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Asian and Asian American community at Stanford University: FAQ

After using this guide, Stanford Libraries users will be able to identify and access primary and secondary sources about the history of the Asian and Asian American community at Stanford University.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the “1989 Takeover”?

Building on the efforts of the Black Student Union in the 1960s, minority students at Stanford in the 1980s developed a list of critical concerns, known as the “Rainbow Agenda,” regarding frustrations with the administration's handling of racial issues and the unmet educational service needs of Asian, Black, Chicano, and Native American students, as well as faculty and staff. Together the students were known as the Students of Color Coalition (aka the Agenda for Action Coalition, or Rainbow Coalition). In 1987, the University Committee on Minority Issues (UCMI) was established to address the agenda. After UCMI published their final report in 1989, which documented the need for more minority faculty and staff and support for minority students, the coalition students gathered to take over President Donald Kennedy's office with a list of demands including:

  • Immediate hiring of a tenure track faculty person to teach Asian American History.
  • Task Force on Asian American Studies which would include Asian American students and faculty to develop a plan and timeline for implementing an Asian American Studies program.
  • Establishment of a Discrimination Grievances Board.

Fifty-five students were arrested, leading to several follow-up demonstrations. Black Student Union vice-chair Louis Jackson, the only African-American to address the protest, was the only person to face charges. Over 800 students signed a petition in protest.

President Kennedy released a statement to the press saying "We confirm that many minority issues and concerns are not the special pleadings of interest groups but are Stanford issues--ones that should engage all of us" and stated the new goal to hire at least three faculty of color each year. The 1989 Takeover resulted in the hiring of Gordon Chang and David Palumbo-Liu as professors of Asian American Studies courses; additionally, the Asian American Activities Center was institutionalized and the first full-time director, Rick Yuen, was hired. The first wave of diverse Asian American student organizations were also founded. This guide links to Stanford Daily coverage (1987 and 1989), a panel discussion with persons involved, and an online exhibit about Activism at Stanford. The Asian American Activities Center provides additional historical context on their Asian and Pacific Islander History at Stanford timeline and their website.

Who were the first students of Asian heritage to attend Stanford University?


The Stanford University Annual register and yearbook, The Quad, both list several students with Japanese surnames in the early years of Stanford, including Keinosuke Otaki, a senior in 1894 from Tokyo, Japan. Sudanosuke Kokubo, from Nagoya, Japan, is listed in the Pioneer Class of 1895. In 1896, Walter Ngon Fong (pictured on left) was the first Chinese student to graduate from Stanford. The Japanese Students Association (pictured on right) was founded in 1902, and the Chinese Students Association was founded in 1910. In 1916-1919, anti-Asian sentiment in the United States and tensions on campus led to the establishment of separate student residence halls and clubhouses as safe spaces for students of Asian descent.

In addition to students, the history of Asians at Stanford goes back to the construction and maintenance of Stanford land and buildings. Chinese employees were instrumental in the creation of the University’s iconic historic landscapes: the Arboretum, Palm Drive, the Oval, and the gardens of the Main Quadrangle. More can be learned in the Arboretum Chinese Labor Quarters Project (ACLQ), a collaborative, community-based archaeology project about the history of Chinese workers at Stanford. Leland Stanford also employed Chinese workers during his time at the Pacific Union Railroad. Recent research in the Chinese Railroad Workers Project gives a voice to the Chinese migrants whose labor on the Transcontinental Railroad helped to shape the physical and social landscape of the American West. Additional records about early Chinese history at Stanford can be found in the Archival records section.

Who was the first professor of Asian heritage at Stanford University?

In 1913, Yamato Ichihashi began teaching in the Stanford History department specializing in Japanese history, international relations, and the Japanese American experience. By the 1920s, he was appointed Associate Professor and is believed to be the first person of Asian descent to have held an endowed chair position at an American university.

In the 1940s, WWII was the dominating force on campus. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on May 7, 1942, an all-university assembly was held in Memorial Auditorium where President Ray Lyman Wilbur spoke, stressing the value of education to the war effort and ending with a plea for tolerance toward fellow Japanese-American students. On May 23, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 authorized the wartime internment of 120,000 U.S. citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry, including Professor Ichihashi, his wife Kei, and 24 students of Japanese ancestry enrolled at Stanford. They departed campus to report to “assembly centers” before being sent on to “relocation centers” where they remained until the end of the war. Yamato Ichihashi papers, 1918-1963 are held in the University Archives, and Stanford professor Gordon Chang wrote a biographical essay and collected Ichihashi's diaries in the book Morning glory, evening shadow.

Diaries, photo albums and other documents recording the experiences of Japanese Americans in relocation and internment centers can be found in the archives, including the Ruth Asawa papers 1926-2014, James Omura papers 1912-1995, Harry Y. Ueno Papers, 1912-1997. Other collections at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives document the relocation and internment period during WWII, including the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council records, 1942-1946. More collections can be searched via the Online Archive of California.