Update: Native American Task Force & DU’s ongoing commitment
Dear DU community members,
Tenacity and a commitment to realizing our mission of serving the public good are defining characteristics of the University of Denver. We call, and have been called on, to do more, act faster, and dig deeper on many issues facing our community and society broadly. These issues often disproportionately affect the most marginalized and vulnerable populations, each of which experience unique barriers and stigmatization.
Without question, there is much work to be done in many areas but, in this communication, I’d like to focus on one in particular: the University’s relationship with Native American and Indigenous communities in light of our institutional history, the land our campus occupies, and that land’s implication in the Sand Creek Massacre of November 1864. In addition to acknowledging the lasting impact of this history, our mission calls for us to ensure that Native American students, staff, faculty, alumni, and communities are able to benefit fully from the education, programs, and scholarship that DU offers.
This is hard work and there are no easy solutions. Many in the community feel continued pain and frustration. The conversations we have had and will continue to have involve many complexities. But, importantly, we have challenged ourselves to listen, to learn, and to consider our painful history as an impetus to better serve our Native American and Indigenous community members today and into the future.
A significant part of that effort, the Task Force on Native American Inclusivity, established by Chancellor Chopp as a follow-up to the recommendations of the John Evans Study Committee, released its in May 2016. Since then, the University has made much progress, including the establishment of community partnerships with the Cheyenne and Arapaho communities and sponsorship of the Annual Healing Run, along with significant increases in our Native American student population and the hiring of several new Native American faculty and staff members, and the creation of new positions. And yet, I think it’s important to recognize that even more progress can be made.
To that end, and at my request, Interim Provost Corinne Lengsfeld began meeting with members of the original task force, as well as additional Native American faculty and staff, to re-examine the 2016 report and its recommendations. The participants in these meetings have recommended to Provost Lengsfeld and me several priorities. I want to share these priorities with the entire community so that we may continue to hold ourselves accountable and move the needle forward.
Resources & Infrastructure
The task force recommends potential expansion of financial, structural, and staffing support. This might result in a multi-person team housed in a dedicated center or institute fully equipped to facilitate momentum and bring together Native American students, staff, faculty, and research.
Another recommendation is the reinvigoration and continued funding for the Native American Community Advisory Board, established in the Autumn of 2017 and comprised of internal and external constituents. This group should meet once or twice annually and be governed by bylaws and organized under the formalized charge.
Recruitment & Retention
The task force recommends the establishment of new financial aid streams for Native American and Indigenous students—or an expansion of the aid currently offered.
Curriculum & Academic Support
The task force recommends funding support for a faculty writing group and also advocates for more coordinated curriculum, research, and conferences on Native American and Indigenous issues and stories.
Transparency & Clarity
The task force recommends clear articulation of the roles and coordination of staff, faculty, and administration directly in charge of support for Native American and Indigenous Peoples on campus.
Respect & Care
The task force recommends that DU reaffirm its commitment to acknowledging its history. This includes the continued respect for and display of tribal flags, the continued inclusion of ceremonial events and acknowledgments at major campus events, the continuation of culturally significant events (such as the Pow Wow, Blanket Ceremony, and healing runs), as well as book loans and housing supplements through SAIE.
I am personally grateful to all those who have contributed to and shared the above priorities with Provost Lengsfeld and me. The benefit of their voices and experiences serve DU well as we continue to press forward. We are committed to implementing these recommendations, and I welcome feedback from the entire community as we take these priorities and turn them into measurable action items.
In the coming weeks, I also intend to share an update on the previous demands presented to the administration by DU’s student affinity groups—demands focused on making DU a more equitable, welcoming place for students of color and other marginalized groups.
In closing, I’d like to reaffirm that I’m committed to the continued positive change this community wants to see. While I humbly acknowledge the difficulty of quickly solving some of the challenges we face, there are without question clear steps we can take. So, over the coming months, we will take them.
My deep thanks, once again, to everyone who has contributed to these vital conversations.