image title

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


image title

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


image title

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

image title

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

image title

Questions of place in a time of uncertainty

June 26, 2020

New ASU center partners with prestigious NYC nonprofit to offer inaugural borderlands fellowships that seek to question the role of Indigeneity in our future society

Having just launched in late January of this year, ASU’s Center for Imagination in the Borderlands was still in its infancy when the world came to a screeching halt as a result of the coronavirus.

But as fortune would have it, a constellation of forces, presciently suited to take on the strange new challenges we have already begun to face — which had been quietly simmering for nearly a year — were finally on the verge of fruition.

On June 26, in partnership with the prestigious Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School in New York City, the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands announced the recipients of the inaugural Borderlands Fellowship: artists Maria Hupfield and Carolina Caycedo.

“I feel like this fellowship was prophetic in a way, because the conversations they’ll be having and the ideas they’ll be raising and catalyzing and creating, I think, are going to be very important to the ways we all move forward together in what is assuredly going to be a new country,” said Natalie Diaz, director of the Center for Imagination in the Bordelands. “There will be certain things that don’t revert back to the way they were before. So it’s exciting for ASU and these fellows to be contributing to those conversations.”

The goal of the Borderlands Fellowship is an extension of the ASU center's values in that it seeks to bring people together for imaginative dialogue with one another and the ASU and New School communities around the relevance of place through the lens of Indigeneity.

Hupfield and Caycedo were selected from a pool of invited applicants that included internationally renowned artists and scholars who were nominated by a small group of experts, including Diaz, a widely lauded poet and a MacArthur Fellow. They will receive an award of $15,000 to support their two-year appointment, beginning in fall 2020 and running through spring 2022. Over the course of four semesters, they will spend time together and independently in Tempe, Arizona, and New York City, where they will create and present a research project at both sites that ignites conversation within, across and about America’s borderlands.

headshots of two women, side by side

Recipients of the inaugural Borderlands Fellowship, Carolina Caycedo (left) and Maria Hupfield. Photo courtesy of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics

A nonprofit research organization and public forum for art, culture and politics founded in 1992, the Vera List Center is the only university-based institution committed exclusively to leading public research at this intersection. In the past, its fellowships have supported the work of such luminaries as the late Maurice Berger, a cultural historian who used his privilege to speak out against racism in the art world; Lorraine O’Grady, a conceptual artist known for her exploration of Black female identity, particularly through photo and video; and Bouchra Khalili, whose “The Mapping Journey Project” recounted the indomitable spirit that led refugees to cross oceans and borders in search of a better life.

The brainchild of Diaz, a woman with many identities rooted in place — associate professor in the Department of English at ASU’s Tempe campus, member of the Mojave and Akimel O’odham tribes, Mexican, Latina — the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands was created with the mission to spark inquiry, action and the reimagining of America’s borderlands.

The center feted its opening in January with a ceremony that included performances by fellow ASU Assistant Professor Solmaz Sharif, whose debut book of poetry, “Look,” subverts the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to illuminate the killing of innocent civilians in the Iran-Iraq War; White Mountain Apache musician and National Artists Fellow Laura Ortman; and President and CEO of United States Artists Deana Haggag.

The Borderlands Fellowship combines the resources of these two institutions, esteemed for their innovative research endeavors that aim to unite communities across different geographical, cultural and political landscapes.

“We began to wonder what it would look like if instead of pretending that because we’re on two separate sides of the country we’re having totally different conversations, we actually acknowledged that we are asking a lot of same questions, just in different ways,” Diaz said. “We wanted to allow these thinkers and artists the ability and support to migrate their questions.”

Both Hupfield and Caycedo are multidisciplinary artists working in performance and media arts. Hupfield’s project “Breaking Protocol” will look at urban Indigenous peoples as experts at navigating borders and blurring binaries. Caycedo’s project “Fair Energy Transition” will look at the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border as an extension of the prison complex, oil, gas and water industries, considering its effects on the environment and those living near it.

As part of their two-year appointments, they will each consult and collaborate with faculty at ASU and The New School, and they will spend time engaging with students and the local communities in workshops and discussions. It’s the part of the fellowship that thrills Diaz most.

“In the art world, and even in the world of scholarship, we tend to be so focused on what we produce. And the work that both of them create is phenomenal, and I think merits attention and engagement on its own — they’re doing work in Indigenous communities, they’re challenging questions of language, questions of land and environment and sovereignty, and they’re each engaged in very different aspects of what is a border,” Diaz said.

“And yet, both also have an incredibly generous and rigorous practice of community engagement, of being invested in dialogue and asking questions that might not have immediate answers. Questions about being in the borderlands, questions about racial justice. … Part of our value system at ASU is that we’re preparing our students to ask these kinds of difficult questions that will actually change society for the better. So in bringing in these incredible artists and thinkers, we’re helping our students build that lexicon.”

