Note: This interview in the Scholarship to Practice Series originally aired on September 2, 2021 as part of the University Innovation Alliance’s Innovating Together Podcast, appearing live on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The transcript of this podcast episode is intended to serve as a guide to the entire conversation, and we encourage you to listen to this podcast episode. You can also access our summary, along with helpful links and audio from this episode.
One is that we exist in college. I think that there is an absence and invisibility there, that I think becomes really important. The big point is, are we here. The answer is, decidedly yes, we’re here. I think there’s another big push about this that people have more broadly, which is, well, all of the financial needs are being taken care of, because if there are Native people on higher ed, they get free tuition, or it’s all paid for.
Welcome to Innovating Together Podcast produced by the University Innovation Alliance. This is the podcast for busy people in higher education who are looking for the best ideas, inspiration, and leaders to help you improve student success. I’m your host, Bridget Burns. Got you.
At each episode of Scholarship to Practice, we bring you short conversation with scholars and researchers whose insights and learning can enhance the work of student-success practitioners day to day.
Well, and as you might know from past episodes, we generally think that there are things that are known, that we need to talk about in the field, where there’s actually research and scholarship. And we also, simultaneously, know that administrators are struggling with questions about those very things. Our hope is to translate between the two and create a conversational space, where you can learn from a scholar who, we believe, will really add value to your practice. That’s why we call it –
Yes, thanks, Bridget. Today we’re joined by Dr. Bryan Brayboy of Arizona State University. His research focuses on race and diversity in higher education, and the experiences of indigenous students, staff, and faculty in institutions of higher ed. Dr. Brayboy, welcome to Scholarship to Practice.
Thanks for having me. Thrilled to be here with you all.
It’s very exciting for us. We’ve heard a lot about your work. And the topic of how we better serve indigenous students is something that we hear frequently. Most of the time, we don’t know the answer. It’s such an honor that you’re able to spend some time with us today, and hopefully our folks at home are going to leave with a bit more sense of clarity about how they can better serve the students that we all care about.
The first question that we wanted to talk to you about is, you’re an enrolled member of the Lumbee Nation. You’re a scholar of indigenous people in higher education and an administrative leader at Arizona State who is leading work to support indigenous students at ASU, but you also do a lot more to advance indigenous education. Can you tell us what misunderstandings might exist related to indigenous students in higher education?
Yes. I think this is a great question. For me, there’s a whole bunch of things that we should be thinking about. Let me try to address just a few of them. One is that we exist in college. I think that there is an absence and invisibility there, that I think becomes really important. The big point is, are we here. The answer is, decidedly yes, we’re here. I think there’s another big push about this that people have more broadly, which is, well, all of the financial needs are being taken care of, because if there are Native people on higher ed, they get free tuition, or it’s all paid for, which actually isn’t true. Actually the primary barrier for Native students being successful in higher ed is fundamentally about finances. There’s a whole variety of reasons for this. There’s a history around this.
I think the other big misunderstanding is that making a transition from a tribal community to a university should be as easy as it is for other groups who may be coming to higher ed. I think the transition, the history, when we start to think about that, ends up making it much more complicated. Finances, our presence and visibility, and the transition, for me, are the three big pieces here.
That’s super helpful. It sounds a lot like the students we’ve been thinking about at the UIA. At least I imagine that there are lots of things that colleges and universities are doing that they think are in service of Native students. I’m wondering if you can give us any examples that may think to be of service, but may be missing the mark.
Yes. Let me give you, maybe, two, and start with one that seems to have taken off, really, across the country. If you think about UIA, in particular with land grants, this becomes really important. It’s land acknowledgment, and the reason why I think it hasn’t been great is because an acknowledgment – and Hayden King, who did the first acknowledgment at Ryerson University, has since said he thinks that it could have been a mistake, in the way in which it’s done and the way in which it’s been taken up.
Land acknowledgments are fundamentally when universities begin to say, “We’re on the ancestral homelands of whatever tribal nation that they’re on.” It creates a couple of issues. One is, for many of us, it feels performative. That is, it’s just a performance. It happens at the very beginning of a conference or at the beginning of a meeting, or it’s on the website. Then there’s no other mention of indigenous peoples. Issues that are important to us aren’t taken up in the meetings or by the university. I think that’s important. I would also say that, when we talk about land, we’re talking about a physical space. I would suggest that really, this should fundamentally be about place.
