The Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA) has collected more than 300 signatures in its petition to establish an intercollegiate Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) department.
Members of ISA, a 5C organization, started a petition on Change.org asking the Claremont Colleges to create the department, which would “promote diversity, expand research and knowledge, support local indigenous communities, and increase the social justice work of the colleges,” according to the petition.
Petition signatories include students, professors, and local community members. In addition to gathering supporters online, ISA has collected signatures on dozens of written petitions, which give individuals the opportunity to explain in more detail why they want to see an NAIS department at the Claremont Colleges.
“This is something we had
been thinking about for a long time,” ISA President Mariah Tso SC ’14 said. “We see it as a critical part of our effort
to decolonize education and be accountable to indigenous peoples.”
Pitzer Student Senate Chair Nicolás Romo PZ ’14 signed the Change.org petition.
“This is a
necessary step toward justice and critical thinking on campus,” he said.
Despite support for the department from students and professors on campus, the source of funding for tenured professors and space on campus remains in question. According to Tso, however, costs could be kept to a minimum if currently existing courses were incorporated
into the department.
“People are inclined to
say [the department] is a really great idea, but we don’t
have the resources for that,” she said. “The truth,
however, is we already have quite a few courses being offered that would fit
under a Native American studies requirement or major, so the resources are
To build interest in creating the department, ISA has been hosting a series
of events aimed at discussing issues the Native American community faces. It held an event Feb. 24 titled “Quantum Leap: Blood and Identity in
the Indian Country,” which focused on Native American identity in modern society.
The event was attended
by about 30 people, including Nick Zmijeski PZ ’17.
“It’s time we wake up to
the truth that Native American history and culture has been neglected and
ignored for far too long,” Zmijeski said. “Creating a department to study these
topics would be an important step in the right direction.”
Tso said that she plans to continue
building grassroots momentum for the ISA petition, and is excited about incorporating more
students and community voices into the campaign. She said that contemporary society often sidelines Native American culture and issues.
“I think people really
need to challenge themselves to think about these issues and ask how they
relate to them personally,” she said. “At a liberal
arts college, we pride ourselves in thinking critically, so it’s really
important we do that.”