Top photo: (From left) ASU Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands Natalie Diaz; Tohono O’odham Nation Poet and MacArthur Fellow Ofelia Zepeda; President and CEO of United States Artists Deana Haggag; and MacArthur Fellow and author of “Lost Children Archive” Valeria Luiselli at the launch of ASU's Center for Imagination in the Borderlands on Jan. 23, 2020. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

image title

Native nations are fighting COVID-19 on many levels

June 23, 2020

Town hall discusses solutions as the pandemic exposes systemic issues on tribal lands

COVID-19 has exacerbated infrastructure vulnerabilities in Indian Country and has brought attention to myriad issues that advocacy hasn’t been able to, experts say.

Even though the Navajo Nation’s highest per capita coronavirus infection rate has been getting the lion’s share of attention in the media, the lack of infrastructure — especially broadband — impacts civic engagement, education, energy and health care delivery on U.S. reservations affected by the pandemic.

These were some of the discussions that took place Friday in a virtual town hall hosted by Arizona State University’s Marcus Denetdale, program manager for Construction in Indian Country.

“My condolences to those that are grieving because of the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on our tribal communities,” said Jacob Moore, associate vice president for tribal relations at ASU. “Our role at ASU is to not only help fulfill the immediate needs of these communities, but also to think about, 'What does recovery and renewal look like as we come out of our current state?'”

The goal of the town hall and subsequent panel discussion was to bring together tribal and business leaders to discuss the economic outlook and address the current situation in Indian Country as they continue fight COVID-19.

Moore said ASU’s response to tribal communities in need includes a variety of needs, such as providing COVID-19 test kits, testing research, medical and public health support, PPE supplies, chain supply management and monitoring wastewater.

“It's quite an honor to be affiliated with ASU and a president who recognizes the importance of our tribal nations and communities, not just here in Arizona, but across the country,” Moore said.

People in a Zoom meetingMarcus Denetdale (top right), program manager for ASU's Construction in Indian Country, hosts a virtual town hall on June 19, giving updates on how COVID-19 has impacted Native American communities in Arizona and other states. Construction in Indian Country is an ASU-based committee created with guidance from the adviser to the Office of the President of ASU for American Indian affairs and individuals from Arizona and New Mexico Indian tribes. Screenshot by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

In addition to Moore, the panel also featured Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation; Traci Morris, executive director of ASU’s American Indian Policy Institute; Brian Howard, research and policy analyst, American Indian Policy Institute; James Murphy, chief executive officer, Willmeng Construction; Larry Wright Jr., tribal chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska; and Martin Harvier, president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

While ASU’s and others' efforts to help tribal communities have been exhaustive, the response simply isn’t enough. That’s because the needed infrastructure, especially when it comes to broadband and interconnectivity, is sorely lacking, according to Morris.

“The internet is the underpinning of our lives,” Morris said. “Everything depends on it, and we’re very far behind in Indian Country. We need broadband for everything from telehealth to education to energy management. The digital divide is real, and there are multiple divides.”

To illustrate her point, Morris said last year the American Indian Policy Institute released a research paper titled “Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands.” Morris co-wrote the paper, which showed that many Native Americans on reservations do not have equal access to the internet and that most are using smartphones to go online at slower speed.

Morris said some of the major findings in the paper include:

  • 18% of tribal reservation residents have no access to internet at home.
  • 33% are relying on internet from a smartphone.
  • 31% of tribal reservation residents who do have internet said the service was spotty.

“We have 162,000-plus people living on tribal lands that either are underserved or unserved when it comes to telecommunications infrastructure needs,” Morris said. “It was stunning to me that it took a pandemic to draw attention to the fact ... of the digital divide.” Toward this in April, the American Indian Policy Institute authored two policy briefs on the impacts of the digital divide on higher education on tribal reservations. The digital divide has also caused telecommunication problems with the delivery of online content to Native American students taking courses at ASU, said Howard.

“We’ve been looking at ways that ASU’s University Technology Office could support these issues, including providing Wi-Fi hot spot devices to ensure they can continue with their studies,” Howard said. Additionally, the institute's briefs were used by the  ASU Office of the President in working with Arizona congressional leaders to push for broadband funding in potentially forthcoming infrastructure packages serving tribal lands

Wright said in addition to internet connectivity, infrastructure issues such as the lack of funding for road maintenance and health care facilities have created major headaches for his tribe and others in the Great Plains.

“A lot of our tribal nations are spread out over large areas, and in some cases, it’s two to three hours of drive time to get to a health care facility,” said Wright, whose tribal area covers 15 counties in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. “That gets even more compounded when roads and bridges are closed because of flooding from the past few years, making travel even more difficult.”

Wright said the problem has been amplified because many Indian hospitals have either been shut down or are understaffed, which is why they’ve quarantined their elders and the tribe has declared a state of emergency this year. 

“All of these things get exacerbated in a time like this when our health care crisis is magnified,” Wright said. “We have been grossly underfunded, and that impacts how we move forward.”

Harvier said because many of his community are susceptible to diabetes and other underlying health issues, he has stressed taking extreme precautions. He added that his tribe is in an urban setting and borders cities such Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa.

“With the rise of numbers in the surrounding cities and in Arizona, ours (numbers of COVID-19 cases) have gone up also,” Harvier said. “And if it starts getting into the community, it can really affect a large portion of our membership.

