College president and vice president are let go after art installation is defaced

The president and a vice president of a Washington university were relieved of their duties after the vice president admitted to defacing an art installation commemorating Japanese American victims of internment, the Seattle Times reports.

Last month, Gayle Colston Barge, Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Bellevue College, admitted that she had altered a description that accompanied the art installation “Never Again Is Now,” a mural created by Seattle artist Erin Shigaki. The installation depicts two Japanese American children in a World War II internment camp and includes a description that mentions “anti-Japanese agitation” led by several Eastside businessmen. The project was brought to the college just in time for the Day of Remembrance (Feb. 19) — the same day President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the forced removal and incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans.

According to the Times, Barge whited out a sentence that read, “After decades of anti-Japanese agitation, led by Eastside businessman Miller Freeman and others, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans included the 60 families (300 individuals) who farmed Bellevue.” Freeman, who was widely known for his anti-Japanese sentiment, created Washington’s Anti-Japanese League. His son Kemper built the original Bellevue Square, the paper notes.

In the aftermath of the incident, Barge reportedly apologized to the college community on Feb. 24. Shigaki, whose father was born in an interment camp, told the paper that the ex-vice president also personally apologized to her without offering an explanation as to why the mural was defaced.

The Times reports that Barge’s actions sparked criticism from the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, which claimed that the deletion was “tantamount to agreement with the hate speech of decades past.” The defacement also spurred an investigation — officials believe that Barge may have, in fact, instructed someone else to remove the reference rather than doing it herself.

Still, in light of that revelation, the college’s board of trustees decided that it was in the university’s best interest to distance itself from both Barge and college president Jerry Weber, the board’s chair Rich Fukutaki said at a news conference.

“We need to do something to make this better, so an apology, as heartfelt as it has been, is not really enough,” he said. “….with that in mind, the board has determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

According to the Times, over a fifth of Bellevue’s students and employees are Asian and Pacific Islander.

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