Call to Action: The Board of Regents and the U of M
The next U of M President must commit to undoing higher education’s role in systemic racial harm to American Indians (and all People of Color)
As the U of M searches for its next president, MnEEP calls on the U to commit to building measurable pathways for undoing harm to People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) and building a system that supports and embraces all students in achieving their goals for educational attainment.
Recently, students gathered to protest the current appointment of interim president Jeff Ettinger, the former CEO of the Hormel Foods Corporation. This must be a clarion call to listen to student voices and center student voices, needs, and goals—especially POCI students—as they pursue their education.
While facing unique realities, the experience of American Indians is instructive of the ways major social systems perpetuate harm to all communities that have been racialized by white supremacy. In April, the TRUTH (Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing) Project released a detailed and damning report outlining the institutional harm to Native peoples the U of M has committed since 1851.
The report detailed genocide; forced removal; land expropriation— 186,791 acres of land that Congress granted Minnesota between 1851 and 1868; wealth transfer and accumulation; revisionist history; and Indigenous erasure.
The report highlighted how: “The University of Minnesota has failed to adequately teach the correct history of this land, resulting in the perpetuation of a lack of knowledge of Tribal sovereignty, Indigenous rights, and benefits of diverse environments among UMN graduates and Regents alike.”
As the U of M conducts the search for its next President, it’s critical the new Regents and the search committee utilize these findings to seek a President who will recognize and support Indigenous rights and sovereignty and commit to undoing the persistent, systemic harm done to Native communities across Minnesota. It should do the same for centering its mission on African American, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander communities.
The U of M Board of Regents and the next President must be held to account to build intentional and meaningful change by honoring Indigenous languages, histories, cultures, and experiences in University policy and practice.
And as a land grant institution, it must be incumbent on the next U of M President to build measurable and sustainable systems change that centers racial equity and increases access to higher education and college completion for Minnesota’s Native communities. It should do the same for African American, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander communities.
This is both a moral imperative and a necessity for Minnesota’s social/economic well-being.
The system must be redesigned to serve POCI students
Minnesota statutory law established a target goal that 70 percent of Minnesota adults ages 25 to 44 will have a postsecondary certificate or degree by 2025. We have less than two years to meet that target, and it will be difficult to do so given that we presently stand at 55.6 percent attainment, according to data from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (MOHE).
Yet, for American Indian Minnesotans, only 20.5 percent currently have an associate’s degree or higher credential, according to data from MOHE. For white Minnesotans, it’s 60.7 percent.
At the U of M, that deep disproportionality is consistently mirrored in American Indian college completion rates. For enrollment years 2011-2018, 67 percent of white students enrolled at the U of M completed a Bachelor’s degree in six years or less. For American Indian students, only 42 percent completed a Bachelor’s degree in six years or less.
These deep disparities paint a picture of a system continuing to perpetuate trauma and harm in American Indian communities and the crucial need to center American Indian voices to build an education system that honors, validates, and uplifts the culture, heritage, history, and languages of Native communities.
While the disparities are not as stark with Black/African American and Latino students (55 percent completion in six years or less and 58 percent, respectively), inequitable outcomes also exist with these students compared to their white counterparts, and as such, the University must similarly go after solutions with culturally validating pedagogies.
At MnEEP, our research shows building culturally validating education spaces and practices is crucial for increasing college access and completion for more students of color and Indigenous students.
We call on the Board of Regents and the search committee to seek a presidential candidate committed to addressing and undoing ongoing racially systemic harm and inequities and especially to center Native voices, experiences, and needs to build a University that honors the human dignity of all people.