Harvier said COVID-19 has impacted the community’s financial health as well. The tribe has had to shut down its two casinos, which employs hundreds of community members, Harvier said.

“Without any income being generated and coming in, a lot of tribes are looking at the CARES Act to fill some of those gaps to make sure everything is moving forward,” Harvier said. “But now we’re starting to see all the strings that are tied to it. There’s some confusion how we can actually use those funds.”

Things are quite serious for the Navajo Nation, said Nez, who piped into the meeting from his car as he was conducting a food and supply distribution in Tuba City. He said they recently instituted another weekend curfew, their ninth consecutive.

“Our numbers are going down, but we’ll see what happens,” Nez said, who also mandated wearing masks among tribal residents and has instituted “aggressive testing.”

Nez said most construction and infrastructure projects on the Navajo Nation have been delayed, businesses have been forced to close and tourism has been completely halted due to the pandemic.

“There is not even a gas pump that is open (during the curfew hours),” Nez said. “We’re losing a lot of revenue, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to protect your citizens.”

Nez added the pandemic has underscored the need for Native doctors, nurses, police officers and law enforcement, which is why he said he has set aside $50 million in scholarships for professional development and building capacity.

“I think many of us tribal leaders want to grow our own,” Nez said. “We want our own Navajo to be in these professions.”

Morris said the role of ASU is not only to support tribal communities, but to be partners in creating the pipeline of youth going into a range of professions.

“We strive to be part of the solution,” Morris said.

Top photo: A Navajo teenager uses hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by iStock/Getty Images

ASU writing center wins prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing to present over 25 events showcasing indigenous arts and culture programming as part of NEA Big Read in spring 2021

June 16, 2020

The Virginia G. Piper CenterThe Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University is nonacademic university center dedicated to offering classes, talks, readings, workshops and other literary events and programs for the larger community. for Creative Writing at Arizona State University has been awarded a prestigious Big Read Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to present a month of talks, readings, book clubs and other dynamic events and programs around indigenous culture and the literary arts in spring 2021.

"For over 16 years, the Piper Center has been a catalyst for connecting area arts and culture organizations and serving communities through innovative, inspiring and accessible collaborative programs," said Alberto Ríos, inaugural Arizona Poet Laureate and center director. "With an extensive network of valued partners within Arizona State University and throughout the state, the Piper Center has the structure and community investments needed to deliver a deeply meaningful and transformative experience through the NEA Big Read." person reading book Photo courtesy of Pixabay. Download Full Image

A page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction

The NEA Big ReadThe Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University is one of 78 not-for-profit organizations to receive a grant to host an NEA Big Read project between September 2019 and June 2020.: Phoenix is centered around "The Round House" by Louise Erdrich (Anishinaabe). Winner of the National Book Award in fiction for 2012, the novel is a classic coming-of age story blended with elements of memoir, detective novels and oral history that, according to the NEA, "tells the suspenseful tale of a 13-year-old boy's investigation and desire for revenge following a brutal attack on his mother that leaves his father, a tribal judge, helpless in his pursuit to bring the perpetrator to justice.”

Exploring justice, family and personal history through an indigenous lens, the Piper Center is organizing a dynamic and extensive lineup of interconnected performances, workshops and conversations with university partners and other organizations from the larger community.

New work from acclaimed poet 

For the keynote event, acclaimed poet Layli Long Soldier (Ogala Lakota) will develop and present new work commissioned by the grant in a reading and conversation moderated by poet, MacArthur Fellow and ASU Professor Natalie Diaz.

Long Soldier has a deep history of social activism and has received numerous recognitions and awards for her work, including a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Whiting Award and a National Book Critics Circle award. Her debut collection, "Whereas," uses the language and occasion of President Obama's 2009 congressional apology to Native Americans to challenge, as described by Diaz, "the making and maintenance of an empire ... transforming the page to withstand the tension of an occupied body, country and, specifically, an occupied language."

Logo for NEA Big Read

Over 25 panels, workshops and performances

Beyond the keynote, the NEA Big Read: Phoenix will feature a variety of programs spanning poetry, storytelling, library science, the humanities and more, including:

  • Diné poetry reading: A reading and panel of Diné poets curated by poet and Diné College Professor Jake Skeets (Diné), winner of the 2020 Whiting Award and the 2019 National Poetry Series.
  • Oral history and family archive workshops: A series of oral history and family archive workshops with the Labriola National American Indian Data Center and local poet Amber McCrary (Diné).
  • Storytelling event: A storytelling event curated by Liz Warren of South Mountain Community College.
  • Political action: A panel reconvening members of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Committee (HB 2570) with Arizona House representative Jennifer Jermaine.
  • Land recognition: A panel on the ethics, politics and craft of land recognitions with ASU professors and staff, with David Martinez (Akimel O'odham/Hia Ced O'odham), Felicia Mitchell (Chickasaw) and Alex Soto (Tohono O'odham).
  • Literary salons: A literary salon on decolonization with Associate Professor Amanda Tachine (Diné).
  • Book clubs: Numerous book clubs and reading groups with Burton Barr Central Library.

While many events focus on or are intended for indigenous individuals, all events are open to the public. With a few exceptions, the majority are free.

