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ASU student part of contact-tracing team on Fort Apache reservation

ASU student joins contact-tracing team on his reservation to stop virus spread.
September 10, 2020

Grant Real Bird helped initiative to stop spread of COVID-19

An Arizona State University student spent his summer participating in a contact-tracing program that helped reduce the spread of COVID-10 and likely saved lives.

Grant Real Bird, a senior majoring in environmental resource management, worked as a contact tracer on the Fort Apache reservation in eastern Arizona, where he grew up. The job was part of an initiative by the Indian Health Service and the Johns Hopkins University Center for American Indian Health to aggressively reach out to White Mountain Apache community members and not only find people who might have the virus, but also those who were sick without realizing it. Those people could then be treated before their symptoms worsened.

The contact tracing teams included medical personnel and community members, such as Real Bird, who are well known and know the language.

The program, with a photograph of Real Bird, was featured in the New York Times on Aug. 13.

The work was sometimes difficult.

“It affected everyone in my community,” he said. “We had a curfew. But people were still breaking the rules and that was frustrating.

“It was causing a commotion so we talked to them and said, ‘Hey, you don’t want to endanger your loved ones like your grandma or your mother.’”

But it was a moving experience.

Grant Real Bird

“At the end of the day, I was helping my people, the Apache,” he said.

Real Bird, who is now back at the ASU Polytechnic campus, answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: How did you come to be a contact tracer on the Fort Apache reservation?

Answer: I previously worked with Johns Hopkins during my freshman year. I met a physician there and I really enjoyed the program. She knew I was from the Apache community and knew that I knew people there. So she emailed me out of the blue in early May and said they had a contact-tracing position.

I saw how rough coronavirus was getting and I wanted to do anything to help.

I had an internship for the summer and was going to try to do both, but I ultimately chose the contact tracing because I knew it would be so critical in the fight against COVID.

Q: What was a typical day like?

A: It was very exciting work.

We went through training and we had to look inside a data set within Indian Health Service records.

We would start around 8 a.m., when we got our cases. We would look them up and call them. If we weren’t able to get ahold of them, we would look up their address and go out with a nurse or a pharmacist or a physician and visit them. We would see how they were doing and ask them questions about the past week – who have they seen and where have they gone?

We would give them bleach, masks, gloves and a cleaning bucket so they can properly clean their house. We also did welfare checks where we checked their vitals to see how they were doing; we would check their baseline symptoms, their temperature and use a pulse oximeter. We did five to 10 of those cases a day.

Q: Was it difficult to tell people that they tested positive?

A: Yes, especially some of the older folks. When you tell them, they have this look of shock on their faces.

Sometimes people were puzzled, sometimes devastated. I saw people cry. Some said they took all the precautions. Some people get angry or upset.

I understand because it’s a huge inconvenience to be quarantined and to worry about getting sick.

You have to break the news gently and ask if they have any questions. The nurse would ask about underlying conditions or if they were on blood thinners. Are they on dialysis? If they do have underlying conditions and meet certain criteria, such as being over 60, they’re placed on the high-risk list and at that point the doctor will do a home visit or call them.

Q: Did you help the contact-tracing teams find their way around?

A: A lot of them worked for Indian Health Service and they know the community, but at my rez, there are a lot of dirt roads and unmarked roads, and you can’t just punch something into Google maps.

I was an unofficial guide because I grew up there. Doing this job, I learned a lot about who lives where and what goes down. When you talk to people and find out who they’re related to, you’re able to find people in areas that you had no idea existed.

Q: The New York Times story described how people without symptoms turned out to be quite sick. Did you see that firsthand?

A: All the time. People would say, “I’m OK.” But it turned out that their oxygen level while sitting down was 87 or 84. And we had to tell them, “No, you need supplemental oxygen.”

We tried our best to get them to the ER because there’s a lot that can go wrong. They can get long-term brain damage.

It was very worrisome, especially if it was an elder. We told them right away, “You need to go to the ER,” and tried to do it in a way that didn’t scare them but that they knew it was not OK to have an oxygen level below 90 while sitting down.

Q: When you visited people who had tested positive, were you ever nervous about getting the virus?

A: Yes. When I was first on the job I had to test somebody under the supervision of a doctor. There were five people in the household and he said, “I’ll show you how to do it.” He taught me the procedure, how far back you go with the swab and how long you hold it. So I gowned up and had the N95 mask and a face shield and I inserted the swab into the guy’s nose.

And I felt scared that there could be a chance it could be positive. I thought, “What if he sneezed? I could get COVID all over me.”

But I took all the precautions. I stood to the side. If I got sneezed on, I would take off the gown and spray myself.

Q: Did you see a change over the summer?

A: Our (positive) case count went from 50 to 100 cases a day to the day when I left, we had no cases that day.

It couldn’t have been possible without the work of the doctors and nurses and pharmacists and physicians’ assistants and the contact-tracing team.

Everyone really stepped up and had this interdisciplinary work ethic where we all worked together.

Q: Did the experience change your perspective?

A: It’s had a huge impact on me. I’ve seen how hard people in health care work and how much they sacrifice.

I’ve definitely had an awakening of where I want to go in my career.

Being with the Indian Health Service, I saw how the registered nurses and physicians and physicians’ assistants worked. I also want to see what it’s like outside the reservation. I’d like to shadow a physician or volunteer at a hospital while I’m down here.

It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am for the work they’ve done. And I know I was part of it in terms of finding people and transferring specimens and helping out.

It was so great to see people working together toward a common goal, especially in a nation that’s so divided right now.

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Sanford School faculty release Solidarity and Action Statement on anti-racism

September 4, 2020

When sociologists of the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics convened for a faculty meeting on the afternoon of June 2, it was only a little over a week after the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The images of a police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes covered network news and social media, prompting nationwide protests and calls for abolition of policing and for criminal justice system reform. The Sanford School faculty decided to speak out.

“We all agreed that as a starting point, members of the school should issue a public statement condemning anti-Black state violence,” said Assistant Professor Rocío García. “We recognize that discussions surrounding anti-Blackness and police brutality are difficult conversations for many reasons, yet we recognize that challenging racist state violence far outweighs our discomfort.”  Picture of a protest sign help up that reads end systemic racism! Photo by Pixabay Download Full Image

García, along with Assistant Professor Cassandra Cotton and Assistant Professor Connor Sheehan, came together to craft a Solidarity and Action Statement on behalf of the school. The four-page statement contains a summary of evidence of anti-Blackness in areas such as policing and criminal justice as well as structural inequities, such as the way COVID-19 mortality rates have disproportionately affected Black people. The statement concludes with a list of 15 tangible changes that, while not intended to be exhaustive, are a starting point for moving forward. More than 80 members from the Sanford School signed their support for the statement. 

