The University of North Dakota (UND) is currently conducting a search for a new president. According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, the 16-member search committee does not include any Native Americans. David Gipp, a UND alumnus and president of the United Tribes Technical College, has asked the State Board of Higher Education to appoint a Native American to the search committee. I feel that this is reasonable given the fact that Native students represent the largest minority group at UND. John Q. Paulsen, president of the State Board of Higher Education disagrees with Mr. Gipp and myself:
John Q. Paulsen, president of the State Board of Higher Education, said the selection committee can adequately consider American Indian issues even though it lacks an American Indian member. He said the board narrowed a list of hundreds of suggested names, including those from minority groups, in choosing the committee.
“We weren’t concerned as much about ethnic background as we were about people’s ability to make good decisions in selecting a new president,” Paulsen said.
Paulsen said members of the American Indian community can send questions and comments to search committee members, who can pass them on to the applicants.
(via Diverse Issues in Higher Education)
I think the problem with Paulsen’s response to Gipp’s letter is that it completely encased in white privilege and racism. Paulsen completely dismisses ethnicity in favor of ability. Isn’t identity important? Our identities help with shaping our decisions. It is almost as if Paulsen is saying that the lived experience of being non-Native American is the same as someone who is Native American. It seems to me that Paulsen and the State Board of Higher Education in North Dakota are overtly barring Native Americans from a process in which Native voices need to be heard. Ignoring the voices of people of color is a racist action.
I truly hope that Mr. Paulsen reconsiders his statements and realizes that having a Native voice on the search committee is an extremely important and just action.
Native Americans at the University of North Dakota have had to endure a similar form of oppression as Native folks at the University of Illinois. UND is one of only a few institutions of higher education that still use Native imagery as an athletic mascot.
By blatantly ignoring a member of the Native American community, the State Board of Higher Education in North Dakota is continuing its tradition of ignoring Native Americans and their allies.
According to the American Psychological Association:
“The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in school and university athletic programs in particularly troubling,” says APA President, Ronald F. Levant, EdD. “Schools and universities are places of learning. These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and, too often, insulting images of American Indians. And these negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.“