EXHIBITS

Student-Teacher Relations

"Oral recitation"
A group of youth in Eleanor Gerard Sekarak’s classroom at Block 32.
(Photograph from the Emil and Eleanor Sekerak Gerard Collection of the Topaz Museum, Delta, Utah)
High School Teachers Reports of Students
High school teachers’ reports of students from “The Education Program Central Utah Relocation Center.”
[click the image to enlarge; click the image again to browse all pages]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, “The Education Program Central Utah Relocation Center,” General Book Coll, 375.Un3e, pgs. 120–123)

Teachers’ Views of the Students

While many teachers enjoyed teaching at Topaz, some teachers were frustrated by the negative attitudes that students developed over the course of their time in camp. Some white teachers attributed these problems to their racial and cultural background. In a faculty report, one teacher wrote: “If these lads were in our outside schools social amenities would compel them to change some of their ancestoral [sic] concepts.”[1] This teacher believed that Japanese Americans were heirs of a flawed culture which could be fixed with an Anglo-American education and socialization. In essence, Japanese Americans were not true Americans until they behaved like white Americans, but this statement does not acknowledge that the government placed Americanized Nisei into the camps not because they were disloyal, but because they might be disloyal as they looked like the enemy.

Some teachers even suggested that students’ negative attitudes were the reason that they were interned in the first place:

“These students are rather self-centered in their outlook on life. That may be one reason why they are wards of the government. Had they been more altruistic, society would have been more receptive. They’ve got to learn that a worthwhile life consists of a little more give and a little less get.” [2]

Not all white teachers viewed the students this way, however, and many were sympathetic towards the students’ situation.

High school student
High school boy studying next to a desk in a barrack.
(Photograph courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society)
Student Attitudes at Topaz High
Student attitudes at Topaz High School from “The Education Program Central Utah Relocation Center.”
[click the image to enlarge; click the image again to browse all pages]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, “The Education Program Central Utah Relocation Center,” General Book Coll, 375.Un3e, pgs. 115–120)

Students’ Views of the Teachers

Topaz High students were not oblivious that some teachers disliked them. In one editorial piece in the school newspaper, Topazette, one student wrote:

“Attention, faculty members! You complain about the attitude of the students toward their teachers in the classrooms and that some teachers—especially the resident teachers—are so intimate with their students that they do not have their respect. If this is the case, isn’t it up to the teachers to help us “get down to business”? Perhaps it is also due to the resentment of the Nisei students towards the Caucasians that all is not well. It might help a great deal if some faculty members were more friendly.

After being evacuated from home, the students don’t like being told what to do except by someone that they feel understand their troubles. Do all the teachers understand their point of view?” [3]

The students were more receptive to teachers that they felt they could relate with, rather than teachers who viewed them as delinquents. This passage also shows the discontent that many students had towards internment. While at Topaz, some felt alienated and misunderstood by the staff inside the camps as well as by other Americans outside.

Images of Youth at Topaz

[1] “The Education Program Central Utah Relocation Center,” 121. 
[2] “The Education Program,” 122.
[3] Topazette Vol. 1, No. 9 (March 15, 1943), Japanese American relocation collection, University of Utah Special Collections & Archives, MS 144, Box 16, Fd. 11, pg. 4.