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Rocío García

García is a political sociologist whose work focuses on how the intersections of racism, heteropatriarchy, capitalism and nativism manifest in the politics of reproduction and social justice movements. She has taught classes on contemporary sociological theory centering on the scholarship of people of color and courses on Latino/a feminisms and reproductive justice. Garcia drafted the sections of the statement focused on providing a lens by which to understand current conditions and the initial list of action items.

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Cassandra Cotton

Cotton is a family demographer and sociologist whose work focuses on kinship and family dynamics among families in sub-Saharan Africa. She drafted the sections of the statement summarizing state-sanctioned violence against Black people and how white supremacy has contributed to ongoing structural inequalities and disparities between Black and non-Black communities in the U.S.

Sheehan is a demographer who focuses on how social inequality leads to health inequality, and he provided context about how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black Americans.

The statement gained broad support from Sanford School faculty, postdocs, grad students and staff.

“Immediately following the distribution of the statement, faculty and graduate students began to look for ways to take action toward each of the action items in the statement,” said Cotton.

García elaborated: “For example, redesigning courses that showcase the value of research on racism conducted by Black scholars along with a universitywide investment in hiring and properly compensating more Black faculty and staff and recruiting more Black students begins to normalize the necessity and value of Black scholarship.

“We hope that readers, particularly those who identify as non-Black, come away with a sense of urgency regarding the historical and present conditions that have brought us to this political moment,” García said. “We hope that non-Black readers recognize the importance of not simply asserting Black lives matter, but of also engaging in individual and institutional actions that support this statement.”

The authors of the statement note that several Sanford School faculty are engaged in critical research focused on understanding and disrupting the meanings and contours of racism. Over the summer, Eleanor Seaton and Rebecca White co-hosted a webinar on anti-racism that addresses the role of research in supporting anti-racist efforts. And Nilda Flores-Gonzales is currently working with Angela Gonzales (School of Social Transformation) and Emir Estrada (School of Human Evolution and Social Change) on how Latino/a, Indigenous and white youth in Arizona make sense of American identity and national belonging in a racist and nativist social landscape. 

“While some members of the Sanford School are engaged in meaningful work against racism, a significant aspect of our motivation to write this statement is the understanding that there is still so much work to be done — and that every member of the Sanford School has an important role in making significant strides against interpersonal, institutional and systemic racism,” said Sheehan.

After a full draft of the statement was created, it was shared with the faculty of color and several graduate students of color in the Sanford School.

“Faculty and graduate students of color provided invaluable feedback, and we are especially grateful to graduate students who took great care to strengthen the list of action items as a means to move forward,” said García.

The authors of the statement wished to ensure a diplomatic and collective dissemination process. Once García and Cotton implemented the edits from colleagues, they shared the statement with members of the Sanford School and asked for signatures. 

“We were blown away by the fact that the majority of the members of the school signed the statement and expressed a commitment to tackle various action items,” said Cotton. 

To further reflect ASU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, Assistant Professor José Causadias of the Sanford School translated the statement into Spanish.

View the full statement in English and Spanish, as well as a comprehensive list of resources.

“Since posting our Solidarity and Action Statement on June 15, 2020, we remain inspired and driven by the continued organizing on the part of students, faculty, and staff across ASU to dismantle the many forms that anti-Black racism takes in the academy.” (Garcia, Cotton and Sheehan) 

Article by Wesley Jackson

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics


Impact of COVID-19 on tribal nations

Arizona State University has a very strong commitment to indigenous communities, in particular the Native American tribes in Arizona. The university’s efforts to provide access to higher education for Arizona’s Native American communities is extensive and has been put to the test during the global health crisis brought on by COVID-19.


Indian Legal Program alumni make a difference in careers spanning fields, geographies

August 24, 2020

Since its creation more than 30 years ago, the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University has grown to become one of the best of its kind. And the meaningful work the program’s alumni pursue is a key reason.

From roles in prestigious law firms, tribal governments and entities, public agencies and more, Indian Legal Program grads are making a difference for Indian Country across the U.S.  photo of Indian Legal Program alumni ILP alumni give back whenever they can. ASU Law alums Doreen McPaul (’01) and Kimberly Dutcher (’01) stopped by the law school last year to give a lunch lecture to ILP students and community. Download Full Image

Here are some recent examples of where alumni are making an impact.

Recent ASU Law grad Kris Beecher says ILP experience positions him to be a strong advocate

Kris Beecher, an ASU Law 2020 JD graduate and W. P. Carey School of Business MBA grad, is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and a Navajo Nation Bar Association member who recently completed a three-year term as chairman of the board of the largest public housing authority in Indian Country and nearly the eighth largest in the U.S. After taking the bar, Beecher will be joining prominent national law firm Dickinson Wright and plans to put his Indian Law Certificate to use working with tribes on economic development.

“As a participant in the Indian Legal Program, I’ve been able to jump-start my law career in multiple ways,” said Beecher, an O’Connor Merit Scholar, Cobell Scholar and Chief Manuelito Scholar. “The Indian Legal Program has taken me to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and federal officials, as well as help individual tribal members protect their right to vote and make important legal decisions for their families.”

Video courtesy of ASU ILP grad Kris Beecher

Originally from Tuba City, Arizona, Beecher also holds a BA in political science from ASU where he graduated summa cum laude. He actively participates with the Native Vote Election Protection Project and volunteers his time speaking to Native American youth via the Native American Pipeline to Law Initiative, which encourages them to seek out careers in law and to become the next generation of tribal lawyers, judges and leaders.

ASU Law associates join prominent Native American law team at Jenner & Block

When high-profile, global law firm Jenner & Block LLP  announced it was significantly expanding its Native American law practice offerings, three ASU Law associates were appointed to the eight-member team.

Charles Galbraith, ASU Law 2005 JD graduate and a former White House tribal liaison for President Barack Obama, was named a partner and co-chair of the firm’s Native American Law Practice. Lawrence Roberts, ASU Law professor of practice and executive director of the Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance Program, was named special counsel. And Krystalyn Kinsel, ASU Law 2015 JD graduate and a former trial attorney in the Attorney General Honors Program of the U.S. Department of Justice Natural Resources Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, was named an associate.