To share "The Round House" throughout the community, the Piper Center will be distributing over 750 books to the public for free. Community members will also be able to check out unlimited copies of the e-book for three months through the Phoenix Public Library.

Addressing a critical national and local issue

Within "The Round House's" larger themes, the Piper Center will place a particular focus on the issues that form the central conflict of the novel: missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).

"Violence against Native women and girls exceeds that of any other group in the United States," said Traci Morris, who directs the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University. "While Native women make up less than 2% of the national population, nearly 40% of all women involved in sex trafficking cases are indigenous."

Several efforts have taken steps to address this problem over the last year. The Arizona Legislature formed a local task force to study MMIWG through HB2570 in May 2019. A similar committee was established by an executive order from Donald Trump that November.

Unfortunately, a lack of reliable data and standardized collection practices among local, state, federal and tribal governments make it virtually impossible to assess the extent of the issue, let alone address it.

"Native women in Arizona disappear three times when they go missing: they disappear in real life, they disappear in the data and they disappear in the media," said state representative Jennifer Jermaine. "With HB2570 we are examining the systematic gaps in data collection and resource allocation from the state level. We are also partnering with tribal leaders and federal agencies to begin to solve communication and coordination problems that have complicated search, rescue and recovery efforts."

Similarly, the American Indian Policy Institute recently received a grant from the Media Democracy Fund to analyze crime reporting flows, algorithmic bias and other complex systems around collecting information. With improved data sets and reporting practices, governments will be able to create more effective policies and legislation.

At the same time, statistics alone can't provide the political, social and historical context in which these crimes take place, nor can they capture the experiences of individuals, families and communities who are forced to live through it. Most importantly of all, these issues risk reducing their identities to that of mere victims, simplifying a rich and dynamic humanity.

Through this grant, the center aims to extend and deepen the discourse around indigenous perspectives, raise awareness and activism surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and honor the lives and stories of Native American storytellers, artists and community members.

“With its NEA Big Read programs structured around the work of indigenous women and social justice, the Piper Center has once again demonstrated its commitment to embodying the mission of The College," said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. "The future of the humanities is here.” 

More information about the NEA Big Read: Phoenix

Jake Friedman

Coordinator, Virginia G. Piper for Creative Writing


image title

'To Be Welcoming' curriculum offers tools to counteract bias

June 16, 2020

Free Starbucks online courses, developed at ASU, strive to foster empathy, understanding

The current protests over police killings and racial injustice has left many people with a hunger to learn more about inequality and to try to do better. America’s best-seller lists and TV shows are addressing the tragic results of racism.

Two years ago, Starbucks asked Arizona State University to develop an online curriculum for all Starbucks employees that is intended to drive reflection and conversation on the topic of bias. 

Now Starbucks is making those courses available to the public at no cost.

The curriculum, a set of 15 modules, is called “To Be Welcoming” and was rolled out in September 2019. 

The interactive courses were created by ASU faculty experts to share research and information that can help people to think about how they view the world and to consider how other people experience it. 

“We’re encouraging people to ask questions and as an educational institution, that’s the heart of what we do,” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, director of the Center for Indian Education and President’s Professor in the School of Social Transformation. He led the project for ASU.

“The hope is for people to think about things from a perspective of curiosity and wonder, and try to understand how other people might feel and to be able to engage in conversations that aren’t always easy,” said Brayboy, who is special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow for American Indian affairs.

ASU and Starbucks have a long-standing partnership that began in 2014, with the inception of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a first-of-its-kind program with 100% tuition coverage for all U.S. retail Starbucks partners admitted to ASU to complete their first bachelor’s degree. As of May 2020, more than 4,500 Starbucks partners graduated through the program, with over 16,000 currently working toward their degree with ASU. 

In May 2018, Starbucks closed its doors across United States for an afternoon, so partners could participate in anti-bias training. The afternoon closure was in response to an incident in April that same year, when a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia called the police over two black men who were waiting in a store. That episode led to accusations of racism, which prompted the companywide training. But Starbucks decided to do more and reached out to ASU to create “To Be Welcoming.”

To Be Welcoming logo

Everyone who works at Starbucks can take “To Be Welcoming”, although it’s not required. Each module includes several sections with videos, interactive exercises, quizzes, a glossary and resources for further study. Everyone starts with the “foundational” course, which covers key elements of the curriculum that apply to all courses, and then may take the remaining 14 courses in any order.

The curriculum covers a wide range of biases that can be experienced by different groups of people: gender, race, age, disability, religion, nationality, sexuality, class, political culture, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic/Latino, black/African American, Arab/Middle Eastern and Asian American/Pacific Islander.

“The foundational course defines what dialogue is and some areas that prevent us from having it productively,” Brayboy said.

For example, “political correctness” is discussed as a term that often is used to avoid meaningful conversation about ways that groups of people are excluded or oppressed.

The topic of bias can be uncomfortable, said Ersula Ore, who reviewed and helped create the coursework on racism. Ore is the Lincoln Professor of Ethics in the School of Social Transformation and associate professor of African and African American studies and rhetoric at ASU.

