The Japanese program has made a lasting impression on students for decades, but these valuable experiences could be lost as its time at Gonzaga is threatened to come to an end.
Getting its start around 1980, the program first experienced many fluctuations in faculty, as instructors would teach for one to three years before leaving. It wasn’t until professor Seiko Katsushima came to the school in 1993, and became a full-time professor in 1999, when the program gained a faithful educator. She has been the sole Japanese teacher at GU for 26 years.
“She has been the best professor I have had at Gonzaga,” said freshman Niko Christianson. “She shows how much she cares about her students by only assigning homework that will help you and looking at each answer to see how she can better help you to succeed in the course and learn the language.”
Katsushima has shown great dedication to the program, even offering several independent study courses without compensation. This is why it was particularly heartbreaking to students when she announced that she would be leaving GU after the spring 2021 semester wrapped up.
“I honestly cried when she told our class,” senior Bea Patricia Burgos said. “Mostly for me, I think it hurt that her decision to leave was one that wasn’t her own. I owe a lot to Katsushima Sensei.”
Katsushima was informed in 2018 that her current teaching contract (2018-2021) would not be renewed, meaning she would leave GU after it was completed. This was due to low enrollment in the Japanese program.
However, now that the only Japanese professor is leaving, this has raised many concerns about the future of the program.
Katsushima had requested that the department chair keep her informed about the plans for the Japanese program after she leaves so she can aid her students in their planning. She said that despite her request at a department meeting back in January, she hasn’t been told anything regarding the program’s future.
She has also found it odd that she has not been asked to provide a list of potential professors in the area or suggestions on how to advertise for a replacement professor. As of now, GU has not posted a job listing for a Japanese professor.
When students began to register for classes for the fall 2021 semester, many JPNE 102 students were disappointed not to see JPNE 201 being offered. This was surprising, as there are currently 23 students enrolled in JPNE 102, which is one of the largest Japanese class sizes the university has seen. In fact, the only Japanese class being offered in the fall is JPNE 101.
This led a group of students to email their concerns to the department chair, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Provost Deena J. González. One of these students was Christianson, and he said that they responded by scheduling a meeting with the concerned students.
This meeting took place on Zoom and was led by Dean Annmarie Caño, and the Modern Languages department chair, Christina Isabelli. Isabelli opened the meeting up to any questions that students had regarding the Japanese program.
Alec Shoji, a junior in JPNE 291, pointed out how it was strange that JPNE 101 was scheduled for that late in the day, and how that time slot could discourage students from taking Japanese.
JPNE 101 is being offered at 4:10 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 4:40 p.m. on Thursdays. In comparison, French 101 classes are offered at 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and German 101 is offered at 9:50 a.m. and 10 a.m. Katsushima confirmed that the elementary-level class has never been offered in that late of a time slot.
Christianson brought up how there is not a major or minor being offered in Japanese. In fact, there is also not a major and/or minor being offered in Arabic, Tagalog, Hebrew and Chinese (which is no longer taught at GU, students have to take Chinese classes at Whitworth). The German program is also on the smaller side, yet it still offers a minor.
He pointed out how this divide falls along ethnic lines, with all of the European languages offering a degree path and none of the Asian languages providing one.
The dean and department chair addressed each of the students’ concerns, usually referencing how their decisions came down to the rates of enrollment.
Many students and the Japanese professor pointed out how the university’s actions surrounding the treatment of this program contrasts its very own mission statement.
“The school should be embarrassed by their lack of attention to such an enriching program that supports their mission statement of ‘The Gonzaga experience fosters a mature commitment to dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity, intercultural competence [and] global engagement,’” Christianson said. “Canceling a program that supports interculturalism is a horrible thing to do and Gonzaga has a lot of explaining to do to their students who represent their school. I personally don’t want to be a part of a community that pretends to care about diversity to look more alluring to a wider range of people.”
Everyone also gave a variety of additional reasons as to why it is vital to preserve this program at GU.
“With the loss of a Chinese instructor at GU, Japanese is the only major Asian language currently being offered at GU,” Katsushima said. “Given that Asia has 60% of the world’s population, it seems shortsighted not to have at least one major Asian language being taught at Gonzaga.”
Shoji also pointed out how this program has been particularly meaningful to Japanese students trying to connect with and preserve their culture.
“I’m Japanese American, and due to a history of hostility toward us in this country, my grandparents chose not to teach my parents Japanese,” Shoji said. "Therefore, I wasn’t taught Japanese. Unless I learn it at GU, my kids won’t learn and so on."
He also stressed how it is particularly important to keep the program alive during the country’s current political climate.
“With recent increases in Asian hate crimes, it’s important for educational facilities to continue to have programs that inform students about other cultures; especially at a predominantly white school,” Shoji said.
In order to help the Japanese program, Burgos stressed the importance of awareness among students.
“The program exists, and it’s with student voices that the program will be seen and recognized as an integral part of Gonzaga,” Burgos said. “Reading about it and talking about it is more than we could ask for. And of course, if students are interested even a tiny bit in taking Japanese, I say do it if their schedules permit.”
Katsushima said it is within GU’s core values as a Jesuit university to support a small program like the Japanese language.
“I clearly remember the words of Father Waters, Dean of Gonzaga in 1995, the year I met with him and talked to him about the Japanese program in his office,” Katsushima said. “Father Waters told me that, ‘Gonzaga cares about the quality of education rather than just quantity (student enrollment number) in classes, as a Jesuit school.'”