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Reaching Out

hands reaching out to touch wrists and other hands
November 12, 2016

Last week, before the election, a Bancroft librarian pulled for my CW R4B students a number of primary source documents about the Japanese American internment, the topic of their final research paper. Among them was a letter written to President Robert Sproul from a self-identified "researcher" demanding that Sproul supply him with the "facts" about Japanese American students on campus. Also on the conference table was Sproul's response, a measured and calm rebuke, dismantling the assumption that these students formed a separate group from the rest of the undergraduate body. Sproul told the "researcher" that they were Berkeley students, just like everyone else.

Sproul and Provost Monroe Deutsch used the powers at their disposal to try to protect these students, change the direction of fear, and when that failed, to put into place programs to help their student leave the camps and continue their education elsewhere. Many of the students they helped never forgot it.

The efforts of Sproul and Deutsch offer us an example.  Even though these administrators could not in the end protect their students from the internment, they publicly and privately affirmed the identity of these students as Americans like any other. They saw them as Cal students who had a role to play in the future.  

Many of us have no doubt heard or intuited the very deep fear that many of our students are now suffering, most of them in silence. Many of us may be trying to reach out in some way. I'm just writing to affirm that effort and to underscore that history shows that that effort can have a very deep impact.


Pat Steenland (College Writing Programs)