Answering a Higher Calling

Diana Akiyama, BS '81 (human development and performance)

In 1989, Diana Akiyama, BS ’81 (human development and performance), was the first Japanese American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. In 2020, she was elected the first Asian American woman bishop in the Episcopal church, overseeing 70 churches in western Oregon in the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon.

Born in Wheeler and raised in Hood River, Akiyama is the daughter of a Japanese American father and Caucasian mother. Her father’s family was held in internment camps in World War II. 

She came to the University of Oregon in 1977 to study dance but switched to counseling and social work—a specialization in the human development major—and cultivated her empathy, understanding, and spirituality. “I wanted to be a dancer, but I realized I needed something more practical,” Akiyama says. “But even today, my time as a dance major really informed the connection between spirituality and one’s sense of being embodied.”

As bishop, she envisions supporting voices in the church calling for equality and inclusion. Issues of race, gender, and human sexuality align with the direction of the Episcopal church and energize her belief, she says, that “in order to move forward we need to heal.”

“One of my hopes and dreams for the Diocese of Oregon is to help the faith communities understand what it means to come together across differences,” Akiyama says. “One of the primary calls of the Christian faith is to be a community, despite differences, unified around understanding that God’s love surpasses the disagreements we may have.”

—By Sharleen Nelson, BS ’06 (journalism: magazine, news/editorial), University Communications