UW Graduate School

September 25, 2019

Tamiko Nimura, Ph.D.

English, 2004

For Tamiko Nimura, Dr. Johnnella Butler’s classes felt like a sanctuary. 

Butler was director of the Minority Education Division (renamed GO-MAP during her tenure) from 2000–2006. “Dr. Butler not only taught classes that provided community for students of color,” says Nimura, “she was a mainstay support for us.” 

During Nimura’s first year in graduate school, “I was terrified to speak up in classes,” she says. “But I never felt terrified around Dr. Butler. I always felt the comments I made in class were appreciated and welcomed. She was always very generous with her time and feedback, and her comments were always supportive.” 

Nimura turned to Butler to be the chair of her thesis committee, doctoral exam committee and her dissertation committee. She still remembers how tickled she felt when she ran into Butler’s husband and he told her, “Dr. Butler thinks you’re the cat’s pajamas.” 

“To hear that from her husband was really funny and lovely,” she says. 

As director, Butler established student and faculty advisory committees which provided support, ideas and feedback to help build the Minority Education Division’s programming for students of color. Nimura – eager to be involved in efforts to support other graduate students of color – became a member of the Student Advisory Committee. 

That same year, Nimura was passed over for a T.A.-ship by her department. She was one of two students in her cohort who didn’t receive funding that year. “It was very painful,” she says. “It felt like a sign of my worth.” 

Nimura received funding from GO-MAP in her third year, which helped her to continue in her program.

But the GO-MAP community helped her in another way – by providing an outlet. 

Taking classes with Dr. Butler and working on the GO-MAP advisory committee “made me feel I had something to contribute to the UW community, and whether or not I received a T.A.-ship didn’t have to be my only sign of validation of being in academia.” 

The Student Advisory Committee was responsible for getting to know students of color across campus and providing input on the kinds of support they needed. This process led them to develop opportunities for students of color to meet socially – thus, Getting and Staying Connected were born. The committee was also integral in developing in renaming the unit from Minority Education Division to GO-MAP.

On campus, students of color were discussing Initiative 200, which, in 1998, banned affirmative action in Washington state. In September three years later, came the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. 

“Being a graduate student of color teaching in the wake of September 11 was a painful and difficult thing,” Nimura says. It was especially difficult to discuss issues of race in the classroom.

The GO-MAP office was a haven, a refuge, and a place of nurturing for students during that time. “Going into classes where we may have felt alienated, or teaching undergrads where we might have been instructors of color facing a majority white class – it gave us strength knowing we had a community behind us.” 

GO-MAP also helped students feel empowered to work toward creating a better campus climate, she says. “That feeling that you have some agency and control over a situation goes a long way toward sustaining you,” she adds. 

Since leaving academia in 2011, Nimura has built a freelance writing career with a focus on American Ethnic Studies. She is a community-oriented journalist who writes mostly about and for Asian American artists. She works to serve communities that are often ignored by sharing their stories. 

“Dr. Butler actually taught me a lot about doing work that serves the community,” she says. “She taught me that you don’t forget where you came from.”