WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Ron Takaki, a pioneering scholar in the field of American ethnic studies, has been chosen as the keynote speaker for Whitman College commencement ceremonies slated for Sunday, May 21.

Takaki, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, has taught more than 10,000 students in a 32-year career. The grandson of immigrant Japanese plantation workers in Hawaii, he completed his undergraduate studies at the College of Wooster and received his Ph.D. in American history from UC Berkeley.  

In addition to giving the Whitman commencement address, Takaki will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the commencement ceremonies.

Takaki began his distinguished teaching career at UCLA, where he taught its first Black history course and helped found its centers for African American, Asian American, Mexican American and Native American studies.

In 1972, Takaki returned to UC Berkeley to teach in the newly instituted Department of Ethnic Studies. His course, Ethnic Studies 103, “The Making of Multicultural America: A Comparative Historical Perspective,” provided the conceptual framework for the university’s B.A. and Ph.D. programs in Comparative Ethnic Studies. His class also served as a model for Berkeley’s multicultural requirement for graduation, known as the American Cultures Requirement.

Takaki is the author of 11 books, including “Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th Century America” (1979), “Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans” (1989), “Hiroshima: Why American Dropped the Atomic Bomb” (1995), and “Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II” (2000).

Takaki has made frequent appearances on national television to discuss such issues as race, U.S.-Japan relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action. The programs include CNN’s “International Hour” and “Cross Fire,” ABC’s “This Week with David Brinkley,” and PBS’s “Jim Lehrer NewsHour.”

In 1997, the Council on Foreign Relations hosted a debate between Takaki and author-historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., at the opening session of its conference on America’s diversity and foreign policy. Takaki and Nathan Glazer, a Harvard University professor emeritus and a contributing editor of “The New Republic,” have staged a series of affirmative action debates on college campuses over the past three decades.

Takaki has lectured in Japan, Russia, Armenia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Austria and South Africa. He has received honorary doctorates from a handful of U.S. colleges and universities.

Takaki is a fellow of the prestigious Society of American Historians, whose members are elected and limited to 250 scholars in number. Others members include Schlesinger and David Brion Davis, a Yale University professor of history, emeritus. Mark Carnes, the society’s executive director, says that “Takaki has reshaped American History.”   

The Los Angeles Times has described Takaki as a “minority Everyman,” further describing him as a “rare hybrid, a multicultural scholar.”

CONTACT: Dave Holden,
Whitman News Service
(509) 527-5902; holden@whitman.edu