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Last modified: Tuesday, April 24, 2007

IU presents Distinguished Asian/Pacific American Alumni Award to Kawahara

April 24, 2007

Yoshito Kawahara

Yoshito Kawahara

Print-Quality Photo

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Yoshito Kawahara, a third-generation Japanese American who overcame life in a World War II internment camp to become a successful scholar and a leader of the Asian American Psychological Association, will receive the second Distinguished Asian/Pacific American Alumni Award from Indiana University on Friday (April 27).

Kawahara, a professor and chair of the Department of Behavior Sciences at San Diego Mesa College, earned a doctorate in physiological psychology from IU in 1978. He is also co-director of the Bridges to the Baccalaureate program at Mesa College, an initatiave to help underrepresented students funded by the National Institutes of Health.

He will receive his award during an invitation-only dinner honoring him, graduating students and Asian and Asian American student leaders, starting at 7 p.m. at the Virgil T. DeVault Alumni Center, 1000 E. 17th St. The event is being hosted by the Asian Culture Center, the Asian Alumni Association and the Asian Student Union. Tom Martz, the new president and chief executive officer of the IU Alumni Association, will present the award.

The purpose of the Distinguished Asian/Pacific American Alumni Award is to provide recognition for outstanding achievements by the Asian/Pacific American men and women alumni of IU. The award is given by IU's Asian Alumni Association. Kawahara was selected as the recipient because of his professional achievements and service to the community.

Despite the fact that Kawahara's family had settled in the United States back in the 1880s, they were among the 120,000 people who were forcibly relocated to internment camps after Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941. His family was incarcerated in the Heart Mountain, Wyo., camp with 10,000 others.

"We were housed in tar paper barracks where the burning hot summers and the freezing winters could easily be felt. I spent almost three years behind barbed wired fences and guard towers with American soldiers pointing their guns into the camp," he said in his biography. "I visited Heart Mountain three summers ago, and I would never voluntarily live in such harsh surroundings."

After the camps closed down in 1945, Kawahara moved to "a destitute area" of downtown Los Angeles, which was all that many Japanese Americans could afford at that time, after having suffered financial and property losses.

Kawahara later went to San Francisco State University as an undergraduate and studied neurosciences and learning theory. For graduate school, he studied at IU. Gabe Frommer, IU professor emeritus of psychology, was his academic advisor, and William Timberlake, professor of psychology, was Kawahara's professor.

In the late 1970s, he became a member of the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA). The membership has worked hard to identify the needs, improve the understanding and develop the strategies to best guide members of Asian American communities. In 1975, he started teaching at San Diego Mesa College after having been on the faculty at York College in the City University of New York.

From 1991 to 2007, he has held several offices in the AAPA, including membership officer, finance officer, editor of the association newsletter and vice president. He twice has been awarded the Distinguished Contributions Award and has the rank of Fellow in AAPA.

He is active in the Union of Pan Asian Communities in San Diego -- an umbrella organization that oversees many community-based agencies. He also works as a community liaison for Mesa College.