By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Dr. Mary Ann Takemoto, who has spent 16 of her 32 years in higher education as a leader in various capacities at CSU Long Beach, is retiring.

In a recent message to the campus community, CSULB Vice President for Student Affairs Beth Lesen said: “It is with mixed emotions that I announce the upcoming retirement of Dr. Mary Ann Takemoto … As most know, she has served this university as director of Counseling and Psychological Services, executive director of Student Health Services, associate vice president and interim vice president of Student Affairs.

Mary Ann Takemoto

“Mary Ann has consistently focused on fostering a culture of well-being and a community of care. She received a federal grant to initiate Project Ocean, a program that has since been institutionalized and continues to do suicide prevention work and education on our campus. She currently oversees a team of case managers and hired the first case manager at Cal State Long Beach. Mary Ann brought YOU@CSULB and telehealth to campus and led efforts to receive the Healthy Campus Award from the Active Minds Organization in 2016.

“Dr. Takemoto has also been dedicated to promoting a culture of equity and inclusion. She initiated the student cultural resource board and oversaw development of National First-Gen Celebration Day. She served as co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Network for faculty and staff (APIN) and the co-chair of the first Student Affairs Equity and Diversity Task Force. Mary Ann has also served on the President’s Inclusive Excellence Commission and has worked closely with the Gender and Ethnic Studies Departments. She has spent many years working to build bridges across campus and many strong relationships exist because of her hard work.

“Dr. Takemoto’s work has extended far beyond the borders of our campus. She has been an active member of the local community and an important representative of CSULB in the surrounding area and beyond. She has served on the Executive Board of Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education and served on the boards of AAUW (American Association of University Women) and the California Conference for Equity and Justice (CCEJ).

“Mary Ann received the Doris Ching Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award from the NASPA API Knowledge Community and the Distinguished Career Award from the Asian American Psychological Association. She was also a Women’s History Month honoree for the NAACP.

“Mary Ann’s leadership as the COVID pandemic took hold was critical and we all owe her our appreciation.

“I think anyone who has had the honor of working with Mary Ann knows her to be wise and compassionate. She is widely respected and is known to be both kind and accomplished. Speaking personally, it has been my pleasure spending this time working with her and getting to know her better.

“So now I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mary Ann …  and congratulate her on this exciting next chapter … Please join me in wishing Dr. Takemoto a very happy retirement and let’s offer her all our thanks and congratulations.”

A Sansei and a graduate of Gardena High School, Takemoto and her siblings were the first members of their family to attend college. She recalled how she decided on her career path. “I really had no exposure to psychology until I got to college. My older brother had gone to medical school and my sister studied nursing, so I thought I would go into the medical field. But when I started to study psychology, I was fascinated by it and decided to change my major. I was not sure that I would go on to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Indiana University until my senior year at Barnard College, Columbia University in New York City. I was fortunate to get a fellowship and go to Indiana.”

She was also concerned about issues facing the Asian American community. “In the early ’80s, there was a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment in the Midwest, as many of the American car manufacturers were closing their plants. It was shortly after Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit, so that was always on my mind. When I taught Asian American studies classes in the ’90s, we talked about anti-Asian hate and the Vincent Chin case.

“Here it is 2021, and we are talking anti-Asian violence stemming from a different context, but the dynamics are still the same. It reminds me how important Asian American studies is in understanding our history so these cycles are not repeated again.

“I started my career at UC Irvine in 1987. There was no Asian American studies program or department at that time” despite Asian Americans making up over 40 percent of the undergraduate population. “I taught one of the few regularly offered courses in Asian American studies. In the early ’90s, students protested advocating for an Asian American Studies Program, which eventually was approved by the administration. It is now a full department.

“Several years ago, former students came together to establish a scholarship in my name in the Asian American Studies Department. I was very proud of that.”

Aware that many Japanese Americans suffered from the trauma of their World War II incarceration, and that more recent immigrants have endured different kinds of trauma, Takemoto explored the intersection between psychology and Asian American studies.

“When I decided to go into the field of psychology, I recall that there was very little taught about ethnic minority or Asian American mental health. That is one of the reasons that I pursued this as an area of interest. There were few role models in the field. There is still stigma and shame that exists in our community about mental health.

“Fortunately, the younger generation seems to be more open and there are groups such as Changing Tides at Little Tokyo Service Center that are trying to educate our community. That is encouraging. When I first got out of graduate school, I worked with LTSC to help start the Nikkei Helpline with Bill Watanabe and Yasuko Sakamoto. I believe this service is still in existence today to provide help to members of the Japanese community.”

One of her mentors at CSULB was Alan Nishio, an administrator as well as a long-time leader of Little Tokyo community organizations and the campaign for redress for Japanese American incarcerees. “I was hired by Alan to serve as director of Counseling and Psychological Services … After Alan’s retirement, I had an opportunity to assume the position that Alan had been in, associate vice president of Student Affairs. I also served as interim vice president of Student Affairs from 2013-14 and again in 2018-2020.”

The most recent challenge that Takemoto faced was the pandemic. “At CSULB, one of my responsibilities has been to serve as the executive director of our Student Health Center. During the pandemic, there have been so many things that we have had to manage, including contact tracing on campus, monitoring outbreaks of positive COVID cases, and providing consultation to campus leadership on policy and practice.

“I am proud that we have been able to host a vaccination clinic on campus for our students, staff and faculty and we were able to vaccinate over 12,000 people. This will help us to think about transitioning back to on-campus classes and activities in the fall.”

Takemoto’s last day on campus is July 1.

“I plan to stay involved in community activities and look forward to having time to travel and slowing down a bit,” she said. “I enjoy mentoring young professionals and hope to continue that as well.”

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