In its news release, Jenner & Block emphasized the eight-member team’s deep experience in Native American law, litigation and government relations. Chambers USA has ranked team members nationally since 2011 as has U.S. News — Best Lawyers in Native American law. When combined with Jenner & Block's existing representation of Native American tribes, including the recent groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court victory upholding tribal treaty rights in McGirt v. Oklahoma and another on behalf of the Yakama Nation in 2019, the expanded practice offers clients a full range of strategic, legal and government relations services.

Rosette law firm founder builds national reputation for helping tribal clients achieve success inside and outside the courtroom

Robert Rosette, an ASU Law 1996 JD graduate, went on to found and serve as managing partner of Rosette, LLP, a leading majority Indian-owned national law firm representing tribal governments and entities.

“I envisioned a law firm that would only focus on federal Indian law, meaning we wouldn’t represent banks or development companies or casino interests or oil companies,” said Rosette in a recent ASU Law news story. “Just practice Indian law, purely on the tribal side as a tribal member from Rocky Boy. That was my original ambition and what I always wanted to do.”

Rosette, LLP, now has offices in Arizona, California, Michigan, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., and a staff of 26 attorneys with nearly half from ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program.

Rosette is thankful for what the ILP provided, both in terms of his own education and a pipeline of talented attorneys for his law firm, and stays deeply involved. He is a member of the Indian Legal Program advisory board and founded the Rosette, LLP, American Indian Economic Development Program, which presents the annual “Wiring the Rez” e-commerce conference for tribal governments, businesses and entrepreneurs.

Doreen McPaul and Kimberly Dutcher strive to make a positive difference for the Navajo Nation

When Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen McPaul was appointed to her position in January 2019, she asked fellow 2001 ASU Law JD Kimberly Dutcher to be her deputy attorney general. The two have become a powerful team of ILP alumni in the Navajo Nation Department of Justice.

“I hope to make a positive difference for my tribe and my own people,” McPaul said in a recent ILP blog offering thoughts on their positions and advice for students. “At the Department of Justice, that means organizing the department in a way that best serves the needs of our clients, being responsive to client requests, and supporting our legal team so that they are enabled to provide the highest quality of legal services to our clients.”

McPaul and Dutcher have advice for current ILP students, with Dutcher saying, “You can go home again! Tribal nations have so many challenges and it is normal to want to be involved in everything, but everyone has the same 24 hours each day, so prioritize. Remember your role as an attorney and who makes decisions. While you are in law school, learn about different legal career paths and find what interests you and how you can use it to best serve your nation, if that is what you choose to do.”

Julie Tenney

Interim Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

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ASU COVID-19 Response Team assists those in need in the heart of the Valley

August 7, 2020

Three days a week, Associate Professor Megan Jehn leads a team into the Pascua Yaqui tribal community of Guadalupe

Three days a week, an Arizona State University epidemiologist leads a team into the Pascua Yaqui tribal community of Guadalupe to track and respond to COVID-19.

Megan Jehn, an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, brings a team of student volunteers into the community to assist with case investigations, contact tracing, delivering supplies and assessing needs.

ASU’s COVID-19 Response Team spends one day a week on food distribution and two others going into the community for to assist virus victims and support isolated individuals.

“Guadalupe is a much more tight-knit community than other places in the Valley,” Jehn said. “Everyone looks out for one another. Families are very grateful when we call. I think that they appreciate knowing that someone is checking in on them to make sure that they are OK. They appreciate the information and the support.” 

Gloria Karirirwe, an experienced health systems specialist and medical officer, is the team’s program manager. 

“I agree with (Megan) about the feeling of gratitude and relief that families express when we call them and offer guidance on safe isolation,” she said. “The town and its leadership have been welcoming and the working relationship is good.”

The ASU COVID-19 Case Investigation Team is affiliated with and funded by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. The response is a coordinated effort between ASU, MCDPH, the town of Guadalupe, the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe and Native Health.

Top photo: Associate Professor of epidemiology Megan Jehn (right) talks with members of ASU’s COVID-19 Response Team Brittany Molina (left) Maya Barkman and Kimberly Prete, during their distribution of United Food Bank fare to Guadalupe residents on Aug. 4, 2020. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU's Mellon Projecting All Voices Fellowship announces 2020–21 artists

August 6, 2020

A regional cohort of four artists from Arizona, Utah and the Diné Nation has been selected to participate in the 2020–21 Mellon Projecting All Voices Fellowship, a joint venture between Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and ASU Gammage. 

The fellows are Elizabeth Burden, Milta Ortiz, Horacio Rodriguez and Jake Skeets. Photos of four Projecting All Voices fellows. The 2020–21 Projecting All Voices Fellows are (from left) Milta Ortiz, Horacio Rodriguez, Elizabeth Burden and Jake Skeets. Download Full Image

This is the third cohort for the fellowship, which provides opportunities for BIPOCBlack, Indigenous and people of color. artists and culture workers to advance ideas and projects that investigate race, identity, cultural heritage, power, policy, ability and/or place and community. 

“This is the first time since graduate school that I get to focus entirely on my creative work,” Ortiz said. “As a BIPOC woman/mother who hustles to make a career for myself and earn an income, this fellowship affords me the time and support to deepen my craft.” 

Projecting All Voices fellows have access to a network of resources that includes mentorship, unrestricted financial support, professional development experiences, opportunities to develop and present their work, and connection to experts in the field.

Through the fellowship, artists work with communities underrepresented in higher education and art institutions. Fellows also inform conversations about how educational and cultural institutions must adapt to prepare, support and advance the creative voices of a changing America through an equitable lens and framework of practice.

“ASU Gammage is thrilled to be continuing the partnership with Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts in advancing the Mellon Projecting All Voices Fellowship,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU vice president for cultural affairs and executive director of ASU Gammage. “Supporting the artistic development of BIPOC artists and facilitating access to multiple cultural networks are fundamental to our work and embody our commitment to racial equity in the arts.”

Elizabeth Burden is a multidisciplinary artist, blending studio work with social practice. Her recent work focuses on three interrelated themes: geographies, space and place; contemporary state and societal violences; and legacies and vestiges of historical violence and trauma. The common thread that runs through all her work is to look at old realities anew, to confront those realities, reflect upon them, shape them and transform them – whether through artistic practice or through community process, she believes we can be catalysts for change. In 2019, she was artist-in-residence at the Santa Fe Arts Institute (Truth and Reconciliation Residency), and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (Trainings for the Not Yet). She holds a master’s degree in geographic information science technology and bachelor’s degrees in journalism and in visual arts.

