On July 22, Indiana University President Michael McRobbie released a statement on behalf of the university apologizing for the actions the university took during World War II in banning Japanese American students.
The statement and actions taken within are the culmination of work taken on behalf of Hoosier JACL member and IU alumnus Eric Langowski. On Feb. 19, in honor of Day of Remembrance, Langowski delivered a petition to the IU Board of Trustees that asked for a formal apology for the university’s wartime actions.
At the 2019 National Convention in Salt Lake City, the JACL National Council approved a resolution to seek apologies from Midwest schools, including Indiana University, for exclusionary actions enacted during World War II. In 1941, 3,500 Japanese Americans enrolled in schools across the Midwest with this number dropping to 650 in 1942 following the start of the war.
“The history of Japanese American students has been addressed on the West Coast, but this resolution and actions show that there are a wide variety of wartime stories that need to be taught,” JACL said in a statement. “We applaud Indiana University for its acknowledgment of past actions and look forward to the fulfillment of their promised remediation.
“We also hope that other Midwestern universities will follow suit. If you know of someone who was denied admission to Indiana University or another Midwestern University, please contact the Nisei College Redress Project at email@example.com.”
Langowski, a native of Carmel, Ind., was involved with IU’s Asian Culture Center, an office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs program. He organized and moderated a panel commemorating the 70th anniversary of the incarceration of Japanese Americans.
“My grandmother is Japanese,” he said. “I’m a fourth-generation Japanese American. My family lived in California at the time, so they were interned during World War II. The other three parts of my background are all European.”
On Feb. 19, 2020, IU alumnus Eric Langowski and Associate Professor of History Ellen Wu delivered a petition to the Board of Trustees, the provost, and me. This petition, which came to us on the Day of Remembrance of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, urges the university to acknowledge and issue an apology for its ban on admitting Japanese American students between 1942 and 1945.
I am grateful to Mr. Langowski for his research and advocacy on this issue. As a Bicentennial intern in 2018, Mr. Langowski worked closely with University Historian James Capshew to shed light on this unfortunate period of IU’s history. This is precisely the type of research envisioned by one of the IU Bicentennial’s signature project, Bridging the Visibility Gap, which has sought to expand the history of Indiana University to be more inclusive of the compelling stories of the women, underrepresented minorities, and other individuals that have been part of the fabric of this institution, both the good and the bad, for 200 years.
On behalf of Indiana University, I greatly regret that Indiana University failed to recognize the needs of the 12 Japanese American students who were seeking a new academic home during a time when they were unjustly excluded and removed from their home institutions, in violation of their civil rights.
In recognition of this failure, I am taking the following actions:
1) I will direct IU Archives to research details of the 12 Japanese American students who were denied admission to Indiana University to determine whether we can identify any of their descendants or relatives to whom we can convey these regrets;
2) I will have commissioned a plaque containing Indiana University’s Statement of Regret that will be placed at a suitable campus location; and
3) I will ask Provost [Lauren] Robel to appoint a small committee of Indiana University faculty to plan an event that will describe the disgraceful treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, part of which will specifically address Indiana University’s failure to admit the 12 students who sought to continue their education here and the background and history concerning this decision.
It is essential that we do all we can to ensure that the history of Indiana University recognizes the contributions of all those who made this history, but at the same time also recognizes the moments in our history when we failed to meet the challenge of the time with the courage that was required. Again, I thank Eric Langowski for his commitment to this issue, and I thank the signatories who care deeply about this institution.