A professor with long-standing family ties to USC has come out in support of posthumous diplomas for Japanese American students who were unable to graduate due to the wartime incarceration.

Suzanne La Faver
Susanne Norton La Faver

An open letter from Susanne Norton La Faver, adjunct professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, to USC President C.L. Max Nikias, dated April 21, 2015 was posted on Facebook this week by Jonathan Kaji, a USC alumnus and advocate for the Nisei students.

In 2012, USC agreed to grant honorary diplomas to surviving Nisei students during commencement ceremonies, but declined to do the same for those who had passed away. This led to some protests from the Japanese American community. Ceremonies held by University of California and California State University campuses included posthumous honors that were accepted by surviving family members.

La Faver’s letter reads, “I’m writing as the great-granddaughter of USC’s first dean of the College of Liberal Studies, Rev. W.S. Matthew, D.D. He also acted as USC president for a brief time during the 1880s, and raised funds for the fledgling university.

“Rev. Dr. Matthew’s oldest child, my great aunt, Margaret Matthew D’Ille Gleason, served as Manzanar’s social welfare director, 1942-1945. Fluent in Japanese from work as YWCA secretary in Japan, 1908-1918, she loved and respected Japanese people and culture.

“I’m now grandmother to two babies in Alameda who are Gosei, fifth-generation Japanese Americans. They will learn who supported the Japanese Americans during the dark days of World War II, and after.

“USC must now act morally and ethically to atone for injustices done to Nisei students during World War II and their decedents.

“Invite family members to receive honorary degrees for deserving former students who are deceased.

“Officially apologize for USC’s racist policy of refusing to release official transcripts for Nisei students during World War II.

“These are the right actions honoring my family, and those of all Nisei students during World War II. I hope you will heed our cries for justice and do what should have been done long ago.”

La Faver told The Rafu Shimpo on Tuesday that she received a reply from USC, and the answer was no.

Kaji commented that La Faver’s letter shows there is still “unfinished business” with the university.

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