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Relocation of Japanese-American College Students: Acceptance of a Challenge

Provinse, John H. "Relocation of Japanese-American College Students: Acceptance of a Challenge. Higher Education 1(8):1-4, April 16, 1945.


Relocation of Japanese-American College Students:
Acceptance of a Challenge

By John H. Provinse*

The largest forced migration in the history of the United States occurred in the months of March and April, 1942, when approximately 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them American citizens, were removed by military order from their homes in restricted areas of the West Coast.


Evacuation of Persons of Japanese Ancestry From West Coast Military Areas

This movement was effected under Presidential Executive Order authorizing the Secretary of War or Commanding Generals designated by him, to prescribe military areas from which any or all persons might be excluded. Begining on March 2, 1942, a series of Public Proclamations and Civilian Exclusion Orders were issued by the Commanding General of the Western Defense Command defining such areas and requiring that persons of Japanese ancestry be evacuated therefrom. The Wartime Civil Control Administration, an agency of the War Department, was set up to supervise the evacuation, and the War Relocation Authority, an independent agency, was created by Executive Order on March 18, to provide for the "relocation, maintenance, and supervision" of persons evacuated from the military areas.

After an initial "voluntary" movement of some 8,000 evacuees had brought strong protest from the governors of 11 Western States, the Wartime Civil Control Administration gathered the remaining 106,000 persons scheduled for removal into temporary Assembly Centers to await completion of the relocation centers. These 10 Relocation Centers were constructed by the Army Engineers on selected sites in more or less isolated areas of 7 Western States--2 in California, 2 in Arizona, 2 in Arkansas, and 1 each in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming. Barrack-type buildings partitioned into apartments were built for living quarters, with messhall, bath house, and laundry facilities for each block of 14 barracks. Administration buildings, a hospital, and recreation halls were provided at each project. Services found in normal community life were provided by the Authority--schools, medical service, welfare counseling, and internal security. Evacuee-owned cooperative retail and service shops were organized, and community self-government was encouraged and aided by the project administration. Work opportunities were afforded to evacuees in administrative service and project maintenance and in the development and cultivation of agricultural areas contiguous to the center.

Organization to Assist College Students

At the time of Pearl Harbor about 2,500 students of Japanese ancestry were attending educational institutions on the West Coast. Nearly all of this group were Nisei--born in the United States. When evacuation was announced groups of interested persons in the area tried to arrange for the immediate transfer of as many students as possible to schools east of the military areas. To coordinate the efforts of these groups, a Student Relocation Committee was organized in Berkeley on March 21, 1942. About 75 students were placed in educational institutions outside the restricted area during the period of voluntary evacuation, but most went with their families into Assembly Centers. It may be noted that the 1942 honor student at the University of California was a Japanese-American who received the gold medal while in the Sacramento Assembly Center.

Although the Authority provided educational facilities for nursery school through high school, instruction at the college level was not made available. With the approval of the War Department, the Director of the War Relocation Authority in May 1942 requested Clarence Pickett of the American Friends Service Committee to undertake the organization of a non-Governmental committee to assist the Authority by opening up opportunities for college students to continue their education. At a meeting in Chicago on May 29, the National Japanese-American Student Relocation Council was formed in response to this request, with members from numerous educational institutions and organizations, representatives of church groups and national organizations such as the YMCA and YWCA, and other interested groups and individuals. The Council originally maintained offices in Seattle, Portland, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, but in March 1943 the work was centralized in Philadelphia.

In the accomplishment of this program, a great deal of unselfish service has been given to the National Japanese-American Student Relocation Council by the small paid staff and many volunteer workers. Before evacuation, the YMCA-YWCA, the Pacific College Association, educators--such as President Robert Gordon Sproul of the University of California, President Lee Paul Sieg of the University of Washington, and President Remsen Bird of Occidental College--and others gave much time and attention to the problems of the student group. Dr. John W. Nason, President of Swarthmore College, as National Chairman of the Council, has ably guided the efforts of the constituent agencies into most effective channels. The efforts of everyone who participated in this work have been characterized by a deep sense of responsibility and a desire to be of the greatest possible service in upholding American principles of democracy.

Permission was obtained from the Western Defense Command for representatives of the Student Relocation Council to visit Assembly Centers to interview prospective students, and a procedure was worked out with the War Department and other interested government agencies for clearing individual students for leave from the centers and for determining what institutions they might attend.

Despite a sifting process designed to eliminate the possibility of releasing any student of doubtful loyalty, the first lists of cleared educational institutions were limited to rather small schools in locations removed from defense centers or other installations of military importance. In addition to these restrictions, there were a certain number of schools in the cleared category which were unwilling to accept Japanese-American students because of misunderstandings as to the status of the students or the nature of the program or unfavorable sentiment in the community. At the same time, a number of the larger institutions were eager to extend a welcome to this dislocated group, but the presence of training or research programs being carried on for the Armed Services precluded their admission.

Public response to the program has in general been favorable. The first news releases brought a few inquiries, the gist of which are embodied by the question, "Why should we spend Government money to educate the children of our enemies when our own boys are being drafted into the Army or are already fighting and dying?" If the inquirer were really interested, and not expressing an unreasoning prejudice, it was usually effective to explain that no Government funds were being used, that these were American citizens who had been taught in our public schools, and that all Nisei of draft age had been placed in a special classification upon the outbreak of hostilities and were not being called. The magnificent record of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Combat Team, composed almost entirely of Japanese-Americans, and the change in Selective Service policy to permit induction of Nisei have done much to answer this type of criticism.

