IU alumnus Eric Langowski and associate professor of history Ellen Wu created a petition in January urging IU administrators to acknowledge and apologize for the university’s ban on Japanese American students during World War II.
Langowski and Wu plan to submit their petition to the IU Board of Trustees, President Michael McRobbie and Provost Lauren Robel on Feb. 19. This will coincide with the Day of Remembrance, recognizing the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The petition had around 350 signatures as of Thursday evening.
The petition describes IU’s rejection of 12 prospective Japanese American students from admission to the university from 1942 to 1945.
“I knew that I had to do something because people clearly knew about this, but people weren’t acting on this history,” Langowski said.
Langowski, a board member of the Japanese American Citizens League, said he first heard about the ban from his boss when he worked as a student assistant at the Asian Culture Center in March 2018.
Langowski said he began research in an effort to illuminate these issues. He published a journal article in June detailing IU’s historical rejection of Japanese American students. During his research, he found that transcripts from Board of Trustees meetings during World War II explicitly state the ban of Japanese American students. He said the meeting minutes of the Board of Trustees used a slur to say that no Japanese people could be admitted to IU.
Wu serves as the director of the Asian American Studies Program and said she appreciates Langowski’s work because it highlights injustices in IU’s history that are often overlooked.
“Due to the research that Eric Langowski has done, we are now able to get to that fuller picture of decisions and policies that our administrators and trustees made during World War II,” Wu said.
In the petition, Langowski and Wu ask that the university provide retroactive diplomas to Japanese Americans denied admission and fund research related to Japanese American incarceration. Langowski said he wants to reignite the conversation about this example of wartime discrimination.
“On September 24, 1945, when Herman Wells rescinded the ban, that was the last time there’s any record of him speaking about it, and that’s kind of the last time that there’s any record of anyone speaking about it at IU,” Langowski said. “It’s kind of been forgotten.”
He said he hopes this petition calls attention to this unjust part of IU’s history.
“The process of working with administrators and the trustees at IU collaboratively to help them find the language to describe their own university’s past, I’m convinced, will help them create a more open and diverse community today,” Langowski said.
Wu said it’s important to acknowledge the past because this kind of discrimination is still present.
“I think that retelling the story of Indiana University during World War II provides us with an opening to address these kinds of patterns that are still ongoing today,” Wu said.
Senior Kevin Phan said he heard of other schools enacting bans on Japanese American students during the war, but he never heard about IU’s ban before reading Langowski and Wu's petition.
“I think it's really important to recognize IU’s racist history,” Phan said. “I think if we’re going to talk about diversity and inclusion, we need to recognize our racist moments and address them.”
Phan said he hopes this petition prompts IU to rectify its past because it is an important step toward making all students feel comfortable and welcome.
“I think addressing the ban is important because oftentimes, discrimination and injustices towards Asian Americans go unrecognized by the larger population,” Phan said.
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