ASU Prep Digital helped high schooler zero in on film from the Hopi reservation

Chelsea Seletewa’s interest in film helped her discover more about her family and led her to ASU Prep Digital

February 19, 2021

Chelsea Seletewa is a senior attending ASU Prep Digital. While living on the Hopi reservation in northern Arizona, she has become a member of the Sun Devil community. 

Seletewa decided she wanted more from school. She transitioned to online high school about a year ago so that she could take courses that aligned with her future career goals, including a course about filmmaking.  Chelse Selestewa portrait ASU Prep Digital student Chelsea Seletewa Download Full Image

“The high school in my area didn’t have a good reputation,” Seletewa said. “They weren’t preparing students for life beyond high school. My mom's friend mentioned prep digital at ASU, and I went for it,” she said.

Seletewa's decision to get involved with ASU Prep Digital and take their filmmaking course came after she worked on making a short film with a professional filmmaker. The short film was a documentary about three different generations of her family: herself, her father and her grandmother. She learned a lot about her family’s history and about how life was different for each generation. She also realized the importance of spending time with family, and she was able to deepen connections with her family members. 

“I asked them questions about how their lives were different. I compared it to how my life is now with them in it,” Seletewa said. “I learned a lot from my grandma. I guess I should sit down with them more often to learn about our family.” 

The storytelling experience gave Seletewa a glimpse of what it would be like to make films professionally, and she’s now planning to pursue a career in film or animation.  

Completing her high school education from home has been challenging but rewarding for Seletewa. After about a month of taking online courses, she found a routine that works for her. Finding a source of motivation and focusing on it has helped her stay committed to completing her coursework. 

“Motivation is a big factor, and you hear it a lot in online school,” Seletewa said. “Learn that your teachers aren’t going to sit there and teach you. It is a self-learning process that you have to get used to.”

Persistence has been key for Seletewa, and she said her Learning Success Coach has been extremely helpful. She has had the same Learning Success Coach for her entire online schooling experience. These coaches help students with goal-setting and planning, and they are available to help any ASU Prep Digital student. 

Seletewa shared that it’s important for her to be independent and responsible, but it’s just as important to ask for help when she needs it.  

She is currently taking six classes, and she attends the live lectures for each class whenever she can. Her advice to anyone transitioning to online schooling is to be patient with themselves.

“One of the big things is to not get discouraged when you're starting out because, of course, it will take a while to adapt,” Seletewa said. “It took me almost a month to adapt to actual online school.”

As the world enters the new year, many are still stuck behind a computer screen. Seletewa was used to the online format. However, she felt for those who were thrown into it without any preparation.

“I heard when schools shut down it was hard for them to get back in the flow of things because they don’t know what online schooling is like,” she said. “I was already used to it, so I think I had an advantage. It was interesting to see people around me struggling.”

She offers some advice for those her age who are struggling to maintain their grades during this unprecedented time. She also recommends going to live lectures in order to connect with other classmates and make friends. 

“It was hard for me. I was going through a lot when I started online. I think for everyone if your grades drop it becomes really hard to keep them up, but it is really important to keep going at it and to watch out for your mental health.”

Written by Claire Muranaka and Annika Tourlas, ASU Student Life. Reporting by Hannah Moulton Belec.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


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Talking about racism with your kids

February 19, 2021

Project Humanities hosts program discussing strategies on how caregivers should broach the subject of racial bias and race relations

Despite the fact that conversations on race relations are more common today, many parents, guardians and educators from all races still feel uncomfortable having these talks with young children.

The reasons are complex: They feel it’s not appropriate. Children are too young to discuss race and racism. Parents conflate childlike innocence with alleged “colorblindness.”

Research shows that as early as 6 months old, babies recognize race-based differences and that by ages 2 to 4, children internalize racial bias. What that means, according to the founding director of Project Humanities, is that if children are old enough to perceive these differences and start absorbing biases, then they’re old enough to talk about them.

“With our expert panelists and facilitator, this program will highlight challenges to racial justice and identify strategies for having conversations about race that actually disrupt the status quo,” said Neal A. Lester, professor of English and director of ASU's Project Humanities. “Ever since George Floyd’s (killing), mostly white folks have reached out to me personally as an African American educator who studies and teaches about U.S. race relations, asking for strategies not just to talk with their typically white children about race and diversity, but also about talking with other white people — their families, peers and neighbors — about race and racial justice.”

The virtual conversation “Humanity 101 on the Homefront: Anti-Racist Parenting” explored the role parents and caregivers, as well as other societal forces, play in dismantling racism through parenting and modeling anti-racism work.

Project Humanities

Clockwise from top left: Maureen Costello, Brandon Yoo, Michelle F. Renteria and Kareem Neal speak at the Project Humanities virtual event on Feb. 18. Screen grab by Charlie Leight/ASU News

The Feb. 18 event’s panel featured Brando Yoo, an associate professor and faculty head of Asian Pacific studies in the School of Social Transformation and the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics; Kareem Neal, a self-contained special educator, restorative justice trainer and the 2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year; and Michelle F. Renteria, a school climate coordinator with Albuquerque Public Schools in New Mexico. Maureen Costello, executive director with the Center for Anti-Racist Education in Montgomery, Alabama, handled facilitating duties.

