Inside USD

Liaison Strengthens Tribal Relations

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

University of San Diego alumna Patricia Dixon, a Luiseño educator and activist who earned history degrees in 1971 and 1975 (MA), will be honored during a California American Indian Day celebration on campus Thursday evening.

The 5 p.m. event in the Hahn University Center’s Forum B is sponsored by the All Nations Institute for Community Achievement (ANICA), Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association-Tribal TANF Program, USD’s Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CID), Department of Ethnic Studies, Office of Admissions, School of Leadership and Educational Sciences (SOLES) and Center for Community Service-Learning (CSL).

Bringing Dixon to USD is a chance for all American Indians, including USD students, staff and faculty and those living on local tribal reservations and non-affiliated tribe Indians in San Diego County, to take part in the festivities.

The event is also a reminder of the work done by another USD alumna, Persephone Hooper ’09 (MA, Nonprofit Leadership and Management), to help make it happen. Hooper spent two months at USD this summer as a temporary Tribal Liaison, a position created through a CID grant to support and strengthen the relationship between local American Indian tribal and off-reservation communities and the university.

“As USD’s first part-time Tribal Liaison, Perse focused on community outreach and building the campus coalitions that are needed for fruitful relations between USD and tribal nations. Her extensive experience of working closely with tribal nations and knowledge of the distinct political status of tribal nations qualified her for this unique position,” said Ethnic Studies Assistant Professor May Fu, PhD, who co-authored the grant with Ethnic Studies Department Chair and Professor Alberto Pulido, PhD.

Having a full-time tribal liaison work directly with tribal nations is crucial for USD, Fu said, as the last two years of USD’s incoming student enrollment indicate low numbers for American Indian students. Among new Fall 2011 students, there are 24 freshmen, six transfers, 13 graduate and 13 law students who identified themselves as, or at least partially, American Indian, when asked to check a box on this optional question. In Fall 2010, there were 24 freshmen, 11 transfers, 15 graduate students and seven law students.

Cel Johnson, USD’s executive director for Institutional Research and Planning, said all data reported effective 2010-11 adheres to new collection and reporting standards for race and ethnicity data set by U.S. Department of Education. The new standard allows students to select more than one of the federal categories to describe their racial or ethnic background.

The small numbers demonstrate to Associate Provost of Inclusion and Diversity and CID Co-Director Carlton Floyd, PhD, that USD needs to work harder. “I have a strong desire and feel an obligation to build strong relationships with indigenous people in this region,” he said. “We need to start at home. We recruit nationally and internationally, yet we don’t have the strength of relations with Native American communities. If we wish to be accountable as a viable entity in San Diego, for Native Americans to study, and for the study of indigenous people here, it’s essential to build relationships.”

ANICA was created in Spring 2010 by a group of USD students, faculty and staff to help address recruitment and retention of American Indians. Fu, ANICA’s coordinator, said its part of a longer movement on campus to address American Indian recruitment, retention and educational achievement.

“This movement includes years of extensive tribal community consultations with respected community leaders such as Patricia Dixon and Joely Proudfit and a historic community forum led by Ethnic Studies Associate Professor Michelle Jacob. Our call for a full-time Tribal Liaison at USD is part of that effort.”

Hooper, a Western Shoshone Indian from the Yomba Reservation in central Nevada, spent her summer attending local American Indian events on and off reservations, compiling a database of contacts and meeting with American Indian officials and campus supporters such as Floyd, Community Service-Learning Assistant Director Brenna Hughes, and Undergraduate Admissions Assistant Director of Multicultural Recruitment Joseph Davidson.

Hooper, who earned an undergraduate degree from UC San Diego in 2004, has done liaison work with San Diego-based tribes since 2001. She’s currently a full-time Community Liaison for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen Association and was a USD adjunct faculty member for one semester. Hooper’s familiarity with ANICA and her experiences as a grad student and an adjunct were attributes she brought with her as a liaison.

“I see the potential here because this campus is so different,” Hooper said. “At UCSD, you’re talking about 30,000 undergraduates and it can be difficult to get anything done. I think USD has a unique opportunity to get things done, especially when the university is committed at the highest levels. You look at the nonprofit program in SOLES. It’s only been around for a few years, but it’s already considered one of the best in the nation. That’s because top-level people thought it was important and they put resources toward it. I think it can be the same with a full-time tribal liaison if the leadership is supportive and sees that it’s really needed.”

Michelle Jacob, PhD, USD’s lone full-time American Indian faculty member, agreed. “A tribal liaison needs to be supported from the top down. A community and structure of support needs to be established to make sure we are going beyond ‘sweet words’ about diversity, as one tribal elder stated during a visit to campus. USD has more work to do in the area of outreach, recruitment and retention of Native faculty, staff and students.”

Programs associated with ANICA include USD’s chapter of the American Indian Recruitment (AIR) program, led by Jacob. AIR focuses on higher education and success in academics for American Indian students through tutoring, mentoring and other activities. Hughes said CSL students participate in AIR events, including those now hosted at USD. Fu oversees the Early College Program with All Tribes American Indian Charter School, a community partnership allowing junior and senior high school students to take college-credit courses at USD.

ANICA hosted its first graduation ceremony May 22 to recognize American Indian students from the Class of 2011. Undergraduate degree recipients Wynona Peters, Roberta Garcia and Daina Sanchez (pictured, left to right, including Hooper, second from left) were among the honorees.

Dixon’s appearance Thursday to celebrate California American Indian Day is another step forward, but it’s the work of Hooper, even in the short-term, that demonstrates to Fu and others the need for a full-time tribal liaison.

“Building, growing and being through community is so essential to tribal nations,” Fu said. “I feel this is a lesson we can learn at USD. We’re so used to working individually with little collaboration. When I look at the work being done in ANICA and with our partners, so much of it is about moving forward and growing together, as a community. It is a different way to make changes, affect students and strengthen communities. It takes time and care. It is something, I feel, that USD as an institution lacks. We have wonderful people and groups like Michelle, Patti, CID, and CSL doing amazing work. Perse brings all of us and all of our efforts together.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

Photo courtesy of Belinda Lum

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