The difference between land and place, for me, is land is the physical space. Place is when that land has been imbued with meaning by people. The lands that universities sit on are often thought of differently by indigenous peoples. If we think about land grants, for example, and the ways in which they get established – July 2nd, 1862, with the Morrill Act, at least initially; there are other sets of land grants, obviously – are institutions actually paying attention to where their lands come from and the ways in which resources from lands that didn’t just come out of the ether? The government just didn’t give lands. There were people on those lands before who were then removed, often violently.
What does it mean for institutions to actually do a land acknowledgment, a place acknowledgment that, one, says, “We recognize this history,” and two, says, “We’re going to do something about it?” To move from performative to action, those acknowledgments need to then have a plan, moving forward, for the ways in which institutions are going to insert themselves into beginning to address the needs of the communities that were once, and may still be, on those lands.
I think that is going to be pretty profound for folks. I’ve been to too many events where it does feel like it’s becoming performative, and I think that’s great guidance for folks in terms of how they can move things to the next level, and also just really rethink some things that have become somewhat, almost, standard. I do want to raise that indigenous people, especially students, have been in the news more lately, especially in regards to the discovery of a significant number of bones in the grounds of Canadian boarding schools, for example, heartbreaking stories. For a lot of folks, a lot of white Americans who don’t have an understanding of that history, it is extremely troubling, as it should be, but it’s the first time, it seems, that a level of awareness has been achieved.
What I want to understand is, in the past, schools have been used for indoctrination and enculturation for indigenous students. Yet, here we are at institutions of education that want to serve them. What extent do you think that we can serve them without acknowledging or redressing that past relationship with these communities?
Frankly, I think it’s impossible to do it. There has to be some acknowledgment of that, and I think that folks get caught up in saying, well, an acknowledgment, then, of it, or some commitment or saying that there’s a wrongdoing, then leads to all kinds of other issues. I think that you can’t actually build relationships, with people or with communities, if you don’t have some honesty and straightforward nature of this. The history’s become really important, because we bring that with us. If I am the child of boarding school survivors, or the grandchildren of boarding school survivors, a distrust of schools that was really about assimilation and tearing my culture away from me, begins to follow me.
At the same time, to be an indigenous person in the 21st century really requires, for some of us, to have degrees; so colleges and universities become an important part of our present and our future. In order to do that, for me, we’ve got to have a really clear acknowledgment of what that is. No one’s saying that the university was necessarily complicit in that, although it certainly may have been. But I think institutions just need to get really clear about saying, “Look, this is part of who we are, and we’re going to work to try to redress this in some way, shape, or form."
One of the ways to do that is actually by talking with tribal peoples and tribal communities. This is another tricky point here, which is, one, acknowledging that; and then, two, making sure that the people that you go to, to begin saying, “Here are the ways in which we may redress it,” come from those communities and are indigenous peoples that can say, “Here’s one way to do it.” Often, there’s an addressing of the issue, and then that’s only one step. The next step has to be a plan to move it forward. If you’re not including indigenous peoples and perspectives along the way, it doesn’t really work. You can’t say, "Here’s the solution to a problem that I know nothing about."
Bring people in who have an idea about what the problem is, who are actually living it, and then allow them to guide us and move us forward, which is a big shift for institutions, because we’re often experts about things, and we want to stay that way.
That makes a lot of good sense. If it’s OK, your talking about the acknowledgment of the past, and then thinking about the ways in which we redress those issues, makes me think about the national conversation around CRT – critical race theory, for folks who are less familiar. You are not just a scholar of indigenous folks in higher education, but also a scholar of race and diversity in higher ed. I’m wondering, from your perspective, what you think folks are getting right and wrong in this conversation, or at least talking about CRT.
I suppose it depends on who those folks are. I think the broader public isn’t getting much right about CRT because, I think, the terms of the debate that have been set have been fundamentally wrong about it. CRT emerges really out of critical legal studies in the ’70s, but really it’s the mid-to-late ’80s where it becomes a particular of thinking about race and the law by legal scholars. Importantly, it’s been taken up now, by psychologists and sociologists and anthropologists and people in the field of education, as a way of looking at larger societal and structural institutional barriers that are really rooted in race, although not just race.