Milta Ortiz is a Salvi award-winning playwright, who moonlights as a poet, performer and writer. A transplant from the Bay Area, she now calls Tucson home. Her recent play “Pilar and Paloma” was commissioned and developed in part at Pima Community College, and she is working with Quetzal Guerrero and Borderlands Theater on "Anita," a musical in the universe of Annie with the Tucson sound. Her play “Judge Torres,” commissioned by Milagro Theatre Group, toured nationally to colleges and universities. She received NEA Artworks and NALAC Artist grants to develop and produce her play “Sanctuary,” which premiered at Borderlands Theater in September 2018. Her play “Más” was produced at San Diego State University (2018), Su Teatro (March 2017), and co-produced by Laney College (March, 2016) and Ubuntu Theater Project (May 2016). It premiered at Borderlands Theater in September 2015 thanks in part to an NEA Artworks grant and was nominated for a Steinberg-ATCA Award. Borderlands’ production toured to Northern Arizona University (2016) and Arizona State University (2017). Más was selected to the Latino Theater Commons Carnaval play festival and the Kilroys List in 2015. She co-runs Borderlands Theater and teaches theater at Pima Community College. She is mom to a creative second grader. She earned an MFA from Northwestern University and a BA from San Francisco State University. 

Horacio Rodriguez is an artist and educator originally from Houston, Texas. After graduating from Montana State University with an MFA in ceramics in 2016, he received the Morales Teaching Fellowship from the University of Utah and moved to Salt Lake City to teach and further expand his studio practice. Prior to that, he studied ceramics in Japan; taught art, digital graphics and ceramics at Chavez High School on the east side of Houston, working primarily with the immigrant communities; and traveled throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, immersing himself in the culture, language and food of his ancestors.

"My work is about the many borders I have crossed in my life,” he said. “I carry many of these borders with me in my memories and produce work about these physical and psychological borders. As a product of multiple cultures and identities, my art is used as a vehicle to explore the creation of my personal narrative within the hybrid cultures of the borderlands."

Jake Skeets is Black Streak Wood, born for Water’s Edge. He is Diné from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. Skeets is the author of “Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers,” a National Poetry Series-winning collection of poems. He holds an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Skeets is also a winner of the 2018 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He edits an online publication called Cloudthroat and organizes a poetry salon and reading series called Pollentongue, based in the Southwest. He is a member of Saad Bee Hózhǫ́: A Diné Writers’ Collective and currently teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. 

The Projecting All Voices Fellowship and visiting artist series is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“The Mellon Foundation’s support of the Projecting All Voices Fellowship offers ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and ASU Gammage an extraordinary opportunity to collaborate as impact partners to support the advancement of underinvested artists and communities within Arizona and throughout the Southwest region,” said Tiffany Ana López, ASU provost fellow and in-coming vice provost for inclusion and community engagement.

“Programs like this strengthen our regional arts ecosystem with the benefit of also bolstering the diversity of voice and quality of engagement in institutions of higher education.”

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


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ASU class transforms keyboard warriors into community activists

August 4, 2020

Writers’ Studio students are discovering that activism has become an outgrowth of their writing courses

An ASU Online first-year writing program is transforming English composition students from around the country into activists and helping them drive change in their respective communities.

Some of the results?

A controversial school mascot’s name has been changed after 80 years. Stories of racism have been highlighted in a new zine, and a famed World War II fighting squadron is getting more attention at a national museum.

This accidental activism has become an outgrowth of Writers’ Studio, which is directed by Michelle Stuckey along with Ebru Erdem and Zach Waggoner.

“I am absolutely thrilled when I see students making a difference in their communities,” said Duane Roen, dean of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Roen, along with colleagues Sherry Rankins-Robertson, Tiffany Bourelle and Andrew Bourelle, helped design the course in 2011In 2012, the program received President Crow’s Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Curricular Innovation.. “Feeling agency through writing or speaking up should occur early in life, and this spurs students to want to become engaged in social activism. These courses give them a platform for acting on their passions.”

ASU’s Writers’ Studio is a modality for completing first-year composition online, in which students can choose courses offered in 7 ½ or 15-week intervals.

“But with lots of peer interaction and writing-mentor feedback built into the structure, it’s also a writing community that helps students develop writing practices to be better communicators in all areas of their life: the personal, the professional, the civic and, of course, the academic,” explains Writing Program Administrator Michelle Stuckey, who has led the Writers’ Studio team for the last five years. “Instructors work with students to draw on their experiences and passions in all these arenas to cultivate their own theory and practice as writers.”

When the program launched almost a decade ago, several hundred students enrolled. Now, about 6,000 students participate in Writers’ Studio each year.

“Along the way, students begin to see how they can use writing in the real world to support real work in their communities,” Roen said.

Here’s how three Writers’ Studio students have recently been putting their practice into action:

What's in a name?

Woman in black shirt with blue eyesCandace Turer

At 33 years old, ASU student Candace Turer is just now discovering the power of the pen.

The Anderson, Ohio, native recently helped convince that township’s school board to change the name of a local high school mascot. It’s the same exact one as the National Football League’s Washington football team.

Turer felt the name was not only racially insensitive but downright racist. She said it has evoked controversy in her township, which is located about 15 minutes from downtown Cincinnati. It was last debated in 2018 but nothing was done.

“Many excuses were given why the name couldn’t be changed: It was tradition or it would cost too much money to rebrand or change the mascot’s name,” Turer said. “I wanted to educate myself and the community on this issue.”

Turer took ENG 105: Advanced First-Year Composition as a Writers’ Studio class in spring 2019. Her paper “Revisiting the Redsk*ns” defined the word, researched its origin, and sought out Native American organizations to ask how they felt about the word. It was unanimous: They said the term was discriminatory and oppressive. 

After completing the paper, Turer created a website and posted it online. It jolted the community of 45,000 people, who were narrowly split on the issue. Turer said her paper came at an incredible cost. She received plenty of “backlash and harassment” and moved from her hometown to a place about 45 minutes away.

“Many of us who spoke out early on to change the mascot were doxxed and threatened,” Turer said. “It was a mess and turned into a right vs. left political issue.”

It became a nonissue earlier this month. The Forest Hills Schools District not only read Turer’s paper (which she sent to each school board member the day before the meeting), but hundreds of letters from concerned Native Americans and locals in the community. On July 2, the board passed a motion to retire the mascot. The action received mentions in Sports Illustrated and The New York Times.

“I’m proud of our community because we’re now on the right side of history,” Turer said.

Turer’s story is indicative of the transformational power of gaining confidence as a writer, said Christina Giarrusso, a Writers’ Studio faculty associate.

“Many of our students don’t anticipate becoming activists because this is, after all, an English class,” Giarrusso said. “It’s really dependent on the students, where they choose to go after the course ends. The intention they put in is what the spotlight is all about.”

