Native American Experiences in Higher Education

Though we were not able to formally discuss Native American experiences in higher education, reading these articles gave me an understanding of the discrimination evident in the education system. Devon A. Mihesuah’s article, “Native Student, Faculty, and Staff Experiences in the Ivory Tower” opened my eyes to the fatal cycle many Indian Professors face. This article discusses a survey sent to Native faculty members and their non-native allies through the American Indian Quarterly journal.

The cycle begins with the lack of participation in these solicited surveys, or dialogues. Many Native Americans in academia fear they will be seen as “trouble makers” in the eyes of employers if they offer their critical perspectives on the real issues they face in everyday life. Speaking up, many believe, is a red mark on their future job applications or a harmful move with respect to their current positions. While remaining tacit might be a slightly more favorable move in the eyes of the tenure committee, Native Americans continue to face inequities in their rights as a faculty member. Some Native Americans had trouble putting words to their horrifying experiences, and opted not to respond to the survey. The desire to voice opinions combined with the consequences of honesty stir the vicious cycle.

The few Indians who have spoken up, through writing publications and verbally have powerful stories to tell. Additionally, Non-Native professors in Native American Studies (NAS) Departments, tell stories of times they were targeted for their radical political beliefs.

In the anonymous article “Old School”, a Jewish, female professor in the Native American Studies Department states, “Officially, I have never been reviewed for tenure. In reality, my tenure dossier went up the hierarchy of review committees once and was sent back to the NAS tenure committee under a “scorched-earth” mandate to redo the review because of gross procedural errors” (54). And, “The university I have worked at for six years is paying me a five-figure sum to resign” (54). The lack of opportunity and pure discrimination against this individual, who chooses to incorporate the idea of “color privilege” into her teachings, and whose husband is a Native American, is appalling.

After reading several articles, I remain unsure of how this situation can be ameliorated. If the positions of those who speak out are compromised, and discrimination occurs on a daily basis toward those who do not speak out, what can be done? Anonymity is crucial to sharing these horrors that are occurring, but even upon hearing these stories anonymously, discrimination in educational institutions has not subsided. Without the mention of specific colleges or universities in these articles, the departments are not “hearing” or “listening.” I hope to read more of these articles, as I find a further education and understanding of the topic is crucial to suggest ways in which awareness can be raised, or systems can be changed, if this is possible.

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