Professor Khatharya Um specializes in politics and Southeast Asian Studies, is an eminent scholar taking on challenges in the modern society, and is also an outstanding educator who has devoted herself to developing the next generation. She has: investigated the tragic history of her home country of Cambodia; thrown light on the sufferings of immigrants and refugees; been an incisive analyst of armed conflict and peacebuilding, and of tensions between ethnicities and identities in the United States as a “Nation of Immigrants”; and presented an innovative methodology for global studies.
Prof. Um was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1960. During the civil war in 1975, her diplomat father took the family from their home country to the U.S.A. She studied politics under the supervision of the world-famous East-Asia scholar, Professor Chalmers Johnson, at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1990, she received a Ph.D. and was elected as a Chancellor's Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow. In 1995, she became assistant professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Berkley, and later, associate professor in 2001. She has since led the Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies Program. After holding a series of important posts at UC Berkeley, including Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies, she is currently Associate Dean of the Social Sciences Division.
In the mid 70s, Cambodia was dragged into the Vietnam War and the monarchy was overthrown. From the midst of chaos, the Pol Pot regime was born and an unprecedented genocide followed. In one of her key works, From the Land of Shadows: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Cambodian Diaspora (2015), Prof. Um seeks an answer to the question, “Why did this tragedy happen?” In doing so, she listens to survivors' voices, learns from their silent resistance against brutal violence, and narrates the stories of her fellow-citizens whose lives were cruelly shattered by such an absurd fate.
This background explains why Prof. Um has devoted herself to practical steps towards a peaceful and fair world, and to international joint research projects with her colleagues. She has coauthored a sequence of books including Southeast Asian Migration (2015), Departures (2022), Globalization and Civil Society in East Asian Space (2022) and Générations Post-Réfugiées (2023) .
In an era of rapid changes, the education of the next generation is an urgent task. Prof. Um has been aiming to create a campus environment where there is a mutual respect between nationalities, races, ethnicities, languages, genders and political beliefs, and where academic freedom and development of scholarship are promoted. With this mission in mind, she teaches not only in universities across the U.S.A. but also in those in Asia and Europe. Moreover, she also places her hopes in young children, and, in partnership with UNESCO, she has published a history book covering the whole of Southeast Asia in order to encourage international co-operation. For her achievement in education as well as research, she was given the 2019 Chancellor's Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence and Equity by UC Berkeley.
Her investigation of the history of the Cambodian civil war and genocide through her own experiences has carved out a path for a new field of research. This approach has become increasingly important in the growing uncertainties of the modern world. For her efforts to overcome the many challenges of our current situation, to renew academic researches through collaborative partnerships, to educate young people, and to construct a spirit of civic solidarity that transcends national borders, Prof. Khatharya Um is truly worthy of the Academic Prize of Fukuoka Prize.
Message upon Announcement of Laureates
I am extremely humbled by this honor and profoundly grateful for this recognition.
As a refugee studies scholar, I see this as a recognition not only of my scholarly contributions but of the critical nature of the issues that we engage as scholars and global citizens, which are among the most pressing of our time.
As a refugee from Cambodia, I am grateful for the light that is shone on the potentiality and contributions of refugees. Now more than ever, this light needs to shine through the darkness of fear, anxiety, and hate.
Thank you again for this treasured honor.