Addressing Injustice: UBC’s Response to the Internment
Addressing Injustice: UBC’s Response to the Internment of Japanese Canadian Students – Then and Now
by Vivian Rygnestad
“70 years ago, 76 Japanese Canadian students who were attending UBC were forcibly removed and exiled from the BC coast. They were unable to complete their degrees or to graduate at convocation with their classmates. This symposium will examine UBC’s role in this injustice 70 years ago and raise questions about UBC’s responsibility.” (from the symposium program)
On March 21, almost 100 members of the Japanese Canadian community and UBC faculty met to address issues of ethics, history, responsibility, and the future. Among those present and speaking were UBC Provost and Vice President Academic Dr. David Farrar; UBC Dean of Arts Dr. Gage Averill, University of Victoria Professor Dr. John Price, UBC Professor Dr. Henry Yu, UBC Director Simon Neame, Elder-in-Residence Larry Grant; Mary Kitigawa, Stanley Fukawa, and retired professors Dr. Roy Miki and Dr. Sus Tabata
Since the issue was raised by Mary Kitigawa in 2008, the university has gone through soul searching to respond in a meaningful way for both the Japanese Canadian community and the university. In essence, the question became “What can we do to learn from the past and to educate for the future?”
UBC has responded with a three part commitment:
• Granting honourary degrees at a special ceremony on May 30 to all Japanese Canadian students of 1942, including posthumous degrees to those who have passed on
• Collecting oral histories and digitalizing newspapers and other records
• Offering an Asian-Canadian studies program beginning in September 2013
UBC’s multi-level response and willingness to work closely with the Japanese Canadian community demonstrates their commitment to Dr. Farrar’s words “social justice resides in the heart of our university.” This is momentous as it underscores a commitment that will continue for many years.
The phrase “shikata-ga-nai” was echoed by Roy Miki in his call to learn from the past while moving into the future. As with many others, he spoke of how education is paramount in the generational transfer of knowledge and in retaining optimism and human dignity.
Our deepest thanks to Mary Kitigawa. Her speech was comprehensive and from the heart. At its conclusion she received a well-deserved standing ovation from all present. We thank Mary for her commitment, tenacity, and grace.
UBC launches community-developed program as part of tribute to Japanese Canadian students of 1942
As part of UBC’s efforts to recognize Japanese Canadians affected by internment in 1942, the university is asking the Asian Canadian community to help guide the creation of an interdisciplinary program that will highlight the contributions of Asian Canadians and examine anti-Asian racism that produced events like the forced removal of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.
The new Asian Canadian Studies minor program in the Faculty of Arts was announced by Dean Gage Averill at Addressing injustice: UBC’s Response to the internment of Japanese Canadians students, a symposium held by the University to
explore its own role and response to the internment of 76 Japanese Canadian students in 1942.
“The goal of the Asian Canadian Studies program is to learn from anti-Japanese and anti-Asian racism and discrimination in our history so that future generations can engage better in issues of justice, equity and inclusion,” said Averill. “Our commitment in the Faculty of Arts is to help nurture our future citizens and leaders so that they can strive to build a more tolerant and just society.”
The program will be developed by an advisory committee made up of faculty, students and community members.
“We will consult and listen to those both on and off campus who have a stake in this program so that it will reflect a genuine engagement between UBC and the communities it serves,” said Henry Yu, the UBC professor who is leading the community consultation for this program.
“Students should learn about the events of 70 years ago through the lives of those who endured the racism and discrimination, and through the actions of those who spoke out and stood up against injustice.”
In November 2011, the UBC Senate unanimously approved three measures to recognize and understand what happened to Japanese Canadian UBC students in 1942. These measures include recognizing the students with honorary degrees, preserving and bringing to life the historical record of that time, and developing initiatives to educate future students about this period in history.
Once the details for the proposed program are created out of community consultations, the Faculty of Arts will present them to the UBC Senate for final approval.
The initial framework for the program will be multidisciplinary, with courses in history, literature, sociology, and other departments in the Faculty of Arts, as well new interdisciplinary courses with a core element of community engagement. The intention is to begin a process of community consultation this spring in order to make the program available to students beginning in fall 2013.