Reading program discusses Japanese internment, campus diversity


Olivia Apa/NW

The Diversity Common Reader Program table in the library showcases this semester’s book: “We Hereby Refuse.” The graphic novel focuses on Japanese internment camps and the struggles of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Olivia Apa, Features Writer

The Diversity Common Reader Program is a semester-long, campus-wide program that focuses on reading as a means of social dialogue and change. 

“The purpose of the DCRP is to encourage conversations about justice, equity and diversity on our campus and in our community,” said Professor Lesley Larkin, chair of the DCRP Committee. “We believe that one of the most effective ways to make these conversations happen is through reading and discussing books.” 

Covering justice, diversity and inclusion, the program comprises an interdisciplinary series of events inspired by a nonfiction book that encourages conversations about social change. 

Each year, books are provided to the Lydia M. Olson Library where they are available to students on a first-come-first-serve basis.  

“The library is a very convenient place for people to come to,” said Kim Smalley, Interim Director of the library. “We just try to help distribute copies for [the DCRP] out of convenience, really.” 

The book selection for this year is “We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration” by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura. 

“We Hereby Refuse” is a new, nonfiction graphic novel following the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWll through the lives of three people who have experienced it, and resisted it. 

“The topic is timely, given that 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the camps, as well as other anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States,” said Larkin. “The book is a moving testament to the bravery and resilience of a community who underwent a shocking injustice at the hands of their own country.”

Larkin also believes that “We Hereby Refuse” is a reminder that protecting democratic citizenship requires ongoing vigilance against the forces of racism, xenophobia and fascism. 

“If you do not know much, or anything, about Japanese incarceration,” said Larkin, “this is a great introduction to this important chapter in American history.”

The novel follows three figures whose dramatic and inspiring stories are seldom known: Jim Akutsu, Hiroshi Kashiwagi and Mitsuye Endo, giving the reader a realistic insight into life of incarceration. 

On Thursday, March 17, co-author Tamiko Nimura will speak at NMU about the book and her family’s experience in the incarceration camps. Nimura also happens to be Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s niece, one of the main characters in the book. 

“Diversity and inclusion are stated values of our university, and it is important that we continually work to live up to those values,” Larkin said. “The DCRP is one small but meaningful way to address topics like institutional racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism and ableism — topics that affect NMU students, staff and faculty everyday.”

The DCRP creates opportunities to learn more about historical and ongoing oppression, as well as providing space for people from a variety of backgrounds to talk with each other about things that may be difficult to discuss. 

“We hope that the conversations DCRP makes possible can contribute to the efforts so many people at NMU are making to seek justice on our campus and beyond,” said Larkin. 

Upcoming events can be found at the DCRP website, and [email protected] can be contacted for more information about planning an event or leading a book discussion.