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To say Aura Newlin has an interesting Wyoming story is an understatement. The University of Wyoming alumna, now a Northwest College assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, is a fourth-generation Wyomingite and a fourth-generation Japanese American whose family was incarcerated for three years at Heart Mountain. But their Wyoming story began long before that.
Her grandmother’s side of the family emigrated from Japan to Wyoming in the early 1900s to work on the railroads. After living in Wyoming for 30 years, they retired to Hollywood, Calif., and opened a grocery store called The Wyoming Market. Not long after, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering people of Japanese descent into prison camps. The family was forced from their home and sent back to Wyoming—this time to be confined behind barbed wire and under the watch of armed guards at Heart Mountain, located between Powell and Cody.
Her grandfather’s side of the family also came from Japan to work in Wyoming, but they were not imprisoned since they were not on the coast. However, the Union Pacific railroad did fire its Japanese workers at the time.
After growing up in Riverton, Newlin completed her bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology at UW in 2003 and went on to get a master’s degree in anthropology at Case Western Reserve University, where she also completed her Ph.D. coursework. She is now resuming her Ph.D. research through CWRU while continuing her role as a faculty member at Northwest College.
She believes it’s important for future generations to learn about Japanese-American incarceration during World War II. Since 2013, Newlin has served on the board of directors of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. The foundation works to educate the public about the WWII Japanese American incarceration experience, preserve and memorialize the Heart Mountain confinement site, and highlight this history’s relevance to the preservation of liberty and civil rights for all Americans today.
Newlin also serves on the board of directors of the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts and as a participating member of the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium. She regularly speaks and presents throughout the country.
UW prepared her well for both her career and her role in the community, Newlin says: “Because of the flexibility and responsiveness of my professors and mentors at UW, I was able to push the envelope and pursue creative endeavors as an undergraduate. Those experiences helped develop my self-confidence, sense of adventure and intrinsic motivation. All of those qualities are central to my career and community life now.”
She recommends UW to potential students for a variety of reasons, including its size, location and affordability: “It is big enough to have a university feel and university opportunities; it is small enough to develop close relationships with your professors and develop a strong sense of place. The location is great. Laramie is an awesome town, and the proximity to Vedauwoo, Happy Jack and the Snowy Range was a really important aspect of my undergraduate experience.”
Newlin notes that the Hathaway Scholarship Program now helps cover tuition at UW and community colleges, and that she developed lifelong friendships at the university. While at UW, USA Today named her as one of the nation’s top 20 undergraduates. She was also inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honors society, recognized as UW’s top female graduate and granted the first annual UW award for excellence in internationalization.
To her, being a UW Cowboy means being down to earth and grounded with a strong sense of place. It also means having fun and confidence.
Recognized for her contributions as a professor and community member, Newlin has received a number of awards, including the faculty member of the year award from the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees in 2018. She was also profiled on Wyoming PBS’ television show, Wyoming Chronicle, and is spotlighted in Lindsay Linton Buk’s photography and podcast project, “Women in Wyoming.”
Aura Newlin was a featured speaker at the event on October 10, 2019
Cody | Buffalo Bill Center of the West