Call upon Indiana University to rectify for its past ban on Japanese American students
The following letter will be sent to Indiana University Board of Trustees, Indiana University President Michael McRobbie, and Bloomington Campus Provost Lauren Robel before the 2020 Day of Remembrance (February 19, 2020).
Body of the Letter
Dear Indiana University Board of Trustees, Indiana University President Michael McRobbie, and Bloomington Campus Provost Lauren Robel:
We, the undersigned faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Indiana University (IU), along with concerned community members, urge IU to take appropriate and substantive action to rectify a troubling injustice in our institution’s history. During World War II, IU’s Board of Trustees and key members of IU’s administration repeatedly denied admission to Japanese American applicants. Between 1942 and 1945, approximately twelve prospective students of Japanese American ancestry sought to enroll in both undergraduate and professional programs. These young people had been barred from their schools on the Pacific coast after the US government falsely accused them of threatening national security. They had looked to IU in hopes of continuing their education amidst this duress.
Historical evidence reveals that racial profiling motivated IU’s denials. On May 9, 1942, the IU Board of Trustees ruled that “no Jap. be admitted to Indiana University.” At that meeting, Trustees President Ora L. Wildermuth explicitly laid out the rationale behind the decision. “As I see it, there is a difference in Japanese and Germans or Italians—they are Aryans and can be assimilated but the Japanese can’t—they are different racially. I can’t believe that any Japanese, no matter where he was born, is anything but a Japanese.” Over the course of the war, this logic guided the decision-making of President Herman B. Wells and other university officials. They repeatedly denied individual cases of prospective Japanese American students. Moreover, IU’s ban remained in place for well over a year after federal authorities lifted the orders for the mandatory expulsion and detention of Pacific coast Japanese Americans.
IU has yet to do anything significant to acknowledge and correct this mistake.
Fortunately, there are useful examples of how to move forward. With the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the United States government itself officially apologized for its wartime treatment of Japanese Americans. A blue-ribbon investigative panel concluded that there was no “military necessity” to justify the World War II incarceration. Rather, this egregious wrong had resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The same can be said for Indiana University’s participation in that moment. Now we ask IU to acknowledge this misstep and its motivations.
At that time, Congress also established a public education fund to support research, creative activities, teaching, and public-facing programming related to this important moment in US history. By 1998, $8.3 million had been allocated for these efforts. We request that IU provide funding to students, staff, faculty, and community partners interested in research, creative activities, teaching, and public-facing programming related to the themes and questions—broadly construed—of World War II Japanese American incarceration. Certainly these themes and questions remain urgent today.
Since 2008, universities and colleges in the western United States and Canada have awarded retroactive diplomas to the Japanese Americans they had evicted during World War II. We hope that IU will follow suit and issue apologies and retroactive diplomas to the denied applicants and their families.
In sum, we respectfully ask Indiana University to rectify its World War II-era ban on admitting Japanese American students by:
- stating that its decision to ban Japanese American students was wrong;
- providing funding for research, creative activities, teaching, and public-facing programming related to Japanese American incarceration;
-issuing retroactive diplomas to Japanese Americans denied admission to IU during World War II.
We share our request and suggestions in the spirit of IU’s core values, including “discovery and search for truth,” “diversity of community and ideas,” and “respect for the dignity of others.” Taking appropriate and substantive action to correct this mistake would be a most fitting way to mark Indiana University’s Bicentennial.
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A full history of this chapter of IU history was recently published in the INDIANA MAGAZINE OF HISTORY
Eric Langowski, "Education Denied: Indiana University's Japanese American Ban, 1942 to 1945," INDIANA MAGAZINE OF HISTORY 115, no. 2 (June 2019): 65-115. Link:
See also Ellen Glover's blog on Voices from the IU Bicentennial:
For more information on the Civil Liberties Act see
On retroactive diplomas, see Karen M. Inouye, The Long Afterlife of Nikkei Wartime Incarceration (Stanford, Calif., 2016).
See also the webpage of the Nisei College Redress Project,
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