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Statements and Letters

AAC&U Remembers Ronald Takaki and Honors His Far-Reaching Legacy as an Educator and Historian

June 2, 2009

With the death of Dr. Ronald Takaki, the higher education community and the nation at large have lost a committed and inspired educator and scholar.  As a pioneering chronicler of our nation’s continuing struggle to form that “more perfect union,” Takaki helped launch an intercultural education movement that has transformed the academy and significantly developed higher education’s capacity to educate all students for meaningful participation in our diverse democracy.

In his many publications and especially his award-winning book, A Different Mirror, Takaki helped us all see with greater clarity and understanding the many narratives that are comprised in our nation’s continuing struggles toward inclusive democracy and liberty and justice for all. His scholarship illuminates the power of American ideals to kindle hope in the face of adversity, even as his work also presents in unsparing detail the human and societal cost of the prejudice that different groups have experienced as they sought to take their own place in the larger American story.

Ronald Takaki’s work is, if anything, even more relevant in 2009, as it is a patient, evidence-based reminder that our progress toward a more open and mutually respectful society has never been smooth. It has always included—and includes today—contestations that are themselves a reaction to milestone accomplishments.

With humor, grace, generosity, and empathy, Takaki—through his scholarship and his teaching—demonstrated that engaging the diversity of our nation and its many braided narratives enriches us as individuals and  deepens our understanding of our responsibilities as democratic citizens.

He understood that teaching about history, literature, and culture, as part of a liberal education, helps students develop the ability to take seriously the perspectives of others as a crucial and indispensable dimension of both critical thinking and civic responsibility.  He knew that the ability to see the world as others see it must be a central aim of a college education and that when students develop this capacity, they are far better prepared to grapple with the complexity of this nation’s democratic ideals.

Across the many layers of AAC&U’s continuing work on diversity and democracy over the past two decades, AAC&U’s members have benefited both from Takaki’s vision and from his scholarship. A Different Mirror was a cornerstone text of AAC&U’s American Commitments summer institutes through which hundreds of college faculty members developed their own abilities to teaching about diversity, American history, and American struggles for justice—those won and those that continue to be waged.

His legacy is renewed in the scholarship and teaching of the many who have learned from him.

As one of his former students noted on Facebook, “Professor Takaki’s class was one of the few I clearly remember for the profound change it had on the way I viewed myself as an Asian American and minorities in America as a whole. I feel privileged to have experienced his teaching and comforted that his words will live on in his books.”

AAC&U, too, is grateful that both his scholarship and his generosity of spirit will continue to inform our ongoing national dialogue about diversity, identity, democracy, and justice. We extend our sincerest sympathies to Dr. Takaki’s family and all his many former colleagues and students at UC-Berkeley.