Services and Opportunities Provided

The National Japanese-American Student Relocation Council during this adjustment period accomplished a tremendous public relations task in enlisting the cooperation of the educational institutions, informing persons in the school communities of the background of this group, and mobilizing campus and community resources for welcoming students, providing housing and employment, and absorbing them into existing group activities.

Another much-needed service performed by the Council was the channeling of scholarship funds to students whose financial resources were inadequate. The parents of many students would ordinarily have provided all or a portion of the money needed, but they were unable to help because of losses sustained in the evacuation and lack of income in the center. About two-thirds of the scholarship funds have come from church groups, and the remainder from the World Student Service Fund and two philanthropic foundations.

Many discouraging delays were experienced before the program began to function smoothly. However, at the end of the summer of 1942 about 150 students were enrolled on additional campuses, and by July 1943 over 1,000 had been relocated.

Until January 1944, there had existed a list of institutions which Japanese-American students were not permitted to attend. At that time the Office of the Provost Marshal General assumed responsibility for security measures for all branches of the Armed Forces; and the regulations were relaxed to provide that if a student of Japanese ancestry would submit a Personal Security Questionnaire and obtain the approval of that Office, he might attend any school in the United States outside the military areas of the West Coast. For the first time it was possible for the Nisei to attend such schools as the University of Chicago, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and some of the large State Universities in the Middle West. After a trial period during which the number of denials was negligible, the last restrictions were removed on August 31, 1944, and Japanese-American students may now be accepted at any educational institution on the same basis as other schools.

Nursing schools were perhaps the most difficult to open for the training of Japanese-American young women. Many such schools were fearful of the reaction of patients if these girls were assigned to care for them. A few hospitals in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago were willing to experiment. They found that the girls made excellent nurses and that patients expressed a desire for their services. Through articles in nursing journals and word passed at conventions, the interest of other hospitals was aroused and during the second year of the student relocation program a number of additional girls were enrolled. The most recent report of the Council showed 215 girls enrolled in nursing schools, 194 of them being members of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, and estimated that another 100 had entered nurse's training through their own arrangements.

Transfer of Functions to the War Relocation Authority

In the fall of 1944, feeling that the major part of its task was accomplished, the Council requested that WRA, through the counseling program in the project high schools, assume the placement functions which it had formerly performed; and that the machinery set up to handle public relations in connection with the general relocation program should be extended to the student relocation program. The Council continues to serve as a clearing house for information regarding the attitude of the schools, admissions of students, vacancies in nursing schools, and other items of value to the counselors on the projects, and continues to channel requests for financial aid to sources of scholarship funds. Students may also obtain advice from the Council on such matters as probable expenses, the possibility of obtaining part- or full-fime employment, and dormitory facilities.

Distribution of Students

According to the records of the Council, as of December 15, 1944, 3,593 students had been placed in approximately 550 educational institutions in 46 States. Various factors, including inductions under Selective Service of young men in this group and graduation and entrance of new classes, have caused a normal turnover. It is estimated that the total enrollment has at no time exceeded the pre-Pearl-Harbor figure. Among institutions known to the Council to have accepted Japanese-Americans during the past 2 years are roughly one-quarter of the accredited colleges and universities of the country, approximately 100 hospital schools of nursing, a good many unaccredited small schools, and some trade and vocational schools. Few students have relocated in the Southern States although they have been accepted in all but two. Before the lifting of the mass exclusion orders in January, the Western Defense Command had given permission for a few students to return to West Coast schools, and since that time there have been cordial invitations to Nisei from most of the Coast colleges and universities. On-and-off-campus groups have volunteered to help solve problems of housing and employment.

The Student Relocation Council has from the beginning handled the problem of placement with a deep sense of responsibility. The students have been selected with the intention of assisting those who would benefit most from the opportunity to continue their education, and the students have been recommended to schools and schools to students on the basis of the students' backgrounds, personalities, and needs. The program has been unusually successful in achieving the harmonious adjustment of the young people in the school communities. To the knowledge of the Council there have been only a few failures either scholastically or emotionally. On the other hand, a number of students have made outstanding records. One young woman in her senior year competed for five graduate scholarships and won them all. A young man received "excellent" in all his courses for the senior year, conducted a project the report of which is being considered for publication, and is now an instructor at the college. Others have been elected to class and student-body offices and have received honors in scholarship and popularity contests.

Some Results

The War Relocation Authority is fully aware of the contribution to its program made by the Council. The students were among the first evacuees permitted to relocate from the centers and in many instances were the first Japanese-Americans to live in the communities in which they were resettled. The generally high caliber of the young people promoted a fund of good will toward the group which was extremely valuable later in the general relocation program. Community groups which had been helpful in the adjustment of students were able to assist other relocating evacuees. Information disseminated in developing acceptance for the students were equally applicable to their parents or others of the same minority, and increased the knowledge and understanding of the programs and problems of the Authority. The successful adjustment of their own or their friend's children has been a stimulating factor to relocation of the older generation.

From the point of view of the students, this adjustment program has enabled a number of the most able and ambitious young people to break away from the isolation of the relocation centers and to prepare themselves for making contributions to the life of the country of their birth and loyalty. To many of them, embittered by the apparent disregard of their citizenship, it was a welcome gesture of friendship and recognition of their identity with other young Americans. To many of them also, it will bring an opportunity for a career in work that was closed to them in their former homes. To some of them, it will mean establishing a home for themselves and their families in a portion of the country where lack of concentration removes them from the category of a "minority problem", and where they are accepted more generally on individual merit. This acceptance is one of the goals of the WRA program.

* Dr. Provinse is Chief of the Community Management Division of the War Relocation Authority and has been with the Authority from its beginning. The Division comprises sections responsible for cooperative enterprises, community studies, community government and group activities, education, health, maintenance of law and order, and public welfare.