Woman with curly hair and earrinigsTaylor Babineaux

New light through old windows

The lack of spotlight on a revered group of African American military fighter pilots is what sparked Taylor Babineaux into action.

It all started when the Lafayette, Louisiana, resident visited nearby New Orleans and toured the National World War II Museum in September 2019. She said as she strolled through the expansive collection of artifacts, she noticed there was something off when she came to a P-51 plane.

“The plane lacked a card or plaque discussing its relevance to the Tuskeegee Airmen. I was also disappointed they did not have a clearly defined exhibit for the Tuskegee Airmen. I felt they weren't as prominent as they should be,” said Babineaux, who is Black. “I noticed the overwhelming amount of visitors were Caucasian and not a lot of minorities. I wanted to see something more inclusive that mirrors society.”

Taking a cue from the Writers’ Studio playbook, Babineaux identified the problem and went to work. She started an online petition to raise awareness and then wrote the museum a letter about her visit. Babineaux found them receptive to her ideas. That was affirmed by Stephanie Verdin, senior director of planning and communications at the museum.

“Taylor Babineaux met with me and the museum’s vice president of education and access Pete Crean on July 11 to discuss how the museum currently tells the Tuskegee Airmen story and her ideas on what we can do to draw more attention to this important history,” Verdin said. She added that in addition to the restored P-51D Mustang painted in the likeness of a “Red Tail” fighter flown during the war, the museum has oral histories, curriculum guides and public programs featuring the Tuskegee Airmen.

Verdin said most recently the museum has not only published several online profiles of the Tuskegee Airmen but on women, LGBTQ individuals, and other minorities.

“Our staff is also exploring different ways that we can enhance how we tell the Tuskegee Airmen history and draw more attention to diverse stories on the site at the museum,” Verdin said. “We look forward to keeping Taylor posted on our progress.”

The museum, incidentally, has a partnership with ASU Online to offer the nation’s first online master’s degree in World War II studies.

Babineaux’s ENG 105 instructor, Sean Tingle, commended the work behind her activism.

“It’s exciting to see her do this and get traction,” Tingle said. “She’s inspired and is learning not only about herself in the process but real community issues. It’s wonderful to see.”

Made in Boise

Woman in classes with pink and white hair

Kennedy Hines

The Black Lives Matter movement has forever changed the way we look at and deal with racism. It has also greatly inspired Kennedy Hines, who attends ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

The 21-year-old sustainability major lives in Boise, Idaho, where BLM hasn’t gained much traction or attention.

“Boise’s a bubble and the common belief here is that things like police brutality and racism ‘doesn’t happen here’ or that the police force is somehow different,” said Hines, who credits her Writers’ Studio experience for giving her the confidence to start an important project to document police brutality against people of color in Idaho.

She, along with another friend, Arlie Bledsoe, met with people from all races over a period of a few months to document their experiences with the Boise Police Department. The final result was “It Does Happen Here,” curated stories from victims of police brutality. The 24-page zine amplifies the community stories and has been distributed to the BLM Boise chapter and other activist groups in the Boise area.

“We’ve gone to protests and have handed them out because we noticed there’s a lack of evidence in our community,” Hines said. “We put it out ourselves to let people know this is not OK.”

Hines said the Writers’ Studio has taught her not only how to look for problems in her community but how to be a part of finding resolutions.

“The class not only showed me how to implement those tools but solve problems, look for solutions and pass on the knowledge.” 

Stuckey said true knowledge is gained by experience.

“Students realize that once they take action, this is no longer an assignment for a class any longer,” said Stuckey, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. “They can see how they can have an impact on their communities through writing and research.”

Top photo: Writing Program Administrator Michelle Stuckey has led the Writers’ Studio team for the last five years. About 6,000 students participate in Writers’ Studio each year, many of whom are becoming accidental activists. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now.

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU experts break down systemic racism

July 10, 2020

Committee for Campus Inclusion event covered ways people can take action in the wake of anti-racist protests

After the protests and the reading and the conversations about racism, how can people take action?

That desire for change was reflected by the more than 1,000 people in the Arizona State University community who attended a virtual panel discussion on Thursday titled, “Racism is Not New: Tackling Systemic Racism in 2020,” sponsored by the ASU Committee for Campus Inclusion and moderated by Cassandra Aska, deputy vice president and dean of students for the Tempe campus.

Three ASU experts discussed the current state of anti-racist discernment and what needs to come next. Here are some of the wide range of points they covered.

Why is there a focus on monuments?

Bryan Brayboy, President’s Professor and director of the Center for Indian Education: Monuments obfuscate things and one of them is violence. In almost every case, the monuments are erected to people who either engaged in violence or oversaw violence. What we’re doing is honoring violence.

Bryan Brayboy

And what the monuments do is create another kind of violence — rhetorical and discursive violence. They’re a constant reminder of a moment in the past when people were enslaved and people were willing to go against their country. And we erect monuments to traitors.

They also obfuscate history. Myths become truths and the power is in that the more it’s retold, the more it becomes truth. 

It’s Confederate monuments but also monuments to Christopher Columbus, who came to the New World and committed unbelievable acts of violence, especially sexual violence against young girls. 

The pulling down of monuments is a response to the act of obfuscating violence, and to shine to a light on it. People talk about “erasing history” but the people who are pulling them down say that we need to reframe history.

Stanlie James, vice provost of inclusion and community engagement in the Office of the University Provost and professor of African and African American studies in the School of Social Transformation: One thing about monuments is that people think they were put up following the Civil War. That’s not accurate. Sometimes it was decades before they were put up. 

There was a company putting up monuments to soldiers in small towns around the United States. They made the same soldier over and over, and depending on what city it was, they put on the appropriate soldier attire. If a Northern city bought a soldier monument, they put a Union outfit on the monument. If a Confederate city did, they put a Confederate uniform on him.

It was exactly the same statue.

That company made a lot of money, which goes back to the notion that this is a capitalist society and they used capitalism to enrich themselves.

When they talk about “our heritage,” I’m thinking, “really?” The heritage is capitalism, not patriotism.

What’s up with calling white women “Karen"?

Mako Ward, clinical assistant professor and faculty head of African and African American Studies: There has been a lot of discussion about who is a “Karen.” The definition from the queer Afro-Latina (activist) Alicia Sanchez Gill is that Karen is a term created specifically by Black women to talk about white women’s interpersonal and state violence against us. 

She’s characterized as a suburban white woman who calls the police on African Americans in public spaces, from parks to grocery stores to parking lots. She’s offensive, rude and entitled.