The Project Humanities goals for the panel of experts:

  • Define racism and what it means from a historical perspective.
  • Explore whiteness and how it relates to racism.
  • Identify the challenges and feelings of the anti-racist parenting experience.
  • Clarify how to discuss the role of race, ethnicity, gender and equity with children and ultimately, how to recognize injustice and help fix it.

Yoo said that people often misunderstand the true meaning of racism, often defining it as individual and intentional acts of meanness or behaviors. He said racism is tied to history and that people need to see and understand it from that perspective.

“It was used (in this country) as a system of white dominance, power and privilege … constructed to benefit a particular group in power,” Yoo said. “Using that ideology of whiteness to benefit … and to justify the cultural genocide of the Indigenous people, the slavery of Blacks and the exclusion and internment camps of Asians and many other groups. If we look at racism to be more than individual intentional acts of meanness but a cultural and institutional level in which it benefits whiteness, then we can start the conversation of, ‘What does anti-racism work look like?’”

Not only is it important to be a good parent, but it’s also important to be a good ancestor, said Renteria, who taught in the classroom for approximately 20 years. She said she often shares with her nieces, nephews and two multiracial sons who they are, where they come from and how they benefited from others.

“Although I am Native New Mexican, I have to tell them I am on Indigenous occupied land and that I have a history,” Renteria said. “A Spanish ancestry that has to be accountable for the genocide of Indigenous people, so it’s very important to me … it’s also important to share the history of my parents.”

Even though that type of conversation comes naturally to Renteria, it isn’t as easy for others, especially to parents, guardians and educators, Neal said. He said his conversations with his own parents were “super incomplete” and would only surface when there were frustrated by racial violence or tension.

“It would only be times where, say a Black person was killed by a police officer … it was just blurted out there,” Neal said. “But it was not like this — a nuanced conversation about race. It was more like, ‘I’m tired of Black people being harmed by white people … so I had to do a lot of work on my own and then as a grown person, I would start having these rich conversations with my mother … amazing conversations about race and civil rights.”

Neal said those are the types of conversations he has with his students through skits, writing activities and community-building circles.

“It connects very well when you have that kind of equity of voice,” Neal said. “We’re having the kinds of conversations that let people say, ‘I’m heard and valued.’”

Costello said having conversations about race with children also means “living in discomfort and realizing that it’ll pass, and you’ll have gotten something better out of it.”

Top photo: Image courtesy of Project Humanities.

Reporter , ASU News


School of Molecular Sciences faculty bring attention to diversity, equity, inclusion in academia

February 18, 2021

2020 was a year of upheaval that brought attention to a wide range of areas in social injustice and inequity, from the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ movements to inequities in access to health care to the rise of overt white supremacist groups.

Reflecting on these events inspired Arizona State University School of Molecular Sciences assistant professors Laura Ackerman-Biegasiewicz and Kyle Biegasiewicz to look inward at their own spheres of influence and examine sources of injustice and inequity in academia. Together with nine other junior faculty from different institutions across North America, their perspectives and suggestions to promote changes in academic culture to improve diversity, equity and inclusion were recently published as an editorial in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Central Science. Laura Ackerman-Biegasiewicz and Kyle Biegasiewicz. Download Full Image

In their editorial, the group approached the problem from an interesting and uniquely chemical perspective, that of retrosynthetic analysis. Retrosynthesis involves deconstruction of a desired target molecule into simpler starting structures and a convergent chemical pathway that connects them with the more complex target structure. The group suggests an analogous approach, decomposing diversity and inclusion into basic starting principles in order to define a guiding convergent social pathway toward a resolution to these complex societal issues.

The authors all pledged to make changes in support of developing a model where academia demonstrates leadership through practice in the very principles of diversity, equity and inclusion that it teaches.

“Many of us have been victims of the destructive norms that pervade our field; all of us have witnessed them in practice,” Ackerman-Biegasiewicz said.

Instead of accepting this as the norm, they talked about what they can do to make positive, meaningful changes based on the goals they would like to achieve. Ultimately, the desire is to create supportive learning communities that are vital to growing and retaining a healthy, diverse research group.

The group suggest increasing awareness, improving approachability (of organic chemistry), teaching inclusively, providing both mentorship and sponsorship, and building community as starting principles for such model-building. Implementing meaningful change to embedded social structures is potentially an overwhelming task, but the value in the group’s approach is that it identifies realistic and readily accessible starting points that can be worked on today and that can be connected to a viable pathway to change.

“Our junior faculty are bringing to the school a raised awareness of the exclusionary and hegemonic nature of traditional science culture, and a determination to make meaningful change that is inspiring,” said Ian Gould, School of Molecular Sciences interim director. “I am proud of the way that Laura and Kyle are leading the charge towards a more inclusive and equitable environment for our school and our discipline.”

“We are committing to building research groups founded on mutual respect between professors and graduate students, emphasizing compassion and mental and physical health,” Biegasiewicz said.

Graduate students are often expected to work long hours and sacrifice relationships and at times their health under the pressure of their research advisers.

“The traditional model of unhealthy, excessive and often unrealistic expectations of graduate students negatively impacts diversity,” Ackerman-Biegasiewicz said.

