History of the Project

It is fitting that Oberlin was asked to partner with the Go For Broke National Education Center on the “Courage and Compassion” exhibit because of research undertaken by current and former students.

Clyde Owan ’79 became interested in learning more about Nisei students at Oberlin during the war years when he realized that family friend, Alice Takemoto, had left Jerome War Relocation Camp to pursue her studies at Oberlin. In 2013, he joined with then East Asian studies major, Cassie Guevara, ‘OC 13, and Oberlin College archivist Ken Grossi, to uncover the history of Japanese American students at Oberlin during World War II. They combed through college records, looked at yearbooks, worked with the alumni office to track down former students, and uncovered the rich stories of Nisei students who studied at Oberlin during the war.

Group portrait of college students
1943-44 Oberlin Student Council, including Student Council President Kenji Okuda ‘45 (back row, second from left)

Cassie documented this process in her blog. In 2013, this research became the basis for a featured article in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine.

In 2015, staff members at the Go For Broke Foundation came across the story in the alumni magazine as they searched for communities that treated Japanese Americans with generosity and compassion during the war. They contacted Renee Romano, a professor of history and chair of the Oberlin College History Department, to see if Oberlin would be interested in participating in the grant to mount a traveling history exhibit. Romano recruited Julie Min, an Oberlin resident and former exhibit developer who had worked on public history projects about Japanese American internment, as project co-director and they recruited a steering committee to begin working on the exhibit, related programming, and community outreach. Other members of the steering committee include Ken Grossi (College archivist); Shelley Lee (associate professor of history and comparative American studies and chair of comparative American studies); Liz Schultz (director, Oberlin Heritage Center); and Bill Quillen (associate dean for academic affairs, Oberlin Conservatory).

Romano also began working with students to do further research on Oberlin’s response to internment. The project has involved a large number of Oberlin students, including Holly Hoang ’17, Elizabeth Coretto ’17, Ava Price ’18, Mackenzie Lew ’19, Jacqueline de Leeuw Huang ’19, Janna Adelstein ’19, and Maya Colman ’21. They have gathered information about the Nisei (second-generation Japanese-American students) who attended Oberlin from college and community newspapers, administrative and admissions records, yearbooks, and oral histories. Students have also been involved in identifying artifacts for the exhibit, planning events, coordinating publicity and outreach, and working on educational programming and field trip planning in conjunction with the exhibit.

This exhibit has also benefited from the generosity of Oberlin’s Japanese American alumni who have contributed their personal stories and artifacts.