USC will issue degrees to Japanese students in WWII who were barred from their academic records

President Folt will make an exemption to university policy and issue posthumous honorary degrees to the former students.

USC Building

After nearly 80 years, USC is issuing a formal apology to Japanese students who were barred from their academic records during and after World War II. President Carol Folt will posthumously grant the students honorary degrees at a ceremony in April 2022.

Grace Shiba, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Alumni Association, said in an interview with Annenberg Media that feedback to the university’s announcement has been positive. “People are excited,” she said “They’re in disbelief.”

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order forcibly removing and detaining individuals with Japanese ancestry from the west coast of the United States. Children of Japanese immigrants, known as Nisei, were interned alongside their parents and relatives.

The executive order gave “the military ability to ... remove [Japanese Americans] under very short notice and duress, from their homes, their livelihoods, and for those that were students of all ages, including college students, from their education,” Susan Kamei, Dornsife professor specializing in World War II incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry and Managing Director of the Spatial Sciences Institute, said in an interview with Annenberg Media.

Students at universities across the West Coast were forced to leave their studies due to the order. Most universities scrambled to find new places of study outside of the West Coast for their displaced students to continue their education. USC did not.

Then-USC President Rufus B. von KleinSmid refused to release students’ academic records, barring them from continuing their education elsewhere. This effectively nullified students’ academic progress and forced them to restart their education from the beginning.

Yoshiharu Inadomi was a sophomore at USC when he was forced to leave the university in the spring of 1942. Inadomi later completed his degree at Drake University in Iowa, but remained a USC fan his entire life, according to his daughter, Laurie Inadomi-Halvorsen.

Inadomi-Halvorsen, who is a USC alum, said she appreciates Folt awarding the degrees after a long fight to get the university to apologize for its actions during and after WWII. “I think if my dad were alive he’d be very grateful and he’d be very proud to be awarded this honorary degree,” Inadomi-Halvorsen said.

As reported by the L.A. Times, surviving descendants of these individuals stated that USC refused to honor the students’ academic progression even after the war when attempting to re-enroll in the university.

Protests began in 2007 when the former president of the Asian Pacific Alumni Association petitioned the Board of Trustees to issue an apology for its actions and to endow honorary degrees to students who were denied their academic records.

While the state of California created a law in 2009 requiring state universities and community colleges to issue honorary degrees to Japanese students who were displaced, USC did not follow suit as it is a private university that was not covered by the law.

In 2012, USC issued honorary degrees to nine former students still living at the time, but would not issue degrees to those who had already passed away, as university policy does not normally allow the issuance of honorary degrees posthumously.

According to Patrick Auerbach, USC associate senior vice president for alumni relations, Folt is making the exception after learning that the university had stuck by its policy for years because it “was the right thing to do. And in this case, it would be righting a historical wrong.”