“These are hard conversations to have,” she said. “Part of it is that students don’t know what to say and are scared to say anything because they don’t want to be ‘tripped up’ and ultimately perceived to be guilty of bias.

“My job as a reviewer was to anticipate the audience, and to consider the questions and issues that individuals might stumble over as they completed modules. For instance, What is a microaggression? What is the difference between the terms racism and prejudice?”

In one of the course videos, Ore discusses how past acts of racism are directly related to contemporary racism.

“There’s a level of detail you have to provide in order for the audience to be grounded, and I help them to make that connection,” she said.

The courses were reviewed several times. After the ASU faculty experts created the content, it was reviewed by other experts at ASU, and then sent to peer experts at other institutions. The goal was for the classes to be clear, concise and accessible to a broad range of people — and not written too academically.

It also was reviewed by faculty and administrators who are ideologically conservative, including Matt Salmon, vice president for government affairs at ASU.

“There’s a perception out there by a lot of conservatives that universities are monolithic in their thinking and that it’s just liberal ideology and there isn’t any tolerance for other viewpoints,” said Salmon, who is a former five-term U.S. congressman. 

“This process showed me that that’s just bunk. At this university, there’s a real desire not to just put out a product but to get it right.”

Salmon said the revision process was open and collaborative, much like the way people must confront sensitive issues of bias.

“It will take open-mindedness and willingness to say things that might feel offensive,” he said.

“But if you tiptoe on eggshells, you’ll never get to the bottom of it.”

The coursework encourages personal reflection. For example, the foundational module includes a journaling exercise in which participants are asked to write about a time they felt personally affected by national hatred, or, if they never were affected that way, the reasons why not.

It was a challenge for ASU faculty members to boil down their broad expertise into modules that can be completed in less than an hour, according to Jessica Solyom, associate research professor in the School of Social Transformation at ASU, who studies diversity, belonging and justice. She co-curated the content with Brayboy.

“For example, we have 30 minutes to talk about American Indians and Alaskan Natives, but there are over 570 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. with an abundance of different indigenous languages, histories and challenges,” Solyom said.

“We would not have been doing right by the communities we were writing about if we didn’t acknowledge the diversity within the group and offer further opportunities for learning and engagement on that.”

So while the coursework in each module can be completed in less than an hour, students can access many more resources to thoroughly explore each topic.

One key component of “To Be Welcoming” leads learners to think beyond individual acts of racism, like what happened to the men in Philadelphia. The foundational module discusses a “bias quadrant” — bias by individuals that is conscious or unconscious and bias that is systemic, at the government or institutional level, that is conscious or unconscious.

“Often, when corporations talk about bias, they focus the conversations and the potential solutions at the individual level. But bias is so much more complex than that,” Solyom said.

“How do our individual-level biases contribute to systems that also silence or discriminate against particular communities or groups?”

Another important concept is intersectionality — how people’s lives are shaped by more than one identity. For example, black women have different experiences than white women and black men.

Mako Fitts Ward, a clinical assistant professor and faculty head of ASU’s African and African American Studies program, is an expert in the study of intersectionality.  

“The courses are grounded in an intersectional approach to engaging bias and microaggressions, in all of their forms. If you’re taking the course on gender you can’t only address gender with no discussion of how race, sexuality and other identity groups impact the experiences faced by different people,” said Ward, who worked closely with Marlon M. Bailey, an associate professor of women and gender studies, on the content. 

“The videos are an important aspect of the series. We wanted them to be inclusive and to reflect the voices and perspectives of women across all groups in terms of class, workplace experience, sexual identity, race, ethnicity and culture,” she said. 

The goal is for everyone to see themselves. 

“People will find content that allows them to see their own experiences represented and by people from different backgrounds who reflect those experiences,” Ward said.

Karen Taliaferro, an assistant professor in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, reviewed and contributed to the course on national origin. She hopes that students reflect on what it means for Americans to be “one nation.”

“We are a unique country, historically speaking, because we were never made up of one ethnic group or immigrants from one nation only,” she said.

“So our country is very much what we Americans — coming from our rich array of ethnic and geographical backgrounds — make of it, together.”

Taliaferro wants students to see the inherent dignity and value of people they disagree with. And she’s hopeful. 

“I hope that they see some real good in our country that we can continue to build on,” she said.

“There is no denying that as a society, we face very real, and serious, challenges, but I think that those aspects of our country in which we can and should take real pride are often disguised behind headlines that tend to divide us. 

“I hope that this project will help us all build on those more promising aspects, and do so in ways that reflect empathy and respect for our neighbors.”

Learn more about the "To Be Welcoming" curriculum or take a course

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU poets laureate win fellowships from the Academy of American Poets

Laura Tohe and Rosemarie Dombrowski will lead civic programs to promote poetry in the Navajo Nation and Phoenix

May 29, 2020

Two Arizona State University professors are now among a prestigious class of poets that have been selected by the Academy of American Poets for fellowships made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Laura Tohe, a professor emeritus with distinction in ASU’s Department of English and Rosemarie Dombrowski, inaugural poet laureate of Phoenix and instructor of women’s literature and medical humanities in ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, are among the academy’s 2020 Poets Laureate Fellows. academy of american poets logo Download Full Image

Tohe and Dombrowski are among 23 individuals serving as poets laureate of states, cities, counties and the Navajo Nation who will be leading civic poetry programs in their respective communities in the coming year. Each fellow will receive $50,000 for a combined total of $1.1 million. The academy will also provide $66,500 to 12 local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that have agreed to support the fellows’ proposed projects.