I think that there are these spin-offs that think about the ways in which we have multiple identities. As an indigenous person who is both racialized and also has a citizenship in my nation, I become more complicated in that way. I also feel like, and this goes back to this previous question around history, we’ve not done a good job about really being clear about civics education, and where we are as a country, and the role of race and racism in our country. If we think about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, those are aspirational documents, and they are in process. We wouldn’t actually have amendments if we didn’t think that there was a need to be able to continue to address them.
The other big piece, let me just say, is just that I think that people have taken up CRT to be some way, saying to people that they should be ashamed of who they are, and particularly white people should be ashamed of who they are. CRT doesn’t do that. It doesn’t say you should be ashamed. It doesn’t teach us to dislike or to hate white people. What it does say is that we need to look at institutional structures and the ways in which race factors into that, that means some people’s paths forward are enabled, while others are hindered, and then to have an honest conservation about that that looks like.
I want to follow up on your point about civics education. I think that’s really a great perspective in terms of reframing. I’m just wondering if you could go a little bit further in terms of guidance or advice for folks about how they could lean into civics education as a reframing and how that might make indigenous people visible in meaningful ways.
Well, in some ways, it starts with history, and it starts with the ways in which the U.S. government functions. If we have a really historical point of view on this, if we look at the way in which our government, the U.S. government, was structured, there’s really clear evidence that Franklin, for example, borrowed from Haudenosaunee people – Six Nations, Iroquois Confederacy peoples – about having representatives in the legislature, really being guided by courts and other executives. Really getting a clear sense about, one, what are the histories of setup; I think just fundamentally knowing that there are indigenous ideals and principles really rooted in these founding documents and the structure, the ways in which our government starts, brings indigenous people really to the fore, to say, there was brilliance here actually before the U.S. started.
In terms of civics education, I just think that we don’t know a whole lot, many people don’t know a whole lot about how government works and how it’s supposed to work. It’s been, really, reframed and recast as, somehow government is some sort of boogeyman out to get us, when in fact, it feels to me like part of this is, we need a structure that works, that helps guide us, and there are policies and processes for how we get things through that are intended to be able to represent people as individuals and people as groups. Fundamentally, that’s what a democracy is supposed to do. I think we reframe this and move it away from conversations about who should be ashamed or who isn’t, and move it towards actually thinking about rights and responsibilities as being connected. There is a heavy emphasis on rights right now, individual rights.
For me, I wish we would have a conversation about the ways in which rights necessarily carry with them levels of responsibility. It’s not just about individual rights. It’s about larger group rights. This conversation about whether or not I would wear a mask, for example, to protect others, is a really interesting one to me. It’s been framed, in some ways, as an infringement on my rights. What if we thought about, what are our responsibilities to be good citizens, and to be in good relation with one another? For me, I just think that changes the conversation, when we say, "I have responsibilities as a person with rights."
That’s so helpful. I’ll be honest. Hearing you talk about it, and then the mention of the right-relations piece, I recognized really quickly that that also could, perhaps, be applicable to colleges and universities. Can you talk about what you mean when you say to be in right relation generally, and then with indigenous communities specifically?
Yes. This is so important. I would just say, it’s not just about institutions. I think, for me, it gets to the previous question, and it gets to how I think we should be, as human beings more broadly. What does it mean to be in right relations? If we are in relationship with one another, then we are necessarily responsible to each other. Really, for me, it’s the way I think about indigenous knowledge systems and indigenous ways of being. Relationality means there’s a level of responsibility, and if I am responsible for you, then I think that the question for institutions of higher education to be in right relations, if I’m on your land, if I am borrowing from your ways of knowing, if I am borrowing from your resources, then I have a responsibility to you.
To be in good relation means, one, I acknowledge the fact that there were peoples here before who were actually brilliant and brought things that I’m borrowing. One simple way to think about this is actually place names, where those names come from, and being able to acknowledge that. For land grants, if I think about UIA, if I think about other places, even some institutions like my own, Arizona State University, which isn’t a land grant but certainly benefitted from lands that were set aside by the state, at the same time the land grant was founded; to be in good relationship for us means, one, we acknowledge the place that we’re on. Two, we have a plan moving forward to be able to address those folks, to begin to take up a responsibility. Three, we don’t just have a plan, but we’ve consulted with people about what their needs are.
