The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Janet Nishihara Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

September 2, 2015


“Continuing Conversations on Diversity and Educational Opportunity at OSU”  September 2, 2015  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Listen to Audio | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Nishihara discusses her family background and upbringing in rural eastern Oregon, noting in particular her memories of working on the family farm and of Japanese culture in her household. She then outlines the circumstances by which she enrolled at Oregon State University, her initial impressions of the region and of the school, and her academic progression in English Education and within the OSU honors program. In reflecting on her OSU undergraduate experience, she likewise notes her student job in the OSU library, her social life, and her sense of the campus climate faced by OSU's students of color in the 1970s.

From there, Nishihara describes her first job as a high school teacher in the Echo School District, her decision to pursue a graduate education, her return to OSU as a master's student in College Student Services Administration, and her initial contact with the Educational Opportunities Program. The history and activities of EOP at Oregon State is a major theme of the interview, with Nishihara sharing her perspective on the program's founding and leaders - including Larry Griggs and Miriam Orzech - as well as its reception on campus, and the ways in which Nishihara's own world view was shaped by her work at the office.

Nishihara also discusses her contacts with other figures who were important to diversity advancement at the university, including Phyllis Lee and Warren Suzuki; comments on her involvement with the Upward Bound program; recalls the creation of the Ethnic Studies department; outlines the history of the Difference, Power, and Discrimination curriculum at OSU; and notes a series of racially charged incidents that prompted change at the university.

As the session nears its conclusion, Nishihara recounts the founding of the Asian and Pacific Cultural Center at OSU and shares her thoughts on the role that the university's cultural centers have played over time. She then details her Ph.D. work, her assumption of a leadership position at EOP, shifts in EOP's mission, and her recent experiences as an interim provost. The interview closes with Nishihara's broader thoughts on diversity advancement at Oregon State and her sense of OSU's direction as it looks toward its sesquicentennial.