Tohe’s project will further her work with students in the Navajo Nation through poetry-writing workshops and programs that focus on the Navajo language, which is listed as vulnerable by UNESCO.

“Writing poetry in Navajo supports revitalizing our language and recitation of our oral tradition,” Tohe said. “For this purpose, I will select a school with a Navajo language immersion program for the workshop.”

Laura Tohe

Laura Tohe. Photo by J Morgan Edwards

Tohe had planned to work in person with students on the Navajo Nation homeland but due to the coronavirus outbreak that has hit members of the Navajo Nation particularly hard, she will conduct her workshops through the online video conference platform Zoom with the support of school administration.

For her project, Dombrowski will present the interactive Phoenix Poetry Walk that will take place across multiple venues on Phoenix’s historic Grand Avenue. It will feature 50 unique readings by poetry-focused organizations across a six-hour period. Dombrowski hopes the walk will inject poetry into the community not only by exposing Phoenix residents to all forms of spoken word, but by engaging them in the poetic process via interactive elements like a magnetic poetry wall, poets writing poetry on demand for the public, the live installation of a poetic mural, and an after-hours open-mic.

Rosemarie Dombrowski

Rosemarie Dombrowski Photo credit: Enrique Garcia

Read the full list of 2020 Poets Laureate Fellows.

The Academy of American Poets, through its Poets Laureate Fellowship program, has become the largest financial supporter of poets in the nation. The Mellon Foundation awarded the academy $4.5 million in January of this year to fund the fellowship program through 2022. This year, in response to the global health crisis, the academy launched the #ShelterInPoems initiative, inviting members of the public to select poems of comfort and courage from its online collection to share with others on social media. The academy is also one of seven national organizations that comprise Artist Relief, a multidisciplinary coalition of arts grantmakers and a consortium of foundations collaborating to provide funding to individual poets, writers and artists who are impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations & Strategic Communications


image title

The pandemic laid bare: ASU experts unmask societal impact of COVID-19

May 26, 2020

Social scientists examine underlying conditions now magnified by the pandemic

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with medical researchers in the efforts to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, social scientists are taking the pulse of society and examining underlying conditions now magnified by the pandemic. The crisis, Arizona State University sociologists say, is shining a light on the cracks of human society that need to be addressed.

“It has laid bare the inequality of our society,” said Craig Calhoun, University Professor of social sciences. “It has laid bare our dependence on health workers, on delivery drivers, on the software to take classes online, on government funding to sustain the economy and support the unemployed, and on family, friends, and coworkers for simple social contact.”

Pointing to new practices that have made us intensely aware of the relationships and interactions we often take for granted, Calhoun says the pandemic, overall, has shown how much society matters. But it has also exposed how little some members of society matter.

Nilda Flores-Gonzalez

Nilda Flores Gonzalez

“Racial, gender, class, legal status and age inequality come to light and are exacerbated during times of turmoil,” according to Nilda Flores-Gonzalez, associate director and professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. “Statistics show that not everyone is affected equally, and racial inequality is manifested in the higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death among blacks, Latinos and Native Americans."

She added, “the COVID-19 pandemic shows that not all lives matter equally in our society. ‘We are all essential,’ has replaced the ‘all lives matter’ motto that minimizes the plight of the disadvantaged.”

Applying their areas of expertise to diverse flashpoints along the sociological spectrum, ASU Now asked other ASU sociologists to weigh in on some of the underlying societal conditions that have been exacerbated in the midst of the pandemic.

Families and schooling

Jeanne M. Powers, associate professor, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

 - Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Jeanne Powers

"The massive forced shift to distance learning engendered by the school closures during the pandemic has exposed the deep inequities in families’ access to technology. A substantial proportion of families do not have the devices or internet access their children need to engage in technology-driven distance learning. Many schools and districts have stepped up efforts to provide laptops or tablets to students during the school closures, including buying them to lend to students. Providing internet access for families has been more challenging. These differences in access to technology are associated with race and class.

"And although technology can help the teachers and students who have access to it maintain connections while families shelter in place, it is not an adequate substitute for the face-to-face learning, social interactions and the sense of community and care that is fostered in K-12 schools. Public schools provide much needed routine, structure and safe spaces that many students need and abruptly lost when schools closed. Many districts are also providing food for families and adults in need. These are vital services that help address the massive wave of food insecurity the economic shutdown has created in the wake of large-scale job loss and unemployment."