Mako Ward

There’s been some interesting quick studies on what the origins are. Some folks date it back to a 2005 Dane Cook comedy sketch. Some folks say it’s from films from the 1990s, like “Goodfellas” and “Mean Girls.”

What’s probably more accurate in how we use it today is a 2017 Reddit conversation where folks began to use the term Karen to call out this kind of rude entitlement that we’ve seen.

For individuals from marginalized communities who lack access to power to demand structuralized change, all we have is our voice. Social media offers that outlet. To name white privilege in those spaces, that how "Karen" functions. They use comedy and satire as a means of laughing to keep from crying.

Racism is not new, so why the sense of urgency?

James: We are in a sense of urgency because of the COVID pandemic, which is deeply interrelated with the pandemic of racism. 

With COVID, a lot of us are working remotely from home and we’re looking compulsively at TV and listening to the news, so we’re at a time where even though we’re working, we also have the time to pay attention more carefully to what is happening.

So when (the stories of) George Floyd and others come on, we have the time to explore it in more detail than we might if we were running back and forth to work and doing all the other things we do in the time of being normal.

We’re seeing it in real time in a way we didn’t get to see it before, when it might take months or years before you heard about some of what I call modern-day lynchings. 

But we’re seeing it now and it adds to our sense of urgency about how much needs to be done.

I have seen these things come and go. I have seen us be very concerned about civil rights, for example, and the different kinds of civil rights, Black civil rights, American Indian Movement, women’s rights, LGBQT. 

Stanlie James

What we’re seeing today is a little different. It’s more complex. It’s more than asking for civil rights. It’s demanding human rights.

Now, racism gets more and more sophisticated as we go along. What we have learned from history is that we can address these things but white supremacist racism doesn’t sit still. It continues to morph and become more sophisticated. Which means the way we address it has to become more complex and sophisticated.

What I feel is — I’m tired. What I’m happy about is we have young people who are not tired, who are enraged, dedicated and absolutely determined to make a new normal.

They are not interested in returning to what was before the pandemic.

Brayboy: The urgency is for me a bit of a double-edged sword.

There is a need to act quickly and in the moment. The fact that so many institutions and individuals are stepping up really does get at that. There’s a call from our (ASU) president and senior administration to bring ideas forward, which I completely support.

I also think it’s important for us to be a bit cautious. ASU was founded in 1885, 135 years ago. We have these structural and institutional components from when the Tempe Normal School was founded, and I worry that people will think, “Well, we can just fix this in a year or a conversation or two.”

Let’s be cautious that 135 years of structural racism baked into the place we live and work isn’t going to be resolved in 135 days and likely not in 135 weeks.

Folks want immediate change and there are ways to do that but we need to plan for the middle term and the long term.

How do we move from acts of social unrest to action?

Ward: This is the most important question that every member of the ASU community needs to reflect on — how they hold themselves accountable and how we hold our institution accountable to our mission and vision and charter. 

In many ways it pains me to know that another generation of students are exerting their energy on struggling and protesting the structure of power within a primarily white institution instead of having the absolute freedom and joy to learn and grow and focus on academic studies.

We’re not living up to our charter as an institution. Maybe we’re living up to it demographically, but in terms of how we operationalize what it means to succeed, we’re far from our aspirations.

To our students, you’re at a university to deepen your understanding of the world and develop a self-reflective set of techniques to exist in this diverse world. So it’s vital that every student has the opportunity to learn about the nature of society and the nuances that exist within them and more importantly, the power and history of oppression.

I would argue that all students need to take courses in ethnic and cultural studies.

The administration is a diverse group who exists in a massive ecosystem. I want to urge you to move beyond statements. Social justice organizations around the country have done all the work of outlining strategies for inclusion and investment in revising systems. 

It’s hiring practices, promotion and tenure guidelines, issues of salary compression because we know that women of color are overburdened. It’s reforming campus law enforcement and access to mental health. 

All of these points have been made by various groups at various times in our institution’s history. So we’re at a point where we activate these recommendations.

It’s important for white administrators to take the initiative to do something radical in their own leadership capacities. 

Brayboy: What’s really important is for us to find a way that this is everyone’s responsibility and there is a place for everyone in this work. The fatigue is about particular individuals and groups of individuals feeling like they’re being called upon to do the work and that it’s their burden.

We have an opportunity here to live our charter. People may say, "What as an individual can I do?" One is listen. We have to listen from a place of benevolence and openness.  

We have to find ways to act, but it doesn’t mean we have to be in the front of that. For me, this moment is being guided by others. 

Think about the audacity to say, “… we take fundamental responsibility” for society, and the courage it takes to say, “We’re doing this work.” 

James: You have the opportunity to use your imagination and expertise and ability to be innovative to come up with new ways to figure out how to implement this charter. 

My work is strategic. I do a lot of things with a lot of different groups. I get calls from various groups across campus saying, “What can we do?” What I do is sit down and say, “OK, think about who you are and think about how you can address this.” 

What I say to UTO is different from what I say to the local PBS station.

I’m trying to work with people in a way that the responses are coming from where they are. 

I don’t have a blueprint that says specifically, “This is what you must do to address these pandemics.”

How can we build allyship and solidarity?

Ward: We’re often in our siloes. I have the privilege of being in the School of Social Transformation, which already responds to a system of structural injustice. Not everyone across the university has that privilege. 

I would recommend that your units plan deeply, not just thinking deeply, but executing with a certain level of immediacy about how your unit reflects the charter and how your unit is inclusive.

If we’re serious about a commitment to social change, combat the thought that systemic racism doesn’t exist.

Brayboy: It’s important to not be defensive and there has to be space for people to make mistakes. We’re paralyzed of not doing work because we’re afraid to make mistakes. I don’t think we’re kind enough to each other in allowing mistakes to happen.

One place that’s a start is our “To Be Welcoming” curriculum. There’s a richness to the videos that highlights the wisdom and brilliance of the faculty at ASU. 

James: We have to come together in solidarity of our differences. Solidarity does not mean we’re all the same or we all think the same way. In fact, if that was the case, that’s a sure way to not be successful in the struggle. 

I spent years doing work on female genital cutting in Africa. One of the things that became clear as we studied this is that it’s very easy to jump in and say, “This is terrible. You must stop. You must be more like us.” What was necessary was to step back and listen to the people who are living this experience and say to them, “What would be helpful?”

We have to be able to be open to listening to what we need to do to be supportive of whatever it is they need to survive. We need to recognize and be very clear that we are talking about survival. 

