Meet Setsuko Nishi: Professor and Researcher

February 16, 2011

As an organization that promotes lifelong learning, AAUW is fortunate to have women like Setsuko Nishi as alumnae. Throughout her career, Nishi has used her extensive academic expertise to not only help fill gaps in the history of Japanese Americans during World War II but also to share her knowledge with various organizations such as the U.S. Department of Education, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

Nishi’s involvement in academia began in 1939 as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, where she majored in music. When World War II started, she switched her major to sociology, which she said seemed more “practical” considering the circumstances. She continued her studies at the University of Chicago, working as a research associate while completing her doctorate in sociology.

In 1965, she moved to New York to teach sociology at Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York system. “Brooklyn College was a very unique institution then,” Nishi explained. “Due to open enrollment that was happening at the time, it was a very diverse campus. Becoming a tenured professor there really allowed me to maintain a permanent position at the university level and at the same time use my academic expertise to help better society.”

Dr. Nishi and Amb. Nishimiya

Over the next 20 years of her career, Nishi became a very involved and respected member of the Asian American academic community. She was a consultant for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1975, the chair of the Continuing Committee on Research on Social and Psychological Effects of Wartime Experience of Japanese Americans from 1982 to 1990, and a member of the Research Advisory Committee for the Economic Impact on Chinatown of the September 11 Attack in 2002.

In 1985, Nishi received an American Fellowship from AAUW to help continue her research on Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II. Wanting to focus on the long-term effects of internment, Nishi decided to focus her research on individuals who were affected in extreme ways.

“Many people do not know that after the war, many Japanese Americans gave up their U.S. citizenship and moved back to Japan. My fellowship from AAUW allowed me to go back to Japan to discover this rare population.” Nishi’s research on the long-term effects of Japanese-American internment continues to this day. “My AAUW fellowship was significant in that it allowed me to carry on with much-needed research to fill a niche in knowledge that has been missing for many years.” Her findings will be published in a book entitled Recovery and Hidden Injuries: Wartime Incarceration and the Life Course of Japanese Americans, which she is currently writing.

AAUW is honored to have such an accomplished academic as an alumna of our prestigious American Fellowship program. Nishi serves as a positive role model for other young women in the field of sociology, and we wish her the best of luck as she completes her book!

This post was written by Fellowships and Grants Intern Mia Cakebread.

By:   |   February 16, 2011


  1. Bruce Kesler says:

    I had the great pleasure of being in Prof. Nishi’s sociology class when I was at Brooklyn College. Not only did she impart learning but the lasting impression of grace. Truly a wonderful teacher and person.

  2. K.P. Kollenborn says:

    I have been researching the Japanese-American internment camps for quite some time and am always learning something new. Can’t hardly wait to read Prof. Nishi’s book.

  3. Julie Huang says:

    Thank you for writing about Professor Nishi. She is an amazing professor and teacher. I am a better person and thinker because of Professor Nishi.
    Julie Huang
    BA in sociology, Brooklyn College
    MBA and MPH, Yale University

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