We don’t need to go into tribal communities and say, “Here’s what you need.” We need to really begin to listen. Relationships also require a level of listening. They require a level of humility, which I often don’t know that we’re great at doing; which is, we actually have something to learn from folks who can say, “Here’s what my needs are,” and then begin to say, “OK, here’s what we can do.” We shouldn’t be asking the questions. We shouldn’t be guiding the conversations as much as we should be bringing our resources to bear to be able to address the needs of communities.
It’s about relationships that lead to responsibilities. If this works really well, there’s a level of reciprocity here. We start to see this relationship go both ways. Fundamentally, for me, our institutions are intended to begin to help people create futures of their own making and have communities create futures of their own making. If we look at our mission statement at ASU, our charter explicitly says that’s what we're going to do. We’re going to take fundamental responsibility for society. One of the ways that we do that is by making ourselves more accessible and open to people, so that they can create futures of their own making. Being in right relation means listening. It means being humble. It means stepping up and saying, “What can I do to help?”
That’s an excellent reminder about that charter and how it connects with this way of thinking. I would just put, for our audience watching live, think about whether or not your institution has that kind of vision clarity, because it is not common to have institutions with that kind of – I know that President Crow shares about the charter frequently, but the level of precision and clarity is unprecedented in the field, and it’s something that I really wish would go viral. I wish other institutions would emulate and replicate that mission clarity, especially one that’s in right relation with the community around them.
I wanted to dig a little deeper. In our prep conversation, you shared some really helpful anecdotes to drive this home. I wanted to know if you could share examples of institutions that got it wrong when it comes to indigenous communities, missing a critical step of serving and being in right relation; or an example, perhaps, of a campus or someone who did it right.
Yeah, sure. I think that that there are few of us that actually get it right. I should say that I think that this is always about figuring out ways to do better and to understand. I want to be really clear. I think making mistakes is actually really important, and I think institutions should be able to make mistakes and then say, “We’re going to address them.” I’ll give you a couple of examples. My intent here isn’t actually to pick on these institutions, because I think that there are a hundred examples; but they’re ones that I know a bit about.
I was formerly a faculty member at the University of Utah. There was, above Utah, up on the Bench, there’s a fort called Fort Douglas that, at one point, was put there and stationed the U.S. Army to do two things: to keep an eye on the Indians and the Mormons, or members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. It was really about surveillance. It’s a place where there are Native bodies that are buried up there, and the American Indian Resource Center, the student center, at the time that I was there, was placed on this fort, not far from these bodies, but also situated in a place that, at one point, was intended to really control indigenous peoples of the land.
Utah is named after Ute peoples. The name emerged from those folks. In spite of this concern being raised with the institution, it stayed there. Here’s why that’s a big deal. Students and faculty don’t necessarily want to go to a place, one, where there are bodies buried close by, because there are religious or spiritual reasons for us to not do that; but two, there wasn’t really a fundamental recognition of the history of the violence that occurred by the U.S. Army against these people. One way to address this is to say, “There’s this history. It’s important. We acknowledge it. We recognize it. We understand that being around buried bodies isn’t the best way to do it. We need to relocate the center in a way that it will allow us to best meet the needs of students.”
Many of our institutions have bodies on them, bodies buried on them. One way that we might begin to do this for tribal peoples and others is simply to have students know where they are, so that they walk by them, or they come, somehow in contact with them. It doesn’t require, then, them to go home for a ceremony. This is one of the challenges of a place like Utah. Students would unknowingly come into this. They had to go home, have a ceremony. There were added costs to that, financial cost, but then also the cost of having to have someone do the ceremony, and the cost of missing school. What was intended, actually, to be a resource for students ends up having, in some ways, the opposite effect of that. Let me just stop there. I think that’s one example, but there are lots of them.
That’s a fantastic example. For folks who are not familiar with why students would need to have a ceremony, can you give a little bit more about that background so that they understand why, in particular, it’s so problematic?
Well, for our students, coming in contact with dead bodies or bodies that are buried, that they’re unaware of, means that there are some spiritual implications for them. It will impact their health, both their physical health and their mental health. What the ceremonies are intended to do is to really serve as a purifying and cleansing ceremony to get them back in balance with themselves. When I talk of the previous question, about how do institutions be in right relation with tribal communities, it’s also true that we have to be in right relations with ourselves. If we have somehow shifted, if there is imbalance in our lives, then often, for indigenous peoples – not all of us, but for some of us – there’s ceremonies involved that will help us begin to create and recreate that equilibrium, so that we are balanced in terms of who we are spiritually and emotionally, so that we can be physically well.
