USC to officially apologize to Japanese American students blocked from receiving degrees during WWII
By Maina Chen
October 14, 2021
Eighty years after an unjust dismissal from the University of Southern California (USC), the private university is searching for the 121 Japanese American Nisei students who were impeded from finishing their degrees and forced into concentration camps during WWII in order to grant them honorary degrees and apologize to them.
A long time coming: USC President Carol Folt will publicly apologize to the Nisei students from the 1941-1942 year for the actions of former USC president Rufus B. von KleinSmid, who was also later found to have ties to antisemitism, racism and the eugenics movement, according to the Los Angeles Times.
- After the attack on Pearl Harbor, then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 and Japanese American students who were on the verge of getting their degrees were suddenly stripped of the opportunity despite pledging their loyalty to the university and the country.
- These students requested USC to release their academic transcripts so they could transfer and go to a different school to further their education, however, its administration refused, according to a research project from USC law students titled “Forgotten Trojans.”
- Von KleinSmid and Dr. Lewis Ford, the dental school’s dean, believed that forwarding the transcripts would be aiding the enemy. In 2008, despite the California Assembly passing a bill — which became a law a year later — that would grant honorary degrees to the Nisei students who were detained, the university would not budge until 2012.
- After years of persistent lobbying from Japanese American alumni, a student coalition and activist groups, USC was finally pressured to give honorary degrees to the Nisei students. The university did, but only to the ones who were alive and without an apology. Twelve of the 121 students received a degree.
- “This is a stained part of our history,” said USC Associate Senior Vice President for Alumni Relations Patrick Auerbach told the Times. “While we can’t change what happened in the past … the university can certainly still do right by their families and let them know that we are posthumously awarding them honorary degrees so that they can occupy that place in the Trojan family, which they deserve.”
- Folt will make the official apology and give the degrees at an Asian Pacific Alumni Association gala in April. They will also speak about the Nisei students at the graduation commencement in May.
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