Income volatility

Raphael Charron-Chénier, assistant professor of justice and social inquiry, School of Social Transformation

"With the rise of temp work, the gig economy and the increased proportion of jobs in the service sector — where tips can be an important component of earnings — a growing proportion of Americans aren’t sure exactly how large their next paycheck will be. The COVID-19 pandemic and the long-term effect it will likely have for demand for temp workers, gigs workers and especially workers in the personal service industry, which tend to be disproportionately women, means that the need for alternative financial services like payday loans and car title loans will go up.

raphael_charron-chenier - ASU School of Social Transformation

Raphael Charron-Chénier

"After the Great Recession, data from the Survey of Consumer Finances show that the proportion of households having used a payday loan reached an all-time high. But this increase wasn’t equal across groups. For black families in particular, payday borrowing hit nearly 10% of households in 2013 — more than three times the rate for white households.

"Taking on payday loans can have disastrous consequences for families. These loans can be very difficult to pay back, leading to a rapid increase in rollover fees that can grow to several times the original loan amount.  As states begin to open up again, we absolutely need to consider assistance to people who need to rely on small consumer loans to make ends meet — whether in the form of affordable state-backed small loans or outright income support. Otherwise, some of the financial consequences of the current health crisis may become permanent and seriously increase racial, gender, and class inequality in the United States."

Civil justice

Rebecca L. Sandefur, professor, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

"As the pandemic continues, there will be a massive increase in ordinary people’s need for assistance with civil justice problems. Part of this will happen because the dislocations related to COVID-19 will cause unemployment and all the cascading problems that emerge when people lose income — unemployment claims, unpaid bills, unpaid debts, rent and mortgage, stress on family relationships. 

 - Sanford School

Rebecca Sandefur

"Another group of these problems will result when people run into challenges understanding, accessing and using the various programs meant to help them in hard times — for example, loan deferments, applying for unemployment, taking advantage of moratoria on evictions and foreclosure and the like. And the deaths that result from this public health crisis will themselves create justice problems — probate, inheritance, heir property, access to records, for example — for the survivors of this tragedy. 

"The court systems and social and human services organizations in most states are not prepared for this onslaught of troubles and lack sufficient resources to respond. In a few places, notably Utah, the crisis is energizing reform and access to help rather than slowing it down, as the state moves ahead with re-regulation that will open up space for the new kinds of legal services people will so desperately need for the next many months."


José Ashford, professor of social work and law and behavioral science, School of Social Work

"Prisons house numerous vulnerable individuals with multiple medical needs in very crowded conditions. The future health of these inmates is prompting prison administrators to make significant changes in policies and practices due to the significant risks posed by COVID-19. COVID-19 is prompting correctional and policy authorities to expand their conceptions of risks to include health risks, which is contributing to the release of nonviolent and select classes of recidivist’s offenders to house-arrest, AI (smartphone monitoring) and other forms of electronic monitoring and supervision.

Jose Ashford - ASU School of Social Work

José Ashford

"An important question for many sociologists is whether changes adopted by prison authorities to respond to the overcrowded conditions aggravating the exponential growth of COVID-19 will result in significant changes in prison as a social institution.

"Consequently, one would hope that policymakers would work with sociologists in examining current responses to imprisoned COVID-19 inmates by treating these responses as natural experiments for determining the limits of imprisonment as a strategy for addressing criminal risks for various classes of nonviolent and recidivist offenders."

Immigrant health differential 

Eileen Díaz McConnell, professor, School of Transborder Studies

"COVID-19 is having disparate impacts on the health of immigrants. The Migration Policy Institute suggests that perhaps 6 million immigrants are working in jobs related to health and producing food, important functions in the time of the coronavirus. Jobs such as home health care aides, nursing assistants and physicians have relatively high proportions of immigrants working in them. They also are in positions where it is difficult or impossible to follow CDC social distancing guidelines.

Eileen Diaz McConnell - ASU School of Transborder Studies

Eileen Díaz McConnell

"Meatpacking plants, a place where many undocumented immigrants work, have recently been hit hard by the coronavirus. Farmworkers have also been affected, or are worried about becoming sick in crowded vans or buses on the way to the job site. Jobs that don’t offer paid sick leave, such as these and other jobs, mean that workers might continue to work once they have coronavirus, further spreading the disease.

"Testing for coronavirus costs hundreds of dollars without health insurance, problematic given how contagious coronavirus is estimated to be. Many jobs in which immigrants work don’t provide health insurance coverage, meaning that if they get sick with coronavirus or other illnesses, they aren’t tested or might try to avoid treatment."


Aggie Yellow Horse, assistant professor of Asian Pacific American studies, School of Social Transformation

"COVID-19 has had significant deleterious effects on multiple aspects of health for Asian Americans – including physical, mental and social health. Given the rise of harassment, violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans deeply rooted in racism and xenophobia, many Asian Americans experience significant fear and stress related to discrimination and physical attacks. Such stress can exacerbate the important mental health issues that existed prior to the pandemic.

Woman in brown hair

Aggie Yellow Horse

"For example, many Asian Americans may fear seeking mental health resources such as counseling. Furthermore, such scapegoating is also significantly affecting the physical health of Asian Americans.

"Many Asian Americans, especially immigrants and elders, are reporting to fear associated with seeking any COVID-19-related health services, even testing, due to fear. Asian Americans are a highly diverse group with different historical and sociopolitical contexts of migration, socioeconomic profiles, culture, language and others; it is important to note that Asian Americans are experiencing an additional layer of health disparities due to the rise of harassment, violence and hate crimes during this pandemic."

