Tuesday, August 05, 2014

CSHPE Summer Study Trip

Tags: higher education, king, overton-adkins

A proverb attributed to the Lakota Sioux people is, “Knowledge is rooted in all things – the world is a library.” This summer, a group of students and faculty from SOE visited parts of the Lakota world “library” on a study trip to American Indian tribal colleges in South Dakota led by the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) with support from the National Center for Institutional Diversity and a SOE Rackham Faculty Allies grant.

The trip, with stops at campuses of Oglala Lakota College (OLC), Little Wound School, Sinte Gleska University and the Indian University of North America, also included visits to natural and cultural sites such as Badlands National Park, the Pine Ridge Reservation, Black Hills, and Crazy Horse Memorial.

“As one of the instructors on the trip, this was a tremendous support for my teaching,” said Betty Overton-Adkins, faculty lead for the trip (the other faculty member was Patricia King) and one of its planners. “It is one thing to teach students about tribal colleges; it is another to have them see these colleges up close, meet the people who are a part of them, and hear from them about the benefits of the colleges to their lives.”

Although most of the trip was centered in South Dakota, there also were visits to the University of Wisconsin, University of South Dakota, and University of Iowa for other perspectives and information on Native American culture and education. “Because we also visited programs for American Indians at other mainstream institutions, I believe our students were also able to see other programs trying to serve Native students in a variety of ways,” said Overton-Adkins.

The program was designed to bring attention to the unique challenges faced by American Indian students and tribal colleges, which get scant attention in educational scholarship.

“No amount of discussion in a course could replace those experiences in making the idea of tribal colleges real for our students,” said Overton-Adkins. “I hope they also came away with new questions about the educational programs of tribal colleges and the long-term survival of these institutions.”

The kinds of cross-cultural experiences found on the study trip are beneficial for educators, said Melinda Richardson, assistant director of CSHPE, and a co-planner of the trip. “When you can look at any culture that’s not your own, there are opportunities to see what people are faced with, what their needs are, how institutions address those needs. It gets people out of their comfort zone.”

That was echoed by Kamaria Porter, a PhD student in CSHPE who was part of the study group. “Having a bicultural curriculum helps students know who they are and engage others with openness. I think we need to emphasize this throughout higher education institutions, to promote civic engagement across differences. Our trip represented a way for us to meet and come to a better understanding of a different culture and its key institutions,” she said.

The route was plotted by Richardson, a self-described “logistics junkie.” “It wound up being a big loop,” said Richardson. “From the destination, we looked at what we should see along the way, and from there, determined the stops. And the timing was intentional. For example, we were at Oglala Lakota College during their pow-wow and graduation ceremonies, which allowed our students to engage in it, which was important.”

Porter noted, “The graduates and students we talked to at OLC articulated not only the personal benefit from their education, but also a wider public commitment to use their knowledge and skills to improve conditions on the reservation. OLC as an institution benefits the public good through its graduates, who inspire others and create new opportunities on the reservation.”

Students and faculty on the trip have collected their experiences and insights on a special section of the CSHPE website – read more here. The full itinerary is explained, as well as more photography of the trip.

“Overall, I hope our students have a greater sense of the issues facing both tribal institutions and other colleges trying to provide higher education access to American Indian students,” said Overton-Adkins.

Patricia M. King is Professor; SOE Ombudsperson

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