Women with families and low-income students are particularly impacted by traditional constraints. Graduate students are sometimes advised that even their relationships must take a back seat to their research and their career.

“As a couple, we were advised multiple times to go our separate ways so we could focus on our research and our careers separately,” Ackerman-Biegasiewicz said. “We ignored that advice and worked harder to build our careers together.”

“Change begins with us,” Biegasiewicz said. “We don’t have to repeat the same steps over and over. We can look back and create new pathways to a better future.” 

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


Diversity, inclusion in the world of prestigious fellowships focus of ASU-hosted discussions

February 18, 2021

The Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement (ONSA) at Arizona State University is coordinating a series of events in March to promote discussions about diversity and inclusion in the world of prestigious fellowships, in particular the Marshall, Rhodes, and Gates Cambridge Scholarships for graduate study in the United Kingdom.

“Over its 118-year history, the Rhodes Scholarship has had some dire problems with diversity and inclusion,” said Kyle Mox, associate dean for national scholarships advisement at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU and director of ONSA. “For example, it did not accept women until 1977, and until recently, even scholars selected from majority-Black constituencies, such as South Africa or the Caribbean were white. ASU grads at Oxford Clockwise from top left: Marshall Scholar-elect Alexander Sojourney, Rhodes Scholar Shantel Marekera, Rhodes Scholar Ngoni Mugwisi and Marshall Scholar Frank Smith. Download Full Image

“In recent years, however, these elite fellowship programs have attempted to recover from this history and become more inclusive. And ASU recipients are a prime example of that turn towards inclusion."

Most recently, former West campus student body president and Black and African Students Coalition President Alexander Sojourney was selected as a 2021 Marshall Scholar. In the previous year, two African-born ASU students, Ntombizodwa Makayuna and Balanding Manneh, received the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. In the past five years, two additional ASU graduates, Shantel Marekera and Ngoni Mugwisi, received Rhodes Scholarships in the Zimbabwean constituency.

Mox noted that diversity and inclusion is not just about race or nationality. “It’s remarkable that ASU students have been winning these fellowships so consistently, considering that the bulk of the awards go to highly selective private universities and Ivy League schools,” Mox said.

“Even more remarkable is that our recipients have been students who have historically been underrepresented in these programs, including first-generation students, students of color, or even women in STEM fields. We think it’s worth critically engaging with the realities of the competition for these selective awards and for admission to ‘elite’ universities,” he said.

For the first event on March 3, ONSA will welcome several Marshall Scholarship alumni for a webinar and virtual panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in the Marshall Scholarship.

“This event will be special because the alumni reached out to us directly to ask if we would like to host it,” Mox said. “Our incredible track record with diversity and inclusion in our applicant pool has drawn some attention, and many people would like to see that continue. I hope this conversation will help ASU students who don’t see themselves as ‘fancy fellowship’ material to understand that anyone can become a Marshall Scholar.”

The second event, on March 17, will feature several ASU alumni and will focus on Oxford University and the Rhodes Scholarship, with a special emphasis on the “Rhodes Must Fall” controversy.

“Over the past several years, protests to remove his (Cecil J. Rhodes) name and likeness from the buildings at Oxford have gained strength — it’s not unlike the recent movements to tear down monuments to Confederate leaders in the United States,” Mox said. “I think the ethical complexities surrounding historical trauma, exclusion and reparations are worth examining.”

Confirmed for the event are ASU Rhodes scholars Mugwisi and Marekera, ASU Marshall Scholar Frank Smith, who attended Oxford, and Marshall Scholar-elect Sojourney, who is an active civil rights advocate and will be studying at Oxford.

Both events are open to all ASU students and alumni, but juniors and seniors who are considering postgraduate fellowships are especially invited to attend.

“It isn’t our intention to turn off anyone to these programs,” Mox said. “Instead, we hope to promote the sort of critical discourse surrounding the ideas of ‘success’ and ‘inclusion’ that ASU is known for promoting. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Following these discussions, virtual information sessions on the application processes for these and other postgraduate awards in the United Kingdom and Ireland will take place on March 18 and 19. Register for all events online.

ASU Language Fair promotes language learning to high schoolers

February 15, 2021

The School of International Letters and Cultures recently held its annual Language Fair, which promotes the university’s more than 20 language programs to high schoolers prospective ASU students from around Arizona. 

The Language Fair showcases diverse cultural traditions, including music, dances and foods, to expand high school students’ global knowledge and cultural appreciation. It also demonstrates to students that they can continue their high-school language studies in college or even explore a new language.  High school students wearing white and red cultural outfits participate in a Language Fair presentation. The students are standing in a line, with the front student displaying a woven rug or tapestry with a red, yellow, and black angular design. Arizona high school students participate in a previous year's Language Fair. The event showcasing language learning and diverse cultural traditions was held entirely online this year for the first time. Download Full Image

The main purpose is to introduce high school students from all over Arizona to SILC and the different opportunities that SILC provides for their future studies at ASU,” said Instructor of Arabic Umar Sulayman, the coordinator of the Language Fair. Additionally, our Language Fair provides many opportunities for language teachers and parents to meet our faculty members. 

Previous years’ events have drawn as many as 2,500 attendees. Nearly 20 schools with a total of more than 1,000 students registered to attend this year’s Language Fair, which was conducted online for the first time in the 23-year history of the event. 

