Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Ethnic Studies Pioneer; Dr. Ronald Takaki's Research and Legacy Continues to Impact Generations of Scholars Long after His Death

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Ethnic Studies Pioneer; Dr. Ronald Takaki's Research and Legacy Continues to Impact Generations of Scholars Long after His Death

Article excerpt

Even in death, the late Dr. Ronald Takaki continues to be a master teacher.

His best-selling books appear on syllabi across the country every semester.

And thanks to technology, many of his riveting lectures and interviews have been uploaded to YouTube, where a new generation of students is encountering Takaki for the first time.

"He was just a brilliant social historian who gave us some important concepts and ideas, such as his concept of the founding colonists viewing themselves as 'virtuous republicans' who had the right to exploit and oppress 'unvirtuous' peoples of color everywhere," says Dr. Joe Feagin, the Ella C. McFadden Professor in Sociology at Texas A&M University. "He was a superstar scholar."

Though Feagin did not personally know Takaki, for decades he's enthusiastically embraced his work, which includes best-selling classics, such as Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America and Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II.

Dr. Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education and director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania, has also kept Takaki's scholarship handy.

"For years, I have used Ronald Takaki's research to inform my work and my teaching of historical and contemporary issues around race, ethnicity, diversity and multiculturalism," says Gasman, an expert on historically Black colleges and universities. "His work was profound, far-reaching, inclusive, and stretched our understanding of racial and ethnic differences and helped us build on our commonalities."

A pioneering scholar in the field of U.S. race relations, the scholarly community and indeed, the nation, was shocked when Takaki took his own life on May 26, 2009, after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 70.

Now, five years after his death, Takaki--who established the nation's first doctoral program in ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley)--continues to be celebrated. Conferences have been convened to examine his work and scholars credit him with helping to institutionalize ethnic studies programs on college campuses across the nation.

More specifically, they say that his books have helped to debunk the longstanding stereotype of Asian Americans as the "model minority." They also lauded his ability to challenge the persistence of racism and White supremacy by integrating the stories of ordinary Americans into his scholarship.

He did all of this while mentoring dozens of scholars who would go on to expand his work within the academy and grow the field of ethnic studies.

"His book Double V directly inspired all of the research that led to my first book," says Dr. David Lucander, an assistant professor of pluralism and diversity at Rockland Community College in New York. "A Different Mirror was standard reading in undergraduate history courses at my college. Howard Zinn's People's History opened so many eyes to the history of working-class oppression, and Takaki's A Different Mirror did the same for multiculturalism."

By the time of his death, Takaki had already established his bona fides as one of the most important Asian American scholars of all time. He had cranked out more than a dozen books, earned the title of professor emeritus, and helped to elevate and popularize the study of America's multiracial past and present. …

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