Gender crisis

Nisa Göksel, assistant professor of sociology, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, New College

"The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought sudden, dramatic changes to women’s lives across the globe, data shows. We are seeing an expansion of women’s care work at home and beyond — especially in care sector jobs, such as health care and domestic services. Nonetheless, women are unemployed at growing rates. According to a study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, among the 700,000 jobs lost in the U.S. in February and March, 60% were held by women.

 - School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Nisa Göksel

"Domestic violence is also on the rise. According to a study by Erika Fraser, cases of domestic violence have spiked worldwide during the pandemic, with rates tripling in some regions of China. The pandemic, it seems, has created a 'new' gender crisis, or perhaps simply deepened already existing gender inequalities.

"For now, it is hard to foresee what changes the pandemic will bring about for women and other disadvantaged groups. But it’s clear that we will need to take a cue from the global #MeToo movement and strengthen our transnational virtual solidarities, as we face the consequences of a gender crisis whose dimensions are just becoming visible."

Essential and expendable

Mary Margaret Fonow, professor of women and gender studies, School of Social Transformation

"Women are simultaneously more likely to work in essential jobs and more likely to be employed in jobs deemed nonessential or expendable. Essential workers are workers on the front line of providing services and products that maintain the safety and well-being of the general population and include a wide range of occupations in health care, social services, education, transportation, public safety, agriculture and food services, biotechnology, etc. One in three jobs held by women are now deemed essential and women of color are more likely to be employed in essential jobs.

Mary Margaret Fonow

"For example, in the health care sector, which was the fastest growing sector before the pandemic, women make up 77% of the workers placing them at a disproportionately higher level of risk for contacting the coronavirus.

"The pandemic has revealed that job markets are gendered and racialized and that low-wage workers with few rights and benefits are carrying the heavy burden of providing essential services. The work of creating a new labor movement to address these issues will be fueled by the workers now defined as essential. Teachers, nurses, fast food workers and domestic workers were already a major part of revitalizing labor activism in the U.S., and the new face of the labor movement will be at the forefront of a national movement for decent jobs with justice."

Small businesses in crisis

Nancy Jurik, professor of justice and social inquiry, School of Social Transformation

"The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated challenges for U.S. small businesses so much so that large percentages of businesses throughout the country are in danger of closure. Recent surveys by the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported that 92% of businesses surveyed said they had been negatively affected by the virus, and only 3% said they were better off. 

Nancy Jurik

"The March COVID-19 $342 billion small business loan program offered some promise of relief to help small business owners with low interest and forgivable loans to cover up to 8 weeks of their payrolls: the so-called Paycheck Protection Program or PPP.  Although Small Business Administration leadership reports that $342 billion in loans were processed in less than 14 days, there are many indications that the program fell short. The fund ran out of money quickly and many businesses were unable to get their applications processed.

"So many small businesses have very few employees: Of the 7.8 million businesses in the U.S., 4.3 million businesses have fewer than 4 employees. Businesses owned by women, immigrants and people of color are disproportionately located in these smaller categories. The aid provided for nonpayroll expenses — e.g., rent, utilities — in the federal program, even including the SBA Disaster Relief Fund, is not enough to keep many small businesses going."

Emir Estrada, assistant professor of sociology, School of Human Evolution and Social Change

"The fight to legalize street vending in Los Angeles has been a long and arduous battle. In 2018, two years after decriminalizing street vending, Los Angeles finally legalized this informal occupation, giving over 50,000 street vendors the opportunity to obtain the right to legally work. Amid the current pandemic, L.A. councilmembers approved an emergency motion to cease street vendors without a permit. This is problematic because the majority of the street vendors are still without a permit.

Emir Estrada

"Vendors have endured these kinds of over-policing tactics before. When I conducted my three-year sociological study with Latinx child street vendors in L.A., I saw family members get fined, detained, and I even heard stories of family members getting deported. Over 60% of informal workers in L.A. are undocumented and the majority of the vendors are women.

"In my research I found that many of these vendors are also children who work to make a living together alongside their parents. During my field observations, I saw many women and children running and hiding from the police while their wares got confiscated and their food got thrown away. Today, even after street vending has been legalized, street vendors continue to be among the most vulnerable workers as a result of COVID-19. For them, violating the newly passed policy could result in a criminalized act similarly to how it was prior to 2016."


Craig Calhoun, University Professor of Social Sciences

"Perhaps the most basic sociological theme is how everything in society is connected, as health care is connected at once to having a job and insurance, to the financial system, to the education of professionals, and to providing protective equipment and other support to dedicated workers.

Craig Calhoun

"Sociologists study similar patterns in other institutions, like criminal justice, education, media and business. All have changed with the growing complexity and scale of society — and with more specific patterns like a declining role of religion and a growing role of for-profit corporations. And all have been disrupted by the pandemic.

"We can ‘open up’ and we can achieve more stability, but our path forward cannot be a simple ‘return to normal.' Social change will continue. Efforts to shape it and choose our future depend crucially on sociological knowledge."

Top image courtesy Gerd Altmann, from Pixabay.

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications