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Kelli Y. Nakamura

A Kapiʻolani Community College professor of history is the first person from Hawaiʻi to have been awarded a Mellon/American Council Learned Societies (ACLS) Community College Faculty Fellowship, a program that offers faculty at two-year colleges support for research projects in the humanities and interpretive social sciences. Kelli Y. Nakamura received the 2022 fellowship for her research that is focused on a holistic understanding of the World War II incarceration experience of Japanese Americans from Hawaiʻi.

“It is an honor to be awarded this prestigious fellowship that will support research on the distinctiveness of Hawaiʻi incarceration as it took place within the islands compared to the mass removal of mainland Japanese to sometimes remote, uninhabited regions where inmates were disconnected from their former homes and lives,” Nakamura said. “This local history has larger national significance as it examines the infringement of personal civil rights in times of war. I am truly grateful for the support of my colleagues and administrators who have continuously encouraged my research into this critical event in Hawaiian history.”

Nakamura is one of 30 awardees, and will receive $40,000 to advance her research. She has also been invited to participate in a multi-day convening hosted by ACLS that brings current and past awardee cohorts together with academic leaders to share perspectives from their work.

“I look forward to working on my project and collaborating with other humanities and social science faculty who teach at two-year institutions,” said Nakamura. “This fellowship supports a wide variety of projects including scholarly articles, book chapters, course plans, textbooks, exhibitions and community or campus events. I am excited to be inspired by other awardees and the diversity of their research and interests.”

Her research explores the World War II incarceration experience of Hawaiʻi’s Japanese by examining the unique pre-war Japanese communities that existed on each island and how community dynamics would shape the incarceration experience of its members. It also addresses the specific conditions and challenges inmates encountered on each island before they were released, transferred to Oʻahu, and sent either to mainland incarceration centers or Honouliuli.

Nakamura said Hawaiʻi incarceration is often dismissed as a footnote to the mainland incarceration experience, however, Hawaiʻi incarceration was an important precedent to mainland incarceration as the racism of civil and military officials became manifest in various ways on the different islands.

“I commend Kelli for pursuing the Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship,” said Maria Bautista, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs at Kapiʻolani CC. “She continually seeks to improve as an educator by consistently embarking on research and sharing her knowledge with her students in Hawaiʻi. This award will provide an invaluable opportunity to promote her research and will have a wide-ranging impact on hundreds of students at multiple institutions and departments.”

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