1942, WWII: Oberlin College Welcomes Japanese-American Students

“Oberlin Offers a Friendly Welcome to Seventeen Japanese-American Students”

Oberlin News-Tribune, October 1, 1942

This community will be host during the coming college year to a group of approximately 17 students who, though they are all American citizens, are of Japanese ancestry.  Five of these young people have previously been enrolled here, but the others are new to Oberlin.  Eleven will arrive here this weekend who are evacuees from the Pacific coastal areas and who have been living in the evacuation camps of the West.

True to its best traditions the Oberlin community bids these Japanese Americans a completely friendly welcome.  They were all born in the United States—in California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey and Hawaii.  They all have excellent records for scholarship, character and citizenship.   They have been excellently recommended by friends of Oberlin, and Oberlin College vouches for them.

Oberlin residents will look upon these students, certainly with unusual interest, but with neither prejudices nor suspicion.  The war situation makes their lot a difficult one.  Oberlin can help by treating them no differently than it treats any of its other 1800 or more student residents.

For an example of how not to act we can take that of Parksville, Missouri.  There in recent weeks, the mayor and city council have been “up in arms” over the prospective arrival of seven Japanese American evacuees as students.  Boasting that they were not as “soft” as the F.B.I., the city officials threatened to run these students out of town.

We do not believe there are any Oberlin citizens who are so lacking in common humanity, or whose patriotism is of such an empty, bombastic variety as would allow them to adopt the attitude of Parksville’s mayor.  If so they surely do not deserve the name of Oberlin, and we wish them elsewhere.

No, in this respect we are still the Oberlin of old.  We wish for these fellow American citizens an entirely happy and intellectually profitable stay in Oberlin.  May their experiences here only serve to strengthen their belief, and our belief, in the democratic way of living.

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Mai Haru Kitazawa Arbegast ’45

Landscape architect Mai Haru Kitazawa Arbegast was born in San Francisco, California in 1922, the eldest of six children (June OC ’46, Ernest, Thomas, Rose, Helen), to Mr. Gijiu and Mrs. Kikuno Kitazawa, who owned the Kitazawa Seed Company in San Jose. She attended San Jose State College until WWII, during which the family was relocated and interned in a detention camp at Heart Mountain, WY. From here she was permitted to leave and attend Oberlin College, from which she graduated in 1945.

After Oberlin, she received a Masters in Ornamental Horticulture at Cornell University. Following the end of World War II, she and her family returned to San Jose, and Mai earned a second Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley in 1953.  (In Cornell’s Department of Horticulture alumni newsletter, Mai noted she was “the only woman around as a graduate student in Horticulture from 1947-49”). After teaching in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture from 1953-1967 while maintaining a professional practice, she opened up her own Landscape Architectural office, lecturing, touring, and consulting. She received numerous awards, including a Life Time Achievement Award from UCB and a Horticulturist of the Year award.

Mai married David Elwood Arbegast and they had four children, Deborah, Lisa, Michael, and Katherine, and granddaughters Victoria, Mikayla, and Allison. Mai passed away in April 2012.

Obituary

Mai’s Berkeley Profile