FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Board of IUB American Indian Center Quits After Lockout; American Indian Students Seek Equitable Treatment Within IU's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs and Plan Independent Community Center
Today, volunteer members of IUB's First Nations Educational & Cultural Center (FNECC) Board, which serves American Indian students, resigned. American Indian student groups are calling for IUB to bring FNECC up to par with other campus culture centers, which have homelike atmospheres, room for student gatherings, and culturally sensitive staff.
"The center must have some decision-making autonomy and be a space where students can get support from elders," said Terri Miles, (Muskogee), Native American Graduate Student Association officer. Student group members plan to start an independent community center, but insist that IUB must include American Indians in its diversity planning.
"IU has cultural centers for every underrepresented group. Each center has its own building and several full-time paid staffers who support students--except the center for American Indians," said Rebecca Riall (Cherokee Tribe of Northeast Alabama), one of the Board members who resigned. Riall is one of a group of students and faculty who proposed the center in 2006 after floods damaged the office previously loaned to American Indian student groups by another department.
Instead of a director, the FNECC, which is the student center for American Indians, had an unpaid board that implemented programs, represented IU to American Indian communities, and supported students. Instead of a building, FNECC comprised two former dorm rooms on the 6th floor of Eigenmann.
Two student groups, the American Indian Student Association (AISA) and Native American Graduate Students' Association (NAGSA), relied on the boards' access to use the FNECC for meetings, programming, and coordinating outreach events. That ended on Thurs., Jul. 24, when, without advance notice, FNECC locks were changed, ending Board members' abilities to hold evening hours or to let the AISA and NAGSA groups in after hours. AISA and NAGSA have renewed calls for American Indian support services.
They also decry the exclusion of American Indians from IU's general diversity polices, such as the IU Strategy for Increasing Underrepresented Population (available online at ...), which make no mention of American Indians.
"It seems a shame that just when Native students were starting to reach out we got our hand slapped. As uncomfortable, inconvenient, and tiny as the center was at least it was a start. Now we are locked out and only able to access the center when non-Indians let us in. So much for an Indian center," said Miles.
"As the only member of my tribe attending Indiana University, my freshman year I felt lost and alone in a sea of people who did not understand my ways or culture," added Laura Reagan (Lipan Apache or 'Hleh-pei N'de). "I only knew a few other American Indian students. We had heard of a Native group on campus but were never able to find out any information. Finally, when the offices opened up for AISA and NAGSA, American Indian students had a place to come together, share our common struggles and interests, and even talk about homework and our social lives. Having a Native director and time to access the center is essential for Native American students on campus to feel we have a place to be accepted by people who understand our culture, and have a voice in the Indiana University Community."
Riall believes that the lockout fits a general pattern in which Board members were not given adequate administrative support. "Instead of providing help, diversity administrators seemed to see us as a burden. We had no financial or personnel authority. Every little expense had to go through an administrator who often did not respond to requests in a timely way, causing events to often barely be pulled off. IU was happy to take credit for our successes, but every little event was a struggle. We were patronized and denied critical information, and promises were broken many times."
For Riall and student group members, the lockout was the last straw.
"We do the work that for every other group is done by paid, full-time, culturally competent staffers. We do it at the expense of our studies, our families, our health because we want other American Indians to succeed. How demeaning, then, that IU doesn't even give us the courtesy of letting us know ahead of time that the locks would be changed, or work to give us access again in a realistic way."
"The culture centers on campus provide such a strong support to students who are far from home, as well as a wonderful opportunity for other students to learn more about our diverse student body. I am a strong supporter of the Native students, faculty, and staff on campus and it saddens and upsets me that they do not have the same support and space available as other centers," said Sharlene Toney, an IU alumna and current staff and associate faculty member.
Student group members hope that the board's resignation will lead IU to hire a director who is an enrolled member of an American Indian nation. To them, equity--and keeping promises--means that American Indian students should have a building, too.
"Otherwise the recruitment numbers for American Indians, especially people who are active in their communities, will remain abysmal," said Riall.
Some students believe an official task force of high-level officials on the status of American Indians should study issues faced by American Indians on campus, particularly those who were raised traditionally.
"It would signal that we are important," Riall said. She argues that American Indians and other underrepresented groups should be represented at a high level in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs. "There are no American Indians there. There must be American Indians in high levels so we have a voice to advocate for ourselves."
While administrators often cite abysmal American Indian enrollment figures as a reason to deny American Indian students a full-fledged center, the student groups argue that enrollment figures will not increase until a staffed, stand-alone center exists. "Success of Native events should be measured in terms of quality of community and not quantilty.
If IU wants to attract more Native students then IU needs to build a proper support system for Native students to feel welcomed, recognised, wanted, and less lonely when surrounded by the dominant culture," says Miles.
Moreover, not only American Indian students would benefit from a real center. "As a non native, the center has provided me with opportunities to learn about Native American history and culture, as well as about some of the issues that Native American communities face today. The way the members of the board of the FNECC were treated by IU is just one more example of the struggles that Native Americans are facing. It is a shame for an institution like IU which emphasizes 'diversity' not to provide for its Native American students. This Center gives Native and non-Native students an important opportunity to be active and educate themselves and others about Native Americans," says Del Criscenzo, a Master's student in African-American students and NAGSA member.
Currently student group members and community allies plan to launch a nonprofit organization which will seek donations to buy a house and hire a staff person who can provide support. But they emphasize that these plans don't let IU off the hook.
"As a nonprofit and student groups, we can only do so much," Riall explains. "There needs to be someone in the system who will passionately advocate for the needs of American Indians, which are often different from those of other groups. Education is crucial to maintaining tribal national sovereignty, yet American Indians often feel unwelcome and unsupported at institutions like IU."
American Indian Students' Needs for Center
* Full-time, paid, culturally-competent staff
* Homelike atmosphere
* Support services for American Indian/Alaska Native students
* Educational outreach services for non-Natives
* Room for gatherings
* Support from elders
* Decision making autonomy
American Indian Students' Needs for Inclusion Within IU
* Task force on the status of American Indians on campus
* Representation in Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs
* Inclusion in official diversity policies
Copies of a) the original proposal for the FNECC written by current and former board members and b) the list of last year's programs undertaken by the board and student groups are available upon request.
Rebecca Riall, Chair Native American Graduate Student Association
C/O Anthropology Department
Student Building 130
Bloomington, IN 47405