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Scholar to discuss 'moving beyond the asterisk' for American Indian students

portrait of Heather Shotton
March 28, 2014

American Indian students who come into a university environment may struggle with culture shock and feeling homesick, especially if they move from a small reservation community to an unfamiliar major metropolitan area.

Leading American Indian scholar Heather Shotton will explain how universities can help American Indian students succeed during “Moving Beyond the Asterisk: The University’s Role in Enabling Native Student Success,” at 6 p.m., April 10, in the Memorial Union Pima Auditorium on ASU's Tempe campus.

“Heather is one of the emerging voices that examine and explore the experiences of American Indian students in institutions of higher education. She does so with an eye toward addressing the everyday challenges these students – and their institutions – face in helping them successfully navigate college and life,” said Bryan Brayboy, professor in the ASU School of Social Transformation and director of the Center for Indian Education. “She is, in many ways, setting the table for the next generation of scholars in this area of inquiry.”

In her talk, Shotton will discuss how campuses can move beyond an “asterisk mentality” and successfully support Native students. The “asterisk mentality” phenomenon describes the concept of American Indian students being excluded from scholarship and data, and represented by an asterisk, noting that the population is not statistically significant.

Shotton is an editor of the book, “Beyond the Asterisk: Understanding Native Students in Higher Education,” and a Native American Studies assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma. The book addresses strategies for supporting American Indian college students, and explains the “asterisk mentality” concept that is based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of Native college students, coupled with issues of invisibility that has generated a movement among American Indian higher education practitioners and scholars to challenge the mentality and share strategies for serving these students.

“Heather’s visit represents one of the many ways ASU is addressing the needs of American Indian students,” said Diane Humetewa, special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. ASU has one of the highest American Indian student populations in the nation and offers indigenous students opportunities to connect with American Indian Student Support Services that provides academic and personal support while promoting traditional culture. Other initiatives, such as the Tribal Nations Tour, bring the university to young Native people throughout the state’s American Indian communities. Students who take American Indian Studies classes learn from faculty members who are all members of tribal nations, and five new Native American faculty members joined the university last year.

During a three-day visit to ASU, Shotton will discuss challenges and opportunities for the university to "move beyond the asterisk" through meetings with student focus groups, faculty roundtables, the Provost/President's Native American Advisory Committee and members of the administration. She is scheduled to appear with professor Brayboy on KAET-TV’s (Channel 8) Horizon program on April 16.

Shotton, a member of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, and also of Kiowa and Cheyenne descent, was recently awarded the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development “Native American 40 Under 40” Award. She serves American Indian students and communities locally and nationally, and is past president of the National Indian Education Association.

This event is made possible by the Academic Excellence through Diversity Grant sponsored by the Office of the University Provost, and is the result of a collaboration of faculty and staff from the School of Letters and Sciences, School of Social Transformation, University Academic Success Programs American Indian Student Support Services, Center for Indian Education and the Special Council on American Indian Affairs, American Indian Initiatives.

The School of Social Transformation and the Center for Indian Education are research units in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences