“Indigenize Academia Now!” Prioritizes More Diverse Academia at Claremont

Maya Lozinsky ’23
Staff Writer
March 12, 2020

A club called “Indigenize Academia Now!” is taking on a new initiative at the Claremont Colleges. Indigenize Academia Now!, or IAN!, consists of a group of impassioned students, professors, and faculty who strive to increase the availability of and support for Indigenous and Native Studies, or NAIS, resources to students and faculty at the 5C’s.

“IAN! is a collaborative working group of Indigenous students from across the Claremont Colleges who share a common goal of protecting and uplifting Native American and Indigenous Studies here on campus” Jonas Banta PZ ’20 said.

According to Liv Irwin POM ’20, one of the club’s founders, the main goal of IAN! is “promoting decolonial education throughout the Claremont Colleges through supporting Native Indigenous students and Academics.”

The need for IAN! on the 5C’s arose out of the 5C Indigenous Peer Mentoring Program last spring when students felt as though they could benefit from more resources for Indigenous and Native students on campus. As a mentor for the Indigenous Peer Mentoring Program, Banta understood the specific challenges associated with NAIS.

“[I] saw my role as fulfilling a responsibility to future Indigenous students in the hopes that they might not face as many of the difficulties that I had in trying to find NAIS on campus, seek institutional recognition for this field of study, and defend and support Indigenous faculty,” Banta said.

Leaders of the club emphasized the necessity for a club that dealt with the complexities of this topic.

“Often administration doesn’t understand the need for Native and Indigenous Studies because they refer to the ample ethic studies programming that already exists at the colleges,” Irwin said.

While the 5C’s provide resources for minority groups such as the Office of Black Student Affairs or the Queer Resource Center, no such corresponding institution exists for Indigenous and Native students.

“What the administration must understand is that there exists no equivalent to NAIS at the Claremont Colleges,” Irwin said. “Without a resource center, it is often difficult to know about all the efforts on campus relating to Native and Indigenous people and studies.”

Irwin experienced the frustrations of a lacking resource center and representation for NAIS academia firsthand.

“During the creation of my own major in Indigenous Studies at Pomona, I received a lot of admin pushback. My major was rejected by the Pomona curriculum committee at first,” said Irwin.

Without ample recognition and resources on campus, the sect of Native and Indigenous academia is often overlooked. Currently, there is no established major or minor academic track in NAIS.

“My personal hope is that students won’t have to individually go to bat for these studies as a valuable academic route but will instead have a structure to follow should they choose to peruse Native studies,” Banta said.

Over the past two years, four students from across the 5Cs have chosen to design their own majors in NAIS.

Despite this administrative pushback, some select professors and faculty members have proved their dedication to cause.

“The work and effort put in by these faculty members is above and beyond their roles as professors,” Irwin said. “Our collective is not doing sexy work, this project is messy, frustrating, and takes a lot of effort. But together, we’ve been able to make some really tangible changes already.”

Members are hopeful that the Claremonts will expand their options for Indigenous education in the near future.

“In the future, we might hope to see more institutional support for these endeavors, rather than students and faculty hobbling together what spare time they have,” said Banta.

Faculty have been instrumental in helping club initiatives to come to fruition. Professor Claudia Arteaga was a part of a team that helped create a new filter tab on the 5C class selection portal that now allows students to search classes under a “Native and Indigenous Studies” tab.

Although that may seem like a small step, club leaders say that it signifies larger recognition from the administration and serves as a reward for all the efforts of the students and faculty who have contributed to the efforts of IAN!

Although “Indigenize Academia Now!” is just one organization at the 5C’s, more and more colleges are incorporating NAIS into their curriculums, and responding to the needs and desires of Indigenous and Native students. Organizations such as IAN! do more than just advocate for NAIS in college curriculums, providing resources and a sense of belonging and representation for Indigenous students.

“My experience with IAN! has been a beautiful one and has strengthened my friendships and my understanding of Native epistemology in a very practical way,” Banta said. “We have always sought to lift each other up, and I find comfort in knowing that my peers care just as deeply about the issues we face.

Image Credit: Pinterest