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Seattle's Asian American Movement

Oriental Student Union Sit-In

The Oriental Student Union (OSU) at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) was founded in 1970. It modeled itself after the campus Black Student Union (BSU), which during the 1968-9 school year had used direct action protests to demand black studies and the hiring of black administrators and faculty. When the OSU-- led by Alan Sugiyama and former Black Panther Mike Tagawa-- decided that the SCCC administration was not moving quickly enough on the its demands that the school hire five Asian administrators, the OSU staged a sit-in on February 9, 1971, and took over SCCC offices more forcefully on March 2, 1971.

The OSU faced a number of challenges, in no small part because it was accusing SCCC's first black President, William Moore, of institutionalized racism, even though he had only recently been hired as a result of BSU activism during the previous two years. The administration was not very sympathetic to OSU demands. While few opposed the principle of hiring Asian administrators, conservative forces in the Asian American community strongly disagreed with OSU tactics. And while the Black Panther Party supported OSU actions, most of Seattle's black community, including the campus BSU, did not.

Following the sit-ins and negotiations facilitated by leaders in the local Asian American community, SCCC agreed to formally apologize to OSU leaders for making derogatory public remarks about them, promised to hire an Asian administrator for the 1971-72 school year, and eventually hire an Asian to be president of a Seattle Community College campus. Not long after, SCCC hired Frank Fujii as a Department Head, Peter Kosi as Minority Affairs Director, and, a few years later, hired Peter Ku as a campus president.

The OSU's protests helped kick start the local Asian American student movement by combining direct action tactics with ideologies originally developed by black power organizations. The following rare documents and photos provide a window into this early Asian American movement activism.

OSU Sit-In Documents

OSU Sit-In, March 2, 1971. Photos © Ben Yorita. Republication without written consent is prohibited.