The transition to a virtual format allowed students to attend from their own classrooms or homes, and they could drop in for just one session or participate in the full two-day event.  

The School of International Letters and Culture's faculty members and student volunteers put in a lot of work organizing the Zoom setup for this year’s fair. Each department — from Asian Languages and European Languages to American Sign Language and academic advising and testing — had its own activity room that students could enter with a link. From there, they were placed into individual breakout rooms for the specific languages or activities they were interested in. 

Principal Lecturer in classics Almira Poudrier has been involved with the Language Fair since 2002. She said that in years past, students would wander the event at the Memorial Union in person, being drawn by whichever events and displays caught their attention. This year’s virtual format allowed for more one-on-one discussions that went beyond just cursory overviews of the school’s language offerings. 

The Language Fair is typically “loud, sometimes chaotic, and very fun!” Poudrier said. “The changes (this year) were profound students had to come into those rooms individually instead of traveling in groups, and inside the room the conversations were longer, more in-depth and specifically focused on that particular language.” 

Language Fair coorindator Umar Sulayman, wearing a navy sweater, stands next to three seated students wearing matching maroon shirts that read "Monolinguism can be cured" in white letters. They are behind a registration booth covered in a maroon cloth.

Instructor of Arabic Umar Sulayman (left), the coordinator of the Language Fair, stands next to student volunteers at a previous year's event. This year's Language Fair was held entirely online for the first time.

The second day of the Language Fair was devoted to competitions for individual languages as well as an overall poster contest. For example, students were tasked with reciting a classical Chinese poem or performing a scene from a play in French. The posters were to be centered on the 2021 event’s theme of holidays and celebrations. 

Poudrier was in charge of the poster competition this year. Students created posters at home or in their classrooms ahead of the event, then presented them by video to a group of judges in their target language. Some even chose to wear costumes or utilize props for their showcases. 

The posters really are amazing in their artistic style and their language excellence, and the event is very competitive,” Poudrier said.  

Sulayman, too, said the competitions are his favorite part of the event. The competitions demonstrate that high schoolers are interested in learning about languages and cultures besides their own, and that they understand how this knowledge benefits their future studies and careers. 

“I like how Arizona high school students work hard with their teachers to impress our judges and faculty members,” he said. “Our faculty members always offer the contestants valuable feedback on their posters and presentations.”
Kimberly Koerth

Content Writer, School of International Letters and Cultures

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ASU center hosts dialogue to reconsider American history

February 12, 2021

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy's 2021 Social Cohesion Dialogue will question the America we think we know

When it comes to American history, ASU Foundation Professor Lois Brown believes no story is too small to tell.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, for which Brown serves as director, will host authors Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Noé Álvarez for its annual Social Cohesion Dialogue, which puts acclaimed authors and their books in conversation with ASU and Arizona audiences about issues of race, class, environmental justice, civil rights, economic inequality and social justice.

And the stories Armstrong Dunbar and Álvarez have to tell are far from small. In “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge,” Armstrong Dunbar recounts the titular character’s fight for freedom, and in “Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land,” Álvarez relays his own personal journey from working in an apple-packing plant to becoming a first-generation Latino college student — a journey that led him to join a Native American/First Nations epic marathon meant to renew cultural connections across North America.

“It's really painfully clear in both of these books that when an individual decides that they want to act on their own behalf, it has incredibly complicated ramifications,” Brown said. “And so both of these books give us a way to think about American culture and history, and I think — even more importantly — they prompt us to start asking more nuanced questions about the America we think we know, want to know more about and want others to talk with us about.”

Brown will moderate the dialogue on Feb. 18, which will be held virtually via Zoom.

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ASU Foundation Professor Lois Brown

Question: Why did you choose the books/authors you did for this year’s dialogue?

Answer: It’s always a festival of plenty when it comes to thinking about which books to feature in the Social Cohesion Dialogue, but one of the things that prompted these books to rise to the top is the power of revelatory story. We are living at a time when — in relation to issues of race, ethnicity, difference and diversity — so many people are saying, “I didn't know.” They didn’t know that systemic inequality existed or was made manifest in these ways, or they had no idea that American history included these lessons about founding fathers and their families and their relation to enslavement or to settler colonialism or to racial stratification.

(Álvarez) is a Mexican American immigrant, and his book is not only a powerful coming-of-age story, it’s also a story about borders. So it allows us in Arizona to think about the history of this state and the ways in which Mexican Americans are an integral part of our culture, our society, our history and our leadership. It's a very humble and straightforward meditation on the difficulties of belonging and the possibilities of how one comes into knowing oneself.

(Dunbar’s) book is a revelatory history about George Washington, an individual many people think they know. This is a book that takes an absolutely critical historical moment from America’s beginnings and situates it in the larger context of power hierarchy, enslavement, pursuit and oppression. And it's also a book about agency. It sheds a light on the kind of costs that are associated with striking out on one's own.

Q: It has been almost a year since the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosted a public lecture series in response to the killing of George Floyd. One of the resounding takeaway messages from that series was the need for individuals to educate themselves about racial issues. Do you think any progress has been made in that respect since then?

