The (in) visibility paradox: a case study of American Indian iconography and student resistance in higher education
This case study explores American Indian student activist efforts to protect and promote American Indian education rights that took place during 2007-2008 at a predominantly white institution (PWI) which utilizes an American Indian tribal name as its institutional athletic nickname. Focusing on the experiences of five American Indian student activists, with supplementary testimony from three former university administrators, I explore the contextual factors that led to activism and what they wanted from the institution, how their activism influenced their academic achievement and long-term goals, how the institution and surrounding media (re)framed and (re)interpreted their resistance efforts, and, ultimately, what the university's response to student protest conveys about its commitment to American Indian students and their communities. Data was gathered over a seven-year period (2007-2014) and includes in-depth interviews, participant observation, and archival research. Using Tribal Critical Race Theory and Agenda Setting Theory, this study offers a theoretically informed empirical analysis of educational persistence for American Indian students in an under-analyzed geographic region of the U.S. and extends discussions of race, racism, and the mis/representation and mis/treatment of American Indians in contemporary society.
Findings suggest the university's response significantly impacted the retention and enrollment of its American Indian students. Although a majority of the student activists reported feeling isolated or pushed out by the institution, they did not let this deter them from engaging in other social justice oriented efforts and remained dedicated to the pursuit of social justice and/or the protection of American Indian education rights long after they left the in institution. Students exercised agency and demonstrated personal resilience when, upon realizing the university environment was not malleable, responsive, or conducive to their concerns, they left to advocate for justice struggles elsewhere. Unfortunately for some, the university's strong resistance to their efforts caused some to exit the institution before they had completed their degree.