Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Dean of the Arts and Distinguished Professor of Film and Digital Media was inducted into the Stanford University Multicultural Hall of Fame on October 20, 2023. Launched by former Stanford Board of Trustees member Charles Ogletree in 1995, the Hall of Fame “provides an opportunity for the Stanford community to recognize the outstanding achievements of Stanford’s diverse alumni leaders.”
“Alumni selected for the Hall of Fame are those who have distinguished themselves through exceptional advancement and success in education, career, and/or outstanding contributions to the Stanford community and society as a whole.”
When she studied Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, Parreñas Shimizu heard Stanford University’s Modern Thought and Literature program called a “dream place to be” for interdisciplinary scholars who are also artists.
Parreñas Shimizu earned her Ph.D. there in 2001 after completing her M.F.A. in Film and Television Production and Directing at UCLA. The interdisciplinary Ph.D. program not only met, but exceeded her expectations, she says, and that’s where she wrote the dissertation that became her first book The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene (2007) that established her as an award-winning expert on race, sexuality and representations. Her meeting with Harry J. Elam, (who eventually became her dissertation co-director) in her first week at Stanford, led to the book, she says, as she was given the resources to write it.
“He asked me what project I would complete there if I were free and had no obstacles whatsoever and only support and help,” she said. “When he asked me that question, I immediately identified this project, which is the 100-plus year representational history of Asian American women imposed upon by a western male sexual fantasy.”
That’s part of the reason being inducted into the Stanford University Multicultural Alumni Hall of Fame this month means so much to Parreñas Shimizu. At Stanford, Shimizu, a filmmaker and film scholar, who has written three more books, learned to have confidence and belief in her abilities, she says. While writing her dissertation, she gave herself the time and space to become an expert in her disciplines in order to create new interventions as an “ethnographer and historian of images.” The ability to establish expertise in entirely new areas characterizes her new book The Movies of Racial Childhoods, forthcoming from Duke University Press in 2024.
“I remember being in my carrel in Green Library reading and writing for 10 hours a day, and that’s the kind of regimented discipline I employ now as I write books and make films,” she said. “I get to decide what the research question is. I get to decide what the methods are. That’s intellectual freedom and it’s doubly significant because I’m a woman of color in the academy studying subjugated knowledges.”
Parreñas Shimizu joins other illustrious alumni in the Hall of Fame such as Jerry Yang, co-creator of Yahoo!, Obie award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, and Kris Hayashi, the executive director of the Transgender Law Center.
Parreñas Shimizu got an email informing her of the decision in July when she was at work, attending to the ceaseless demands of being a dean.
“I was absolutely thrilled to hear I was bestowed with this immense recognition,” she said. “And of course, it’s wonderful to receive in the middle of a workday.”
Acknowledging Celine Parreñas Shimizu, a Filipina American woman at the top levels of university leadership, means a lot to others as well, says Linda Tran, the dean for Community Engagement and Diversity and the director of the Asian American Activities Center (A3C) at Stanford.
“She has been seminal in analyzing the sexualization of Asian American women, and the representation of Asian American sexuality in the media overall. She really has been a path breaker,” Tran said. “And what was more important for us in looking at her work was that she was not just doing this kind of rigorous academic work, but it was very clear that she had a passion for creating a more just and equal world. We really felt that she embodied the spirit of the award.”
Parreñas Shimizu says her getting inducted also helps change the perceptions of people who focus on appearance, rather than excellence in how they perceive leadership.
“When I occupy the deanship, I sometimes experience things like people looking behind me, as if asking ‘Are you in charge?’” she said. “They learn quickly enough to recognize the limits of their own perceptions in how I am changing leadership in ways that impact their lives.”
At the induction ceremony and reception, a popular Stanford Reunion event, she shared how: “Beyond validation, this award is a light I’m imbibing to renew my strength, so I become even more bold and joyful to outlast all haters.”
Parreñas Shimizu worked three jobs while earning her BA in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley — getting up to work as a line cook, running the student-initiated service group the Center for Racial Education during the day and working in a movie theater at night in order to support herself. “Living with impecunity—having very little money— taught me to apply for every possible resource available to me and to create opportunity so I could move forward.”
In her acceptance speech at the induction ceremony, Parreñas Shimizu talked about how at Stanford she learned to “do the opposite of conforming, the opposite of acquiescence,” in her scholarly and creative activity, which she hopes the students at UC Santa Cruz will learn as well.
Her speech resonated with the audience of several hundred faculty, students, staff and friends, as they applauded exuberantly throughout and gave her not one, but two standing ovations – one when she stepped on stage and the other after she was done speaking.
“When blocked, become more brave,” she said in her speech. “If you already lost, change the game to win.”