For Heather Shotton, Fort Lewis College’s new vice president for Diversity Affairs, the heart of her work as a higher education leader is based in equity. Focused on a bold vision for FLC, Shotton looks to transform experiences for all students on campus.
“In higher education, I believe we can create spaces that support students from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and in that recognize the tremendous strength that FLC students bring,” she said. “I want us to recognize what it can mean to create learning environments that center students, honor different knowledge traditions, and encourage the transformative capacity of higher education.”
Shotton is looking forward to creating an even more inclusive environment for students identifying as Indigenous, Latinx, Black, or LGBTQIA+, veterans, students with disabilities, and the many other diversities that make up the richness of the FLC campus.
She believes commitments to inclusivity are meaningful to not only individuals but also communities. As a non-tribal, Native-serving institution, nearly half of the student body is Native American representing more than 185 tribes and Alaska Native villages. Shotton is a citizen of the Wichita & Affiliated Tribes and a Kiowa and Cheyenne descendent.
“FLC is uniquely positioned to be a leader in what it means to be a Native-serving institution,” she said. “To serve Native students is to serve Indigenous communities and tribal nations. There is a tremendous opportunity to think about how FLC is positioned to impact and serve communities in the Four Corners area and beyond.”
What drew Shotton to FLC is the DEI work students, faculty, staff, and administration have already accomplished. She noted language revitalization, inclusive pedagogies, and connectivity to rural and tribal communities in the Four Corners to make education accessible as inspiring examples of FLC’s commitment to DEI.
"Those efforts are really exciting to me. Often, DEI work begins with stated commitments, but then it’s critical to demonstrate those commitments with actions carried out across the institution. From curriculum and classrooms to academic programs and community outreach, it’s about ensuring that the work is infused and woven throughout the institution. Fort Lewis is a leading institution in that regard; that’s what really drew and inspired me to come to Fort Lewis."
“Those efforts are really exciting to me. Often, DEI work begins with stated commitments, but then it’s critical to demonstrate those commitments with actions carried out across the institution,” she said. “From curriculum and classrooms to academic programs and community outreach, it’s about ensuring that the work is infused and woven throughout the institution. Fort Lewis is a leading institution in that regard; that’s what really drew and inspired me to come to Fort Lewis.”
FLC began its reconciliation process in Fall 2019 with the examination of clocktower panels that inaccurately depicted the College’s origin as Fort Lewis Indian School. The initial study of the clocktower panels inspired a campus-wide movement to reconcile the dark history of FLC through the development of a land acknowledgement, the creation of inclusive curriculum, revitalized spaces and programming to improve student wellbeing and belonging, and improved educational opportunities for community members to learn about the atrocities and continued impact of the boarding school era.
Shotton is ready to work alongside those who laid this groundwork: “There is a collective and deep commitment across the institution to advancing DEI and continuing FLC’s reconciliation work. That is meaningful to me, to come in and ask, how do we continue to build this work together and how do we take the visions and needs of our community and put them into action?”
Shotton has an extensive background as an Indigenous Education scholar combined with 16 years of administrative, academic, and student affairs experience. Her record of collaborative leadership at departmental, institutional, and national levels will help FLC make an immediate impact and establish a longer vision of what the institution could accomplish years out.
Prior to FLC, Shotton served as the inaugural Director of Indigenous Education Initiatives for the University of Oklahoma College of Education. The creation of that position arose from advocacy work that she engaged in alongside faculty and students that urged the College of Education to recognize its responsibility to reconcile the historical and present-day impacts of colonial education systems on Indigenous communities, and to deepen its relationships with tribal nations. Additionally, she served as the chair of the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies.
Her scholarship is centered on Indigenous knowledge systems, values, and a politic of community building, through which she seeks to create a space that fosters self-determination and tribal nation building for Indigenous people in higher education. With an established record of publications focused on Indigenous Education and transforming higher education as a site of self-determination for Indigenous communities, her research has been published in top-ranked, competitive journals, and broad access journals. Most recently, her extensive knowledge of Indigenous centered pedagogical approaches, Indigenous student support systems, and relationship building with tribal nations were central, along with an interdisciplinary team, to the development, planning, and implementation of a $1.5 million National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Program focused on supporting tribal nation building through a scholarship program in the University of Oklahoma Department of Computer Science.
Shotton said her career and her impact have been possible through intentional relationship building and viewing her work through a lens of equity and justice. Rooted in a shared leadership approach, she’s eager to join the FLC community in developing a vision of small, incremental changes that lead to broad, lasting change.
“When I think about justice and equity, it requires a focus on how we undo harm and harmful practices that have impacted marginalized communities,” she said. “Our work has to involve changing systems so that we don’t recreate that harm; we have to be responsible to the students and communities we’re serving.”