A: I do think the tide is moving, but it's important to find places of hope. Because even as things are changing and more people are coming into consciousness, we also see absolutely unsettling demonstrations of resistance coming from predominantly white corners on days like Jan. 6, and that was not an isolated event. But I would say that, coming out of the summer of 2020, which was incredibly traumatic for so many people and really highlighted multiple vulnerabilities, that there has been a sort of ripple effect of impact. It seems based on the kinds of initiatives that people and institutions like ours are taking, that more people being fueled by a desire to know more, to be present, to be vigilant and to figure out how best to bear witness to what either needs to be done or what needs to stop being done.

There is still a lot to be learned about systemic inequality and its reach and how rooted it is and what anxieties it's provoking in those who think that inclusion means their exclusion. But we have to turn towards the light, do we not? I also think that with all the violence, with all the trauma and hurt and disproportionate impacts of the pandemic, that it's becoming increasingly difficult — and I hope impossible — for people to say, “I did not know, I did not see, I did not hear.” And then once you see these things, it compels action. It compels response. And I see more people leaning in to respond in ways that are constructive and purposeful, and that should give us more hope.

Q: What do you hope people take away from the dialogue on Feb. 18?

A: Oh, many things. In no particular order, I hope they see that despite all the odds against us right now, it's still possible to gather in good company and talk about amazing books with really gifted and insightful people. I hope that people see the power of their own voices and their own stories, and that no story is too small to tell. That what we navigate as individuals and as members of organizations or communities is part of a larger set of American stories about place and power and aspiration; about overcoming incredible obstacles and about learning as many languages as needed to try and communicate as best we can about issues of justice and peace.

I hope people come away with a real sense that American history is definitely not static. That we still have so much to add, locate, identify, document and incorporate when it comes to teaching and thinking and writing and reading about American histories.

And I hope people come away with a sense that while endings can be untidy and seemingly unresolved, it's OK to live in that place of incompleteness, because it gives us all an opportunity to think, “How else might I contribute here? How else might I learn more?” I hope that people come out of it with a sense that it's not about casting aspersions; it's about expecting that there's more to every single story we encounter, and that we need to create a culture of asking purposeful, thoughtful, evocative questions of each other.

headshots of authors Erica Armstrong Dunbar (left) and Noé Alvarez

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

Gathering around 'The Round House'

Erdrich novel sparks conversations, celebrations on Indigenous culture

February 11, 2021

Louise Erdrich’s 14th novel “The Round House” opens with an image of creeping tree roots threatening the foundation of a family home on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota.

The novel’s narrator, Joe Coutts, works to remove each seedling at its root — the last memory he has before his 13-year-old life is forever changed. Joe will soon learn that his mother has been brutally attacked.  Front cover of "The Round House" by Louise Erdrich Download Full Image

What follows is a story told retrospectively, through an Indigenous lens, about Joe’s journey to a deeper understanding of his personal and family history, and the cascading, intergenerational effects of his mother’s assault.

Exploring themes of justice, vulnerability and resilience, Erdrich’s award-winning novel is at the center of the prestigious Big Read Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, awarded to Arizona State University's Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, which, beginning this month, has launched over 25 virtual events — talks, workshops, performances and exhibitions — in celebration and support of Indigenous literary arts and culture across the Valley.

“For the Piper Center, it was important to serve and prioritize Indigenous communities. Arizona is one of the most Indigenous states in the country. Over 25% of the state is tribal land,” said Jake Friedman, senior coordinator for the Piper Center, who views the grant as a foundation for future projects that create space and redistribute resources. “The work is already taking place. We’re celebrating communities that have always been here.”

With a focus on family history, community archiving and Indigenous land, the ASU Library and its Labriola National American Indian Data Center are participating in the Big Read in a big way, curating a library guide and a book display in Hayden Library and hosting half a dozen events, including a creative writing and zine workshop led by Indigenous poet and ASU alumna Amber McCrary, the founder of Abalone Mountain Press.  

Here, for a discussion about how the library is supporting readers of “The Round House” and engaging with Erdrich’s work as a way into conversations around Indigenous resilience and expression, Alex Soto (Tohono O’odham), assistant librarian, is joined by Joe Buenker, associate librarian, who once read Erdrich’s first published novel “Love Medicine” in one sitting and then, within a few days, read it again.

Question: Can you talk about Louise Erdrich’s work and “The Round House” as the chosen book for the NEA Big Read: Phoenix?

Soto: Joe can nerd out on Erdrich all day, but in general, like Joy Harjo and other Native authors and poets known internationally, Erdrich is just a really good author who happens to be Native and is able to share that experience. When looking at Native authors, who use their blessings and talents to infuse the colonial system with who they are, what stands out to me is the resilience of Natives to have to package their stories in the non-Native language to show that there is humanity within us and behind us. And the storytelling is effective.

Buenker: The NEA Big Read is like the common book assigned to college freshmen, where we all, approximately at the same time, get to experience the same book. We often do this with film. Everyone is bringing their own background and experiences to that reading, and then getting them together to talk about something they normally don’t talk about. I think “The Round House” is a great book for introducing Erdrich’s writing, as it’s more streamlined. There are no multiple narrators and it’s chronological. In some ways, it’s one of her simpler books in terms of plot, but it’s very rich in terms of emotional experience and character growth.

