant, disregarded, disrespected, shamed,” mural creator Erin Shigaki told The Seattle Times, adding that the incident had “traumatized” her.

Erin Shigaki. Image via Erin Shigaki on LinkedIn

Bellevue College President Jerry Weber apologized for the incident in a letter to the academic community last week. Spokeswoman Nicole Beattie subsequently named Barge as the administrator responsible for it.

“It was a mistake to alter the artist’s work,” Weber wrote. “Removing the reference gave the impression that the administrator was attempting to remove or rewrite history, a history that directly impacts many today. Editing artistic works changes the message and meaning of the work.”

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Weber added that the administrator had apologized to Shigaki and attended a forum where she “apologized, listened and answered questions.”

A building in Bellevue College. Image via @bellevuecollege

Japanese Americans have weighed in on the issue, including George Takei. The “Star Trek” actor was incarcerated as a child.

“Art, and history, should not be subject to administrative sensitivities. Glad they have apologized,” he tweeted.

Barge has been placed on paid administrative leave “as a result of her actions, and while we process the impact of this incident on our community,” Weber told students on Thursday.

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Feature Images via @aka_carol

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