When seven Japanese-American Berkeley women and their housemothers moved into a two-story house in 1937, they were searching for a safe haven in the midst of discrimination, but little did they know that their legacy would be kept alive nearly 80 years later.
In response to the segregated dorms on campus, the women purchased the white-framed house on Hearst Avenue for $7,000 after 10 years of fundraising. The Japanese Women’s Student Clubhouse not only provided affordable accommodation for a marginalized community, but it was also symbolic of the students’ struggle for equal rights. With the exception of the period during WW II, when the clubhouse had to be rented because the Japanese-Americans were excluded from the West Coast, it provided housing for Japanese-American women for almost three decades before it was sold in 1967. The proceeds were endowed to the University as the Japanese American Women Alumnae (JAWA) Scholarship Fund, which continues supporting Asian American women today. The fund continues to grow through investments and generous donations to JAWA.
Dr. Joyce Takahashi, Berkeley alumna and JAWA’s historian, says that the women who purchased the house forged a path for future Japanese-American students. “They’re my heroes,” she adds. As a third-generation Japanese-American, Takahashi recalls the lack of multicultural awareness on campus when she was a chemistry student in the 1950s. At the time, most history classes focused on the origins of European-Americans. “When I was very young, I thought that my grandparents came over on the Mayflower. It didn’t dawn on me that they were from Asia,” she explains. Her parents, who also graduated from Berkeley in 1926 and 1930, experienced even greater discrimination by having to commute to campus from the few racially integrated sections of the Bay Area. But Takahashi believes that today “people are more aware of diversity.”
Although the Berkeley campus now enjoys greater inclusivity, the original members’ achievements are remembered through the annual JAWA scholarships and fellowships, which are granted to four or five University of California students per year. “The strength in these awards is that they keep alive this fund that the women worked so hard to create for us,” Takahashi says.
This year Kristen Kido, a first-year Ph.D. student in History of Art, won the JAWA award along with the Mellon Chancellor’s Fellowship. The award allows her to pursue her focus on the relationship between art and power in ancient China and Rome. “JAWA is a necessary organization for recognizing the experiences and celebrating the accomplishments of Japanese-American women who have pursued higher education in a society with a history of discrimination,” Kido says. As a first-generation American of Japanese heritage, Kido is honored to receive a scholarship dedicated to uplifting women. “In academia, men are still paid more than women. Even in a field dominated by women, such as Art History, many of the highest paid and most respected teaching and curatorial positions are occupied by men,” she explains. “The opportunity to excel is a step toward changing that.” Kido hopes that her research will benefit the community by influencing cultural heritage policies, museums and education.
Kido and the other scholarship and fellowship recipients will attend the annual JAWA luncheon this April to meet the members and the Outstanding Alumna, and to discuss their future goals.
To learn more about JAWA’s history and the annual scholarships, visit the JAWAUCB website.