You have to stop being defensive and saying “This isn’t the case.” 

And we have to do it with love.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU alumni deliver COVID-19 relief for Native American communities

July 10, 2020

The second event of the First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive on June 25 filled trucks with food, supplies, PPE

The First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive is an initiative to supply much needed supplies to tribal communities struggling with the impact of the pandemic. Created and managed by a team of Arizona State University alumni, the group’s first project sent emergency supplies to Navajo and Hopi communities.

The second drive took place on June 25 at Sun Devil Stadium. Three moving trucks full of supplies were dispatched to Navajo, Hualapai, Havasupai and White Mountain Apache communities.  

“Initiatives like the First Peoples' Drive assist tribal governments and agencies with relief efforts,” said Marcus Denetdale, program director for ASU’s Construction in Indian Country Program. “In this case, the supplies went directly from Sun Devil Stadium to tribal doorsteps in three days or less. These supplies help low-income families economically and, perhaps more importantly,  keep elders and high-risk citizens from going into harm’s way — stores and public gathering places — for essential items.” 

“Tribes are resilient and determined to see through this pandemic just as our ancestors have in times past,” Denetdale continued. “We thank all those who volunteered, gave monetarily or donated items and time to come support the First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive.”

The team is developing a plan to continue supporting tribal communities of Arizona as long as they are affected by COVID-19.

Written by Terry Grant/ASU Media Relations

Photo essay by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Volunteers sort donations at the First People's Resource Drive

ASU volunteers sort through the stacks of donations received at the second First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive event on June 25 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. 

Worker loads a vat of hand sanitizer onto a truck

Jason Miguel, with M3 Moving, secures a 55-gallon barrel of hand sanitizer that will go to the Hualapai tribe later that day along with other donations and supplies. 

woman standing in a moving truck bed as a man helps load

Wenaha Group's Kari McCormick (right), an event organizer, gives directions about loading the moving truck as Bob Terry III hands her a bag of donations.

back of an SUV loaded with food donations

ASU volunteers emptied cars, trucks and trailers that arrived to the Sun Devil Stadium donation drop-off point loaded with nonperishable food, paper products, water, pet food, hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment.

face masks sit on a stack of boxes

Personal protective equipment, such as face masks and hospital gowns, was among the categories of donations requested by the initiative. 

Volunteers tape up boxes of donations

ASU staff members Mike Sever and Vickie Baldwin tape the bottoms of boxes that will be filled with sorted donations.

Girl carries a box of donations from a loaded trailer

Incoming first-year ASU student Hunter McCormick, daughter of organizer Kari McCormick, unloads a box of donations from the Higley High School rodeo and equestrian teams.

man standing at a long line of donation laden tables

Shawn Allison, of the ASU Native American Alumni Association, wraps flats of canned goods.

full truck trailer of donated food boxes

The Native American Fatherhood and Families Association arrived with a trailer loaded down with donations for the drive.

Volunteers unloading supplies donations

ASU alumna Tammie Billey hands off boxes from the Native American Fatherhood and Families Association donation.

father and stepson talk in front of loaded donation truck

Wenaha Group president Rob Quaempts (left), chats with his step-son Dillon Strey, 16, as they are about finished collecting donations.

Volunteers pose after donation gathering event

Donations filled two 26-foot trucks; the Penske transport headed to the Hualapai Tribe, and the Muscular Moving Men and Storage vehicle left to deliver its contents to the Navajo at Fort Defiance.

Hualapai Reservation sign

The Hualapai Indian Reservation is in Mojave Country, in the northwest part of the state.

Peach Springs Boys and Girls Club

The Boys and Girls Club in Peach Springs acted as the staging point for the truckload of donations to be distributed to the community.

first people's Drive volunteer

The Hualapai tribe is under a "stay-at-home" order and are unable to make it to the closest large town, Kingman, which is 50 miles away for supplies.

Volunteer carries donation bins

Juwan Walker, a commissioned officer with the Hualapai security branch, carries tubs filled with supplies from the First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive.

Volunteers unloading supplies donations

Fire department engine captain Alonzo Smith moves a 55-gallon barrel of hand sanitizer into the staging area.

donated items

Supplies gathered and distributed by First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive will help protect some of the most high-risk Native American communities. The group will continue its relief efforts as long as the pandemic threat remains.

Top photo: Dylan Graham sorts and packs food items collected for the First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive near Sun Devil Stadium on June 25, 2020. Graham is a friend of event originators Katherine and Darryl Sam. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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More than words: Acknowledging Indigenous land

July 5, 2020

ASU Library crafts land acknowledgement — the beginning of a healing process

Editor's note: Arizona State University has previously acknowledged the ancestral homelands that the Tempe campus sits on and will continue to do so as the ASU community continues this important conversation. Please find the university's statement on its commitment to Native nations, posted in August 2015, here.

“The ASU Library acknowledges the 22 Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries.”

Thus begins the Arizona State University Library’s first Indigenous land acknowledgement – a five-sentence, 116-word statement about the place that the library and the university have inhabited for more than a century.

“The statement represents the ASU Library’s intentions to begin a healing process,” said Lorrie McAllister, associate university librarian for collections and strategy. “We need to acknowledge that ASU is an occupant on Indigenous lands and that we need to take active steps to forge relationships of reciprocity.” 

Alex Soto (Tohono O’odham) and Brave Heart Sanchez (Ndeh and Yaqui), both graduate students in the University of Arizona’s Knowledge River Program, add that the statement also represents a crucial first step toward welcoming Indigenous peoples into the library, recognizing their knowledge systems and their relationships to their land, while opening the door to further opportunities for engagement.  

Alex Soto

“Land acknowledgement is only the first step,” said Soto, who, together with McAllister and Sanchez, currently leads the ASU Library’s Labriola National American Indian Data Center, which encompasses dedicated Native community space within the library and a notable collection of rare books and manuscripts, as well as open stack circulating materials that are by, for and about Native Americans — a library within a library.

Under the direction of McAllister, the statement was crafted by Soto and Sanchez, with input from Jacob Moore, associate vice president of tribal relations at ASU; Joyce Martin, associate librarian and head of the library’s social sciences division who led the Labriola Center for more than 12 years; and other key faculty and staff stakeholders.

Soto, an operations supervisor who manages the Labriola Center on the West campus, says the land statement does a good job of recognizing where we are as a university library, both figuratively and literally, and can serve as a launch pad for deeper conversations about how the ASU Library might integrate and prioritize Indigenous knowledge systems.