This is so fantastic. I feel like you’ve really given a lot to folks on these campuses who want to do the right thing but simply just haven’t been educated about these ways that you can make this missteps, and just how those implications play out for students, so really appreciate this.
Yes. I’m sure there are folks out there who will have more questions. What’s the best way for folks to connect with you?
Well, they can do a couple things. They can reach out to me at Twitter. I’m @bryanbrayboy, with a Y, or they can reach me via email, email@example.com.
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Brayboy. For those of you who are watching, thank you for being here. We can’t wait to bring you more conversations that bridge the gap between scholarship and practice, so that we can all do our best to support our students in our sector.
This was wonderful. For folks at home, think about additional topics that you are also thinking, that there are students that we need to serve better, that there are topics that we need to dig deeper. Frankly, we know there are researchers who have wisdom to share. Let’s create this space where it’s OK to ask the question that might seem dumb, but makes it so that you can be a better practitioner, serve students better. Please feel free to nominate additional scholars. Just know that Derrick and I, our DMs are open on Twitter, and we are always looking for additional scholars and topics to elevate in our effort to try and bridge that gap between scholarship and practice.
Thank you again, Dr. Brayboy. This was really fantastic. Derrick, as always, excellent co-hosting. We will see you all very soon.
Bios of Guest Luminary and Co-Hosts
Guest Luminary: Bryan Brayboy, President's Professor, School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University
Dr. Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy (Lumbee) is President’s Professor in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. He is senior advisor to the president, director of the Center for Indian Education, and co-editor of the Journal of American Indian Education. From 2007 to 2012, he was visiting President’s Professor of Indigenous Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Dr. Brayboy is the author of more than 95 scholarly documents, including contributions to eight volumes, dozens of articles and book chapters, multiple policy briefs for the U.S. Department of Education, National Science Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences. His research focuses on the role of race and diversity in higher education, and the experiences of Indigenous students, staff, and faculty. He is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association, a member of the National Academy of Education, and has been a visiting and noted scholar in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Norway. His work has been supported by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Ford, Mellon, Kellogg, and Spencer Foundations, and several other private and public foundations and organizations. Over the past 17 years, Dr. Brayboy and his team have prepared over 165 Native teachers to work in American Indian communities and more than 21 American Indian Ph.D.s.
Co-Host: Bridget Burns, Executive Director, University Innovation Alliance
Dr. Bridget Burns is the founding Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance (UIA). For the past decade, she has advised university presidents, system chancellors, and state and federal policy leaders on strategies to expand access to higher education, address costs, and promote completion for students of all backgrounds. The UIA was developed during Bridget’s tenure as an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellowship at Arizona State University. She held multiple roles within the Oregon University System, including serving as Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisor, where she won the national award for innovation in higher education government relations. She was a National Associate for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, and has served on several statewide governing boards including ones governing higher education institutions, financial aid policy, and policy areas impacting children and families.
Co-Host: Derrick Tillman-Kelly, Director, University Innovation Alliance Fellows Program and Network Engagement
Dr. Derrick L. Tillman-Kelly serves as the Director of the UIA Fellows Program and Network Engagement for the University Innovation Alliance. He previously served in multiple roles at The Ohio State University, including as the inaugural UIA Fellow and special assistant to the director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise. Dr. Tillman-Kelly earned his Ph.D. in educational policy and leadership with a specialization in higher education and student affairs from Ohio State; a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from Indiana University; and a bachelor’s degree from Illinois Wesleyan University.
About Scholarship to Practice
Scholarship to Practice is an event series that happens live on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It also becomes a podcast episode. We interview higher education scholars, researchers, and academics as we surface relevant research on topics that administrators often wonder about, and examine how a practitioner or administrator could apply this learning in real-time to improve student success. At the UIA, we know that we need to bridge that gap between scholarship and practice if we’re going to stand a chance of improving student success. We all need to work together leveraging research in the field and identifying where we need more research to support greater innovation in higher ed. With its short and conversational format, this show is designed to help bridge that gap by elevating the relevant research we all could be using in our daily lives.
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