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3 of 4 Indigenous ASU students in study had ‘personal experience’ with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples

May 4 event on West campus, May 5 event at Capitol recognize issue

“Have You Seen Me?” by Isiah Hogue, depicting 3 Navajo women seemingly wrapped in shawls, lined up with a side view.

Image from “Have You Seen Me?” collection by Isaiah Hogue (Navajo). Used with permission.

May 03, 2023

Three of four Indigenous Arizona State University students surveyed have had a “personal experience” with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples, or MMIP, that occurred either to them, a friend or a family or community member, a new ASU study reports.

The research team, led by School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Professor Kate Fox and Clinical Assistant Professor Christopher Sharp of the School of Social Work, surveyed 93 Indigenous ASU students, interviewed 16 Indigenous ASU students, and interviewed 41 faculty and staff members who work closely with Indigenous students. The project was supported by a grant from ASU’s Women and Philanthropy.

According to the report, ASU enrolled 3,504 Indigenous students as of January 2023.

Study results indicate:

  • 94% of students interviewed said they were aware of MMIP.
  • 82% said they had experienced “at least one form of interpersonal victimization.”
  • 75% said they had a “personal experience” with MMIP, meaning “that it either happened to them (or to) a friend/family/community member.”
  • 66% said they knew that a family or household member had experienced some form of interpersonal violence.
  • 22% said they used campus services in response to their victimization.

A summary of the report’s findings, along with recommendations to support Indigenous and other students who have had such experiences, can be found in this infographic.

MMIP is the successor designation to initial concerns expressed for Murdered and Missing Women and Girls, or MMIWG. In 2019, Arizona became the third state to enact a law designed to reduce the incidence of MMIWG.

The law created a 23-person study committee that worked with Fox and the ASU Research on Violent Victimization (ROVV) Lab in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The committee and the lab analyzed data showing that the number of murders of Indigenous women had steadily grown over the previous four decades, according to the report.

This week, the ROVV Lab released the report of the new study’s findings, titled “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples: Perspectives of Indigenous Students and the Faculty and Staff Who Serve Them.”

The report’s introduction calls the study the first one known to examine Indigenous students’ collective “experiences with violence and victimization, their resilience and whether the university is effectively meeting their needs.”

“Our results clearly show very high lifetime victimization experiences,” Fox said, “so this does not only signal victimization during these students’ college years.”

While noting the university’s “concerted efforts to admit and provide support for Indigenous students,” the report said that before this study little was known about such devastating experiences.

Recommendations include training, programs, services

Researchers recommended that the ASU community, students and student organizations, and university leadership foster “an environment of acceptance and belonging for all students impacted by interpersonal violence and Indigenous students impacted by MMIP.” They also recommended training, programs and services to support the affected students and help educate the community about the issue.

On March 7, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signed an executive order establishing an MMIP Task Force. Among other duties, the governor ordered the task force to work with state, federal and tribal agencies to address recommendations the study committee made in 2020. Hobbs also ordered the task force to collect data and review policies and practices that have an impact on violence against Indigenous peoples.

‘So many students have experienced so many forms of victimization’

Fox said she and her team assumed that Indigenous students would know about MMIP, and they did.

“What was painfully obvious from our data set was that so many students have experienced so many forms of victimization. Now, more than ever before, universities, including ASU, are prioritizing inclusiveness, equity and justice,” Fox said. “These data show that this is a population that is not only understudied and often overlooked, but is a deserving population that the university should make greater efforts to understand and serve.”

One of the study’s student researchers, Katonya Begay (Diné, or Navajo), who will receive a Master of Social Work in May, said that the study was a wake-up call to her as a social worker, showing that some people “are coming to universities, miles away from home, experiencing the trauma that comes with MMIP.”

Begay recommended the university community give priority to continued advocacy for Indigenous students.

“We should ask how we at ASU should support students in addressing the MMIP crisis,” she said.

Begay said researchers have historically visited Indigenous communities to conduct studies but frequently don’t follow up with the people they’ve contacted. During interviews, she said she was reminded to consider the impact the MMIP issue has on students. Fox said the ROVV Lab team actively partners with Indigenous communities in a collaborative and trauma-informed way and ensures that the research benefits them.

‘It is a need and should be a priority’

As an Indigenous social worker, Begay said she wants to provide her community with more mental health services.

“It is a need and should be a priority, not just for ASU but our communities,” she said. “Bridging the gap of addressing the mental health of those affected by MMIP — unresolved grief, anxiety, depression, PTSD — are prevalent in our community.”

ASU will recognize the issue with its first-ever Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Recognition and Advocacy Day, from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, in the La Sala Ballroom in the University Center on the West campus. The event is co-sponsored by the ROVV Lab, the ASU American Indian Social Work Association and the ASU Undergraduate Student Government.

Fox said advocates and community members will be at the Arizona Capitol from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, May 5, the national MMIP day of recognition, to remember people who have lost their lives. Vendors and information tables will be on hand.

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the School of Social Work are part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

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