“We are on Akimel O’odham land, and that always needs to be at the forefront of our thinking,” he said. “This is the nation whose land we are on, and they’re still here. Today, the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh reside in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which is two miles east of Sun Devil Stadium, and in the Gila River Indian Community, which is south of the Phoenix metro area.”

“Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today.”

With acknowledgement, comes awareness — but these things take time, says Sanchez, and an abundance of care.

“The amount of care it takes to appropriately communicate heavy subjects, like historical trauma across cultures is significant,” said Sanchez, pointing to both the pains and opportunities inherent in the work of decolonization. “The land statement is a beginning point for the library to set up those structures and have real dialogues. ‘Pima’ is a bridge word, but you need that bridge to begin that conversation.”

A colonial term, “Pima” refers to the O’odham phrase “Pi mach,” which translates to “I don’t know.” 

This phrase was misinterpreted as “Pima” by Spanish colonists, who then took the word to identify the Akimel O’odham (River People), Tohono O’odham (Desert People) and Hia-ced O’odham (Sand People), who were simply using the phrase because they did not understand what the Spanish were saying. 

Because of the historical lack of communication and the need to raise awareness, Soto says in doing this work it’s necessary to involve people from Native communities and community allies who come at it from a different perspective and can open the door for others to hear Indigenous knowledge systems.

Lorrie McAllister

Sanchez and Soto both say they code-switch regularly in their work as librarians with the aim to meaningfully support Indigenous students at ASU and communicate their needs to library leaders. Code-switching, moving competently between two languages or dialects, more broadly refers to the subtle ways we move between cultural and linguistic spaces, expressing different parts of our identity.

“Books can come and go, but having that code-switching voice and having the structures that support those voices, those advocates, that’s where systemic change comes from,” Sanchez said.

“ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons.”

Last year, the ASU Library announced its endorsement and adoption of the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, one in a series of moves to advocate for Native American communities through library policy, including the expansion of the Labriola Center, which now has two locations: Fletcher Library on the West campus and Hayden Library on the Tempe campus.  

“Two Labriola Center spaces is a good sign,” Soto said. “Ideally, we should have one on every campus.”

Last semester, the Labriola Center partnered with the student group IndiGenius to host an open house and open mic night, inviting all ASU students to learn more about Labriola — how it has grown and where it plans to go — and share their creative expressions.

The center has also partnered with the ASU Library’s Community Driven Archives (CDA) Initiative, led by Nancy Godoy, associate archivist, to offer Indigenous communities an opportunity to record their oral histories and learn how to preserve photographs and other historical artifacts. 

“We can’t do this work of addressing systemic racism without looking at all groups, or else we’re just reproducing that same system,” said Alana Varner, the project archivist with the library’s CDA initiative. 

Together with her team, Varner partners with local organizations to create safe spaces for historically marginalized groups with the goal to reclaim authorship over their own history and preserve it for future generations.

Recently, the two library units, Labriola and CDA, have led community workshops focused on the importance of listening to and archiving the voices of Black people, Indigenous people and other people of color during the global pandemic. 

“Memory in the Midst of Pandemic” and “Community Memory and Resiliency Show and Share” are recent workshops that have brought together Native American students and community members. In the latter event, Labriola and CDA partnered with American Indian Student Support Services to share, virtually, their stories, photographs and other historical artifacts.  

Brave Heart Sanchez

In the wake of the pandemic, Soto and Sanchez also created a library guide of COVID-19 resources for Indigenous communities. The page, which has been viewed over 3,600 times, is a starting point for ASU students and the wider community seeking “Indigenous-centric resources and tribal perspectives” on the coronavirus.

Varner says the land acknowledgement statement speaks to what ASU loves to think of as its greater mission — that we actively work to include all groups in our knowledge production.

“Socially, we are moving these conversations forward,” Varner said. “A statement like this is created in conversation and in collaboration with the impacted communities. It means we are willing to hear what they have to say and change our expectations accordingly.”

“We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice.”

Nothing is static, especially knowledge, Soto said.

“How we set up a space will inform the ways in which we interact in that space,” he said. “We need to be asking, how can we be more inclusive to Native knowledge systems?”

Sanchez says the current climate is ripe for Indigenous knowledge systems, as the challenges we face — climate change, racial and social injustice and gross inequality — grow more urgent by the day.

“There is a lot of potential in how the library thinks about, collects, deals with and distributes knowledge, from an archival perspective and a student success perspective,” Sanchez said. “How can we further empower communities and participate more in consciousness raising?”

The need for a statement acknowledging Indigenous land cannot be understated, particularly in the context we find ourselves discussing it today. It was written before George Floyd was killed at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, sparking global protests for police reform and an end to systemic racism. 

“I feel there are a lot of intersections between the essence of the statement and the need to confront systemic racism, white supremacy and settler colonialism at ASU and beyond,” Soto said. 

Moore, associate vice president of tribal relations at ASU, says the statement is a great start to a deeper engagement with American Indian students and faculty, and tribal nations and communities. 

“ASU Library is a leader in social justice by giving voice to those not commonly heard from, or, in the past, conveniently left out,” Moore said. “The Indigenous land acknowledgement honors the original caretakers of the land that ASU now resides on. Understanding our place and space in this world goes beyond knowing when the first territorial settlers arrived, but begins the process of developing a deeper, richer, collective story of our past, present and future.”

“ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the library.” 

The term “postcolonial” is controversial among scholars, as it implies that colonization is behind us; however, for Indigenous peoples, colonization continues as a daily part of life.

“ASU is, inherently, a colonial space that is actively trying to become less colonial,” Sanchez said. “There are spaces that are much more Indigenous than others. There are spaces more decolonized than others. There is no possibility of a full realization of decolonization because of the colonial nature of our country. We’re on Native land, but we’re in Tempe.”

If the ASU community is to truly embody the ASU Charter, we must first lay the groundwork for community healing and intentional place-making — work that Soto, Sanchez and Varner argue is well suited to cultural memory institutions, such as libraries and archives, and universities.

“ASU has the potential to be the leader in the country. We can set the benchmark,” Varner said.

Soto says ASU’s global platform makes the land acknowledgement that much more vital and worthy of revisiting.

“I hope that we rewrite the statement every two years so that it continues to grow better and stronger,” Soto said. 

Sanchez agrees — the conversation is just beginning.

“To advocate means ‘to call,’ or ‘to call into,’ and that is the meat of the statement — the call,” he said. “The big question, then, becomes: How does ASU answer it?” 

This article was written in collaboration with Alex Soto and Brave Heart Sanchez. Top photo credit: Gabe Border / Courtesy of Ayers Saint Gross.

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist , ASU Library