Q: A sexual assault case drives the plot of “The Round House.” Erdrich has said in interviews that she wanted to write a book about jurisdiction, calling attention to the disturbing statistics that 1 in 3 Native women are raped and that very few perpetrators are brought to justice due, in part, to a patchwork of tribal laws and jurisdictional issues. Additionally, more than 80% of rapes are believed to be committed by non-Natives. Can you talk about some of the heavier conversations in the book related to violence and vulnerability, and how the library is supporting this awareness?

Buenker: There are several incidents of violence in “The Round House” and this is because Erdrich was responding to the possible expiration of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation which President Biden helped pass 40 years ago, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis. Violence against Indigenous women, in particular, is higher than any other group, and it’s higher on tribal lands, as perpetrators know the likelihood of being prosecuted is very low. Most tribal courts can only sentence someone for up to a year, so meaningful prosecution requires the FBI to get involved. The question then becomes: Will the FBI invest their resources? There’s a really bad track record for the amount of prosecution that happens.

Soto: I think the library guide is a good entry point. Depending on where you want to go, the guide connects you to resources that further frame the issue. In terms of the events that Labriola is hosting around archives and memory, the need to investigate historical trauma plays a crucial role in Native family history. Having that knowledge of your family history, learning how to archive — this is what we are trying to share in our workshops. 

Q: Alex, can you talk about the March 9 student panel event on “BIPOC Memory” and the March 17 panel event on Indigenous land acknowledgements?

Soto: The student panel of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) archivists is inspired by the book’s theme of wanting to know one’s history and digging into those histories. The panel is a way to bring in many perspectives in our work to decolonize the archives. Many of our stories have lived outside of the main institutional narratives, and if our stories don’t fit into the narrative, then they don’t get preserved. But librarians and archivists are in it for the long haul. We want to bring awareness not just with Natives but with everyone. The panel on land recognition really connects to the book in terms of the jurisdictional issues and how non-Native institutions should support Natives. The folks on the panel have experience with crafting land statements and there’s a lot of interest in it. A lot of libraries are looking at us and the land statement we created last year. 

See the full list of events for the NEA Big Read: Phoenix, including “All about the Round House with Joe Buenker” on Feb. 28.

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library

ASU teams up with University of Oklahoma to better serve Native American communities

February 9, 2021

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is partnering with the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication to expand coverage of Indigenous communities.  

Under the collaboration, students from Cronkite News and Gaylord News will publish stories on both news organizations’ websites, share story ideas and pair up students to cover developing news stories. Students from both schools share a newsroom in ASU’s new Ambassador Barbara Barrett and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center, located three blocks from the White House, from which they cover national news about Indigenous issues. Download Full Image

In addition, both news organizations distribute student work to more than 100 partner news organizations around the country. These media outlets will now have access to stories from both Cronkite and Gaylord students. 

The Cronkite School and Gaylord College both have prioritized coverage of Native American communities and issues through reporting programs and classroom teaching. The Cronkite School is home to Indian Country Today and covers Indigenous communities extensively through its Cronkite News service, the news arm of Arizona PBS. This semester the school also is offering a reporting course focused exclusively on Indigenous communities. 

Gaylord College, the home of the Native American Journalists Association, just concluded a 41-part series entitled “Exiled to Indian Country” that was distributed by its Gaylord News service. This semester the college also launched the Bob Burke Native American Reporting Center that will train reporters to work in Indigenous communities. 

“This collaboration between the Gaylord News program and our friends at Cronkite will provide badly needed coverage of Native American communities in Oklahoma and Arizona, as well as nationally,” said Ed Kelley, dean of the Gaylord College. “The networks both programs have established through media partners across the country will distribute Gaylord and Cronkite students’ stories, to the benefit of news consumers. This alliance not only gives young journalists more opportunities to hone their skills but also a greater understanding of Native issues.” 

Cronkite News recently posted its first story from Gaylord about a prom dress that calls attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women, now part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Other stories that have been shared include the legacy of Indian boarding schools and the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

“This is just the beginning,” said Kristin Gilger, interim dean of the Cronkite School. “By combining forces and amplifying each other’s work, we can fill a gap in coverage that has persisted for way too long. We’re excited to see where this collaboration takes us.”

The Cronkite School and Gaylord College have worked together on a number of other programs supported by the Inasmuch Foundation, formerly the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, established by Oklahoma journalist Edith Kinney Gaylord in 1982. The foundation provides fellowships for Cronkite and Gaylord students to participate in the national Carnegie-Knight News21 program headquartered at Cronkite and supports professorships at both schools.

Jamar Younger

Associate Editor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

ASU launches tribal coordination center to battle COVID-19

February 9, 2021

COVID-19 has imposed a heavy toll on the entire United States, but the pandemic has been particularly brutal among Indigenous communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans are nearly twice as likely as white, non-Hispanic populations to contract the coronavirus and four times as likely to be hospitalized following infection.

