About the Endowed Chair

Michi and Walter Weglyn

Michi and Walter WeglynThe Endowed Chair of Multicultural Studies was established at the beginning of the 1999 Academic year. Its foundation remains a credit to Michi and Walter Weglyn who recognized the strength of a new discipline spanning diverse study areas and the ability of administrators and faculty members on this campus to contribute positively and cooperatively to its development locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

Born in California, Michi Nishiura Weglyn was incarcerated as a teenager during World War II with more than 112,000 people of Japanese ancestry. She was a successful costume designer and was the first Japanese American woman to achieve national prominence in this field. In 1976, she published her seminal work titled, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps, the first major book on the subject written from the perspective of an internee. Additionally, she worked to give redress to internees both in this country and in South America.

Walter Weglyn fled to the United States from Holland in 1947. He established himself in the states as successful perfume chemist and married Michi in 1950. Walter was one of the few Jewish children from his hometown to survive the holocaust and empathized with Michi’s passion for redress and social justice. He served as her co-researcher of her groundbreaking book. As Michi stated, “Walter is my most exacting critic and mentor.,” Together they fought for civil rights, social justice, and social equality.

The Michi Nishiura and Walter Weglyn Endowed Chair is devoted to promoting the interdisciplinary study of ethnic and racial minority groups in the United States. The chair will design programs that will prepare students with the knowledge and skills they will need to meet the ongoing challenge of living in a culturally and ethnically diverse society. Furthermore, students will learn how to recognize and engage the underlying assumptions that guide our thinking about race, ethnicity and multiculturalism; they will explore arts and literature; language and philosophy; and they will examine historical, political, social, educational, economic and cultural developments that affect ethnic and racial minority communities in the United States.

Through a critical study of the significance of the constructions of ethnicity and race in shaping social relationships in the United States, students and the university community will be introduced to modes of intercultural learning and understanding to help them to develop the knowledge and sensitivities needed for the enhancement of multicultural communication. By examining the arts, literature, language, and philosophy of ethnic groups, students learn to appreciate the moral and aesthetic values of others. Moreover, through an interdisciplinary approach, they come to a clearer view of the historical importance of ethnic identity in America and a deeper understanding of the impact ethnic groups have had on Americans generally, their social thought, practice, and institutions.

The Endowed Chair is an opportunity for people who are invested in promoting diversity and multiculturalism to lend their support to a unique endeavor – a program of study in which students will learn the lessons and benefits of community. It is a broad-based effort that requires the involvement of the University, communities, businesses, government, and individual citizens.

The Multicultural Endowed Chair is being launched through the sponsorship of the first West and the Pacific Regional Conference for the Association for Asian American Studies. The conference theme Crossing Boundaries: Coalition Building, Community Formation, and Activism is representative of Michi and Walter Weglyn’s life work and the educational mission and vision of the Endowed Chair.

The College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences at Cal Poly Pomona was granted the Endowed Chair For Multicultural Studies in January of 2003.