Columbians assisting aid efforts in Japan

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The Japanese were very calm, no crying or talking; children and babies were quiet, and millions poured with purpose into streets and parks, all looking up at the very tall buildings that swayed around them like tall palm trees without relief.”

This is what Jeanette Takamura, dean of the School of Social Work, witnessed on the afternoon of March 11 outside her Tokyo hotel. Having traveled to Japan to attend a conference, she managed to leave the country two days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit.

When this magazine went to press on March 29, Columbia students were selling wristbands to raise money for relief; the Miller Theatre had raised more than $34,000 through a March 27 benefit concert featuring Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, John Zorn, and Sonic Youth; the Asian Columbia Alumni Association was co-organizing the citywide New Yorkers for Japan benefit on March 31; public health professors were consulting to UN relief efforts; and a group of faculty, students, and administrators led by Takamura and Columbia physician Nick Homma was meeting regularly to determine how Columbians could most effectively contribute to Japan’s aid.

“We’ve been in contact with our alumni club leaders in Japan, and so far we’ve heard encouraging news about the safety of many Columbians there,” said Michael Griffin, one of the University’s executive directors for alumni relations. He notes that Japan is home to nearly 2500 Columbia graduates, the largest alumni population in a non-English-speaking country.

The University, to educate alumni about the ongoing crisis in Japan, streamed online a panel discussion on March 23 featuring historian Carol Gluck, oceanographer Michael Purdy, economist Jeffrey Sachs, and nuclear physicist William Zajc.

“All of these efforts are heartening, as Japan has long held the United States in the highest esteem and has looked at this country, despite the past, with a great sense of relatedness,” says Takamura. “As a third-generation Japanese American myself, nothing could be more reassuring for the future than to see Columbia and the United States acknowledge this sense of relatedness by reaching out to Japan during this most difficult time.”

For information about how to donate, visit news.columbia.edu/japanearthquake.

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