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Naval Academy language and cultures professor awarded academy civilian service award

Clementine Fujimura came to the Naval Academy to teach language classes.

The anthropologist — still the only one at the academy— could speak several languages, including Russian, which was sought after at the academy, and German. So she came in 1993 to teach.

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The professor still teaches German and Russian at the academy. But over her nearly 30 years there, she has helped develop the language program at the academy into one that brings language and culture together.

Her passion is to create cross-culturally competent leaders, she said. She wants the midshipmen she teaches to be able to understand a new culture, to know why the people in a place get up in the morning. She does not want midshipmen to perpetuate the stereotype of the ugly American.

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Fujimura received the academy’s 2021 Civilian Faculty Service Excellence Award, which she sees as the institution recognizing the work she has done to bring an anthropological perspective to the academy.

She does not want the award to be about her, she said. She wants it to be about how far the institution has come.

“The institution as a whole is excited about what I do, and I’m excited about the institution that supports it,” Fujimura said.

The award is timely because of the racial injustice discussions prompted by the death of George Floyd and the anti-Asian attacks, she said. She has always taught about race and racism, but this year, she noticed that midshipmen are more invested and open to discussing it.

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“I want and need the United States to understand […] that difference is a good thing,” she said. “And we have to move in a more positive direction towards equity and inclusion and support diversity. So [...] it’s a good time to highlight this cross-cultural competence thing.”

Fujimura’s views are personal and do not necessarily reflect the academy or the Navy, a member of the academy public affairs office said in an email.

Another sign of her success? The language department is now called the Language and Cultures Department.

Fujimura has always taught the combination of culture and language, whether she is teaching a language class or a class on cultures. A midshipman cannot understand a language without knowing the culture surrounding the language, and vice versa, Fujimura said.

Shortly after arriving at the academy, Fujimura started teaching the psychology of world cultures. Around 2004, she was approached by the Marine Corps to talk about culture with a professor from Brown University and how a better understanding could help Marines overseas.

Then the academy approached her to start teaching anthropology, she said. Fujimura was already teaching anthropology, she said. She just did it through her other classes. Recently, Fujimura taught an anthropological course on cyber cultures.

Part of her teaching takes midshipmen out of the classroom. She has taken midshipmen abroad to Russia and Bavaria in Germany. More locally, she brought midshipmen to upstate New York to interact with the Mohawk Tribe and to Gallaudet University, where they can learn about the deaf community.

She has also worked with the study abroad program at the academy, which did not exist when she first started. The program uses a three-prong approach in order to help the midshipmen prepare to study abroad and be able to apply what they learned when they return.

Professor Clementine Fujimura, who received the academy's civilian service award, stands with her family.
Professor Clementine Fujimura, who received the academy's civilian service award, stands with her family. (Courtesy of Donna Cole)

Two people to benefit from the study abroad program are Fujimura’s own sons. Her eldest son, a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps, graduated from the academy in 2020 and spent a semester in Germany.

Her younger son, currently a 2nd-class midshipman, plans to study in Japan, depending on the pandemic.

Fujimura has not taught her sons at the academy, but she has taught their friends. It requires a bit of code switch, she said, in order to be in professor mode at the academy and not mom mode.

When she saw her sons on campus, she would be cordial and professional. If one of her son’s friends is in class, she is in full professor mode. She only lets herself be in mom mode at home.

“And so it’s been hard for me to hear stories of the trials and tribulations of being a midshipman in Bancroft Hall and whatnot,” she said. “And it’s been hard not to try and insert myself and go over there and yell at people, ‘You can’t treat these poor children like this.’ Oh, right. They’re going to be officers. So, yeah, maybe I should let them do their job.”

Outside of her classes, Fujimura leads the Foreign Area Studies major, which she helped create. She has also supported the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership, the Leadership Ethics and Law Department and the International Programs Office, which runs the study abroad program, according to an academy release.

She will also soon be working on a book with Dr. Joe Thomas, the director of the Stockdale Center, about developing cross-cultural competence for leaders, Fujimura said.

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