The College Curriculum Council recently approved a new concentration in Critical Native American and Indigenous Studies, as announced at the April faculty meeting by Besenia Rodriguez ’00, the College’s Assistant Dean for Curriculum and Co-Curriculum. The concentration will first be offered in fall 2022, according to Rae Gould, executive director of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative.
As with the existing concentration in Ethnic Studies, the new concentration will be offered through the Department of American Studies. The concentration will focus “on researching, teaching and engaging with the social, cultural, artistic, ancestral, heritage, legal and political experiences” of Native American and Indigenous peoples, according to Gould, who is a member of the Nipmuc Nation.
The concentration will consist of 10 course requirements in total, including a foundation course, four courses related to an area of interest chosen by the student, and a capstone course, according to a concentration plan shared with The Herald by Gould. Students must also take four elective courses that cover at least two established “scope areas” within the concentration, which include “Creative Expressions”, “History, Politics and Political Issues”, “Language and Identity” and “ Knowledge and belief systems. “Those who pursue the concentration will also have the option of completing a thesis or honors project.
Courses that have been approved to meet concentration requirements span multiple departments and areas of interest, Gould said. Hired faculty members will also be drawn from existing departments, although NAISI is currently looking for a professor to serve as the initiative’s inaugural faculty director, she added.
Rodriguez said she first met Gould in 2019 after NAISI received a grant to help develop focus from the Mellon Foundation, which supports initiatives across the country aimed at strengthening the arts and humanities. . In February 2021, NAISI announced the formation of a task force — comprised of faculty and students with cross-disciplinary perspectives — that would create a concentration proposal, The Herald previously reported.
According to Rodriguez, the CCC’s executive committee reviewed the initial concentration proposal in the fall of 2021 and provided feedback to the faculty committee, which led to a revised proposal. The full CCC approved this version in February, although the board is still waiting to approve the new capstone course required for all concentrators.
Gould emphasized that students remain essential to both the mission and the development of the focus. “Students are an important part of our raison d’être,” she said.
“As I get older and move away from the student generation, I’ve noticed that interests shift,” Gould added. “It was really helpful to have undergraduates to provide input” during the focus development process.
Makana Kushi GS, member of the Kanaka Maoli community and coordinator of the NAISI program, pointed out that students have been involved in the programming of the initiative since its inception. NAISI came about as a result of students advocating for the University to provide more educational opportunities about Native American and Indigenous peoples, she said.
Kushi added that Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at the University have been asking for a concentration in critical Native American and Indigenous studies for some time, citing the fact that current courses that focus on “Indigenous studies…are always filled.”
Many of the students and scholars involved in designing the concentration are members of Indigenous communities, according to Gould. As the focus grows, “there are plans to engage with local tribes and perhaps beyond,” she added.
Gould believes the new focus will be crucial for undergraduates, especially “Native American and Indigenous students (who) will be able to engage more deeply with the stories, issues, and topics related to their families, cultures, and communities.” legacies,” she said. emphasizing the importance of receiving credit for this work.
But the concentration will also benefit non-Indigenous students, who have made up the majority of the student body in Gould’s classes over the years, she added. “Sharing the history and knowledge of Indigenous peoples trains future generations of leaders who never had this information before.”
For Rodriguez, the new concentration reflects a greater effort by the University to equip students with the knowledge and resources needed to solve global problems. “Providing this opportunity for students to engage more deeply with issues of Indigenous history and contemporary struggles for sovereignty across the Americas and beyond is essential,” she wrote.
It is also important that students “be able to understand human rights and social justice issues through the lens of Indigenous rights and struggles,” she added.
“We hope that through this focus, Brown can support the education of the next generation of leaders who will be better informed on these topics and help improve the lives and experiences of Indigenous peoples around the world,” Gould said. .
The concentration proposal echoes this idea of “Indigenous-centered knowledge production and engagement with indigenous and indigenous communities,” according to Rogriguez, meaning that the work carried out under the concentration will actively benefit these communities.
“We’re trying to move away from just studying Native people to serving Native people directly,” Gould said.
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