These disparities exist even as tribal governments have instituted mitigation measures like face-mask mandates and lockdowns with greater diligence than many state governments. Consequently, the statistics point to long-term issues that have placed a disproportionate disease burden on reservations, such as inadequate investment in education, infrastructure and health care services.   Water systems training for Navajo Nation utility workers In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian Health Service, tribal authorities and other partners have worked to expand access to clean water across Navajo Nation land. Additionally, Arizona State University engineering faculty and the Construction in Indian Country program are applying new funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to combat coronavirus through innovative wastewater analysis tools that can better inform action by multiple tribal governments. Photo courtesy of Navajo Nation COVID-19 Water Access Coordination Group Download Full Image

Recognizing these gaps, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are funding engineering research and community outreach led by Arizona State University to support tribal nations in combatting coronavirus and improving local resources.

Otakuye Conroy-Ben, an assistant professor of environmental engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, is the principal investigator on both the NSF and NIH projects. A member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, she has always felt inspired to apply her technical expertise to advance the status of Indigenous communities.

Conroy-Ben says the scientific focus of these projects applies wastewater-based epidemiology to detect coronavirus in reservation sewer systems.

“We use molecular biology to actually count the virus particles present in wastewater,” she said. “It happens through a process called reverse-transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction, or RT qPCR.”

Coronavirus particles contain single-stranded nucleic acids or molecules known as RNA. Using RT qPCR, the coronavirus RNA segments from the wastewater are transcribed or synthesized by an enzyme into complementary DNA and then amplified or copied to improve their signal to a level that can be detected by analysis.

“However, that RNA is very unstable. It degrades quickly, so it’s difficult to track coronavirus within the wastewater environment,” Conroy-Ben said. “And that’s an issue when we are working with remote tribal communities. By the time we collect the sample, we need to analyze it immediately or we lose the RNA signal.”

Looking for an alternative, Conroy-Ben says the ASU Biodesign Institute research group of her colleagues and co-principal investigators Rolf Halden, a professor of environmental engineering in the Fulton Schools, and Kerry Hamilton, an assistant professor of environmental engineering in the Fulton Schools, is working to develop a new method to quantify the proteins of the coronavirus rather than its RNA.

“Proteins are relatively stable within the environment,” Conroy-Ben said. “So we can investigate whether they represent a more practical way to measure the presence of the virus within a wastewater matrix.”

The sensitivity of these processes enables measurements of coronavirus within a community far more quickly and cheaply than testing individuals with nasal swabs or saliva samples. The RT qPCR process, for example, can detect a single infected individual among hundreds of people in even less-than-ideal sampling conditions. And that real-time data can inform better public health decisions.

But alongside developing these diagnostic tools, the project needs to determine which Native American communities can effectively implement them.

“There are more than 570 registered tribes in the U.S., but only about 100 or so have the wastewater infrastructure in place to actually apply the technology we want to provide,” Conroy-Ben said. “And we’ll invite those tribes to consider participation. But then it becomes a matter of whether they have the necessary staff and protocols in place. It also requires agreements between ASU and the tribes, so it all takes some relationship-building.”

Making those connections and sharing necessary information will happen through a new Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Tribal Coordination Center. While initially not a physical center, it will operate as a network hub for collaboration among tribal leaders, health administrators, wastewater operators, tribal colleges and any others who can help advance the effort.

ASU will encourage this participation through Construction in Indian Country, or CIIC, a program within the Fulton Schools that expands infrastructure development capabilities among tribal communities.

“One key partner in this project is the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, which serves as a planning and development hub for 21 tribes in the state,” said Marcus Denetdale, the program manager for CIIC and a member of the Navajo Nation. “The ITCA will help us to connect with tribes through the Tribal Water Systems training program they conduct for utilities operators in different communities.”

Denetdale adds that the potential of this work is broader than mitigating coronavirus through wastewater analysis. He points out that there is significant work to be done in establishing new health care facilities or improving existing ones on reservations, and the new Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Tribal Coordination Center could foster the connections to help address those needs.

As an example, he references the work that CIIC does with the Indian Health Service, or IHS, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for the majority of hospitals and clinics on tribal lands.

“IHS devotes several hundred million dollars for new construction and renovations,” Denetdale said. “So, as an example, they will fund a tribe to build some new resource. But then it’s up to that tribe to comply with various specifications and deadlines as they hire an architect and a contractor, and conduct an environmental assessment before the project can begin. Combined with time limits for the use of this federal money, there are situations in which funds don’t get used and projects fail to materialize.”

Denetdale says this is why CIIC offers its expertise and its network of professional connections to get these developments completed. For example, the program offers training called CON 101 and 102: Introduction to Construction Management for tribal projects.

Denetdale hopes relationships established through the COVID-19 mitigation work with Conroy-Ben will enable CIIC to extend even more development support. He says this project can also help connect ASU with young Native Americans who are interested in doing research related to the environment or who would thrive in infrastructure and construction careers.

“We may find the next cohort of Native American engineering professors and practicing professionals from this collaborative effort,” he said. “And that’s really exciting.”

But first, Denetdale and his colleagues need to start outreach for Conroy-Ben’s wastewater analysis project. They expect to work with up to 10 tribes based on current funding. Those will include tribes in Arizona because of the logistical advantages of proximity. But Denetdale says they have many contacts in Oklahoma and in the Dakotas, as well as with tribes in Washington state.

“We are happy to go wherever we are needed,” he said. “We just need to get the word out.”

