Innovative field work educator and advocate for diversity
As a pioneer of inclusivity in social work education, Jane E. Kurohara led the charge to encourage schools of social work to admit and educate more minority students, resulting in significant numbers of social workers of color returning to their communities to provide vital social services.
Raised in Hawaii, Kurohara earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii in 1952 and found her calling as a caseworker providing clinical social work services to blind children and their families. Relocating to St. Louis to pursue her MSW at Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work proved to be a culture shock. For the first time, Kurohara felt like a minority and a foreigner. Although she was part of the second class at the university that included black students, she discovered that her black colleagues were still not allowed in swimming pools or at certain restaurants. These experiences instilled in her a strong desire to address inequality and disparities throughout her career.
During her time at Washington University, Kurohara completed field placements with the local department of public social services and the university’s medical center, where she shed her self-described romantic view of social work and developed a true passion for helping people. After a stint as a part-time social worker at the University of Rochester, she moved west to Southern California, where she worked in a medical clinic in Lincoln Heights, getting to know the Latino community while helping children with emotional and developmental problems.
Recruited as a field instructor for UCLA, Kurohara noticed the university’s School of Social Welfare was not producing many minority social workers, particularly Asians. With a group of her peers, she lobbied the dean and faculty members to improve access to the school for all students. Her persistence led the eventual implementation of a program to recruit and support a more diverse student body, which then produced a broader system of professional social workers to better serve an increasingly diverse population.
Kurohara continued her efforts on the admissions committee and as a field instructor before officially joining the faculty in 1971. During the subsequent decades until her retirement, Kurohara sustained her affirmative action work on the admissions committee and traveled throughout Northern California to recruit minority students at the bachelor’s level. She also represented UCLA at the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), leading to broader efforts to improve the inclusion of minority students in social work.
Kurohara’s work greatly influenced the education of students who became leaders in their communities, including the founders of the Little Tokyo Service Center and the Chinatown Social Service Center, which have provided important services to countless individuals and families. In addition to her role at UCLA, she served as a member of the National Association of Social Workers, Asian American Social Work Association, Little Tokyo Service Center Board of Directors, and Japanese American Medical Association.