USC

USC awarded honorary degrees to former USC Nisei students

President Folt conferred degrees to the families of 33 former Nisei students.

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USC awarded honorary degrees to families of 33 Japanese American students whose studies were interrupted by Executive Order 9066 during World War II. This award represents the beginning of the reparation process from 80 years of discrimination and exclusion toward USC Japanese American students.

On April 1, the commemoration began at 10 a.m., where President Carol L. Folt  introduced the USC Tribute Rock Garden for Nisei students (Nisei means that they were born in the U.S. but their parents were immigrants from Japan). The Tribute Rock Garden is located near the Jefferson/Hoover entrance on Trousdale and is now a place of remembrance for anyone who has been excluded because of prejudice or racism.

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“It expresses the resilience, the perseverance and the hope of our USC Nisei students who faced tremendous suffering and injustice,” said President Carol Folt during the inauguration. “I feel so honored and privileged that I was in the position to make a simple exception to a university policy against awarding posthumous degrees.”

The official conferring of the degrees occurred later that night at the Asian Pacific Alumni Association Gala. Folt conferred degrees to the families of 33 former Nisei students, who received them on their behalf.

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During World War II, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor provoked President Franklin Roosvelt to sign Executive Order 9066 in February 1942. The order authorized an evacuation of those who were considered a threat to national security in the West Coast to one of the 10 designated incarceration camps across the United States.

Approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans saw their lives halted. They experienced being separated from their families, dropping out of school and leaving their jobs. They were displaced into internment camps located in California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas, Utah and Idaho. The camps were also called “War Relocation Centers,” “Jap Camps” or “Concentration Camps.”

When the war ended, some Japanese Americans returned to California to continue their education. However, former Trojan students encountered an additional obstacle: USC did not welcome them back and refused to release their transcripts in order for them to continue their education elsewhere.

Jonathan Kaji, former president of USC’s Asian Pacific Alumni Association, has been pushing for the university to release an apology and honorary degrees to all Nisei students whose education was denied. In 2009, the Assembly Bill was declared, requiring schools within California State University and California Community Colleges to award honorary degrees to Japanese American students who were displaced during World War II, either living or who died. However, as a private institution, USC decided to ignore the bill.

In 2012, USC gave honorary degrees to former Nisei students, but included only the Trojans who were alive, leaving more than 100 students without an award.

When President Carol Folt stepped into her role at USC in 2019, she worked with Kaji to create a school policy exception. Finally, Nisei students, who faced discrimination and exclusion for more than 80 years, were awarded posthumous degrees.

“The quest for all of [the former Nisei students], and for all of their families ends today,” Kaji said.

Complete list of former USC Nisei students who received their degree on April 1:

  • Ryuichi Fujii
  • John Masao Fujioka
  • Floyd Kaoru Fujiu
  • Kiyoshi Fujiwara
  • Harry Fukayama
  • Toshio Furukawa
  • George John Furutani
  • Toru Thomas Haga
  • Kameko Hatanaka
  • Kei Hori
  • Victor Nobuyuki Ito
  • Shigeru Kanemaki
  • Sidney Isao Kashiwabara
  • Wayne Masato Kato
  • Nelson Yuji Kitsuse
  • Henry Kondo
  • Alice Yemiko Kurata
  • Raymond Kaname Nimura
  • Fred Fukui Nishi
  • Tadashi Ochiai
  • Jiro Oishi
  • Masao Oki
  • Kenneth Shoichi Ozaki
  • James Shigeo Sasaki
  • Midoris Sato
  • Kunihiko Seki
  • Tomio Sugano
  • Francis Sueo Sugiyama
  • Ichiro Takahashi
  • George Tanbara
  • Roy Hideo Yamamoto
  • Yoneo Yamamoto
  • Isami Sam Yamashita