Gary Werner

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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ASU research reveals dismal record of hiring Black NFL head coaches

February 5, 2021

Global Sport Institute panel experts say team owners might face pressure or even litigation

A new Arizona State University study shows the dismal record of hiring Black head coaches in the NFL — a league in which three-quarters of the players are Black.

The research was unveiled Feb. 5 during a panel discussion titled “How the NFL Moves Forward," sponsored by the Global Sport Institute at ASU.

The Global Sport Institute study, “NFL Head Coach Hiring and Pathways in the Rooney Rule Era,” was presented by Rachel Lofton, project coordinator for the Global Sport Institute. It covers the seasons 2002–03 to 2019–20 and shows:

  • Of the 115 head coaching hires in that time period, 92 were white men.
  • There were three seasons when no head coaches of color were hired.
  • White and minority head coaches have similar winning percentages.

Several speakers noted that in the most recently completed cycle of hiring, in January, one Black man, one Arab-American man and five white men were hired for the seven open head coach positions.

“By any standard, the hiring this season in the NFL has been abysmal,” said Ken Shropshire, the adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport and the CEO of the Global Sport Institute.

“Hiring one African-American coach with seven openings is really head-scratching. At the same time, it’s an odd year because I would say the league itself, the league office in New York, has done a lot of work (in diversity and equity),” he said.

There are currently three Black head coaches in the NFL: the newly hired David Culley of the Houston Texans, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores.

That’s the same number of Black head coaches as when the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule in 2003. The Rooney Rule, named after the late Dan Rooney, former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, requires NFL franchises to interview minority candidates for senior football operations and head coaching positions.

Jim Rooney, son of Dan Rooney, was a panelist at the Friday webinar.

“I think my father did a good job with this and folks get to hide behind his good work, and it’s difficult to watch that year after year,” said Rooney, author of the book "A Different Way to Win.”

Doug Williams is the senior adviser to the president of the Washington Football Team and was the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He disputed that the problem is not enough qualified Black coaches in the pipeline.

“We have them in the pipeline. It’s a matter of opening the valve,” he said.

“You’ve got 75% African Americans in your dressing room. They want to see somebody who looks like them.”

The panelists agreed that the responsibility lies with the 32 team owners.

“My experience dealing with NFL owners is, at the end of the day, no hiring decisions are made without his or her blessing,” said Ray Anderson, vice president of university athletics at ASU and a former agent. 

“There’s not a general manager who will make that decision without having the backing of the owner.”

So what could make the NFL owners change their behavior?

Esé Ighedosa, a former lawyer with the NFL and now the president of House of Athlete wellness company, said that it might come down to external pressure.

“I was someone who wanted to believe it was unconscious bias and team owners hiring people they are ‘more comfortable’ with, but at some point, it seems really intentional and it’s hard to accept that,” she said.

“If you’re anywhere in the NFL, you’re around Black people all the time. And you’re comfortable with a player when they come to your house but not comfortable when they help run your organization?

“We have to say that out loud.”

She said that the reasoning of being “more comfortable” with white people can no longer be excused.

“You can say, ‘This person reminds me of myself when I was young,’ but a Black person might never remind of you of yourself when you were young but I don’t believe that’s in the job description,” Ighedosa said.

She said that fans might be able to make a difference.

“I don’t know if fans care, but if they started to care like they care about what Facebook is doing, or what Google is doing, then there could be consumer activism in sports, where fans say, ‘I have issues with your hiring practices,’” she said.

“That could move the needle.”

Rod Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said that change will demand a collective effort by players, sponsors and, possibly, the government.

“We’re dealing with businesses that rely on public funding for stadiums and so forth,” said Graves, who was general manager of the Arizona Cardinals from 2002 to 2012. “They should be held to a higher standard.”

He also said that lack of diversity in NFL hiring goes beyond the sidelines.

“We’ve allowed them to confine this conversation to NFL teams and the NFL office and what takes place on the field, but if you pull back the sheet on the NFL and look at properties and media and all the other subsidiaries, you’ll find their record on diversity of leadership is just as dismal.”

N. Jeremi Duru, professor of law at American University Washington College of Law, noted that the Rooney Rule began after a threat of litigation, which ultimately never materialized.

“It is not unfathomable that there could be a lawsuit,” he said. He added that such a case would likely be against a team when there is evidence of discrimination.

“In the context now where people are finding their voice and talking about systemic discrimination, I can’t promise there won’t be activist litigation that comes to bear.”

Rooney said his father’s actions were driven by more than business.

“He believed it was a moral and spiritual imperative to do this. He believed he had to be accountable to his own faith and his own soul in doing this,” he said. “I don’t know how you transfer that.”

Rooney said people will “vote with their feet.”

“Maybe they’ll stop watching games. That would disrupt the business enough to get their attention.”

The Global Sport Institute research report included a deep dive into pathways to head coaching, including offensive coordinator and the slightly more promising path for Black candidates, defensive coordinator. Both are dominated by white men.

The study also looked at playing experience. Overall, coaches of color had higher levels of playing experience than white head coaches. Six white head coaches in the time period studied had not played at all beyond high school or community college. No Black head coaches had that lack of experience.

“There is a common misconception that to be an NFL head coach you have to have played, but when we look at that data, that’s not the case,” Lofton said.

That raises the question about women in the NFL, she said.

“If you don’t have to play, why can’t you coach?”

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News