Each year, FLC sees an increase in the number of first- generation, Native American, and Latinx students enrolling, with students of color representing 53% of FLC’s student population. As racial and economic diversity increase across the FLC campus community, so too does FLC’s commitment to inclusivity and equity.
In 2018, Jesse Peters, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, submitted a grant proposal to the Mellon Foundation. He aimed to bring in funds that would better serve students and strengthen them as citizen-leaders in today’s society. FLC was awarded a three-year $500,000 grant to address equity and inclusivity in the curriculum and on campus, as well as to enhance undergraduate research in the humanities. The grant directly supports initiatives from the new strategic plan, including the need for racial diversity in faculty and integrating inclusive teaching strategies into classrooms.
“The Mellon grant extends the strengths of FLC and puts us in a position to innovate,” says Dean Peters.
"The Mellon Grant is just one part of the many ways FLC is committed to both faculty and student success,” Peters says. “As we have seen this year with the changes demanded by COVID-19, adapting to diverse needs and complex situations is the path to success for us all. Fort Lewis College stands by its commitment to self-determination, expression, and sovereignty for all students, faculty, and staff. I believe that we walk best when we walk together, and many eyes make a stronger vision."
The grant is titled “Literacies, Inclusion, and Transit (LIT) in the Twenty-First Century,” and looks at ways professors can better serve students and strengthen them as citizen leaders in today’s society. Under Literacies, students are exposed to multicultural scholars and enhanced undergraduate research opportunities in the humanities, with the goal of students using different lenses to view their world and engage with the perspectives of others. The Inclusion prong infuses the educational experience with considerations of difference that lead to inclusion rather than exclusion. Lastly, the Transit approach helps faculty guide students in adjusting to local, regional, and global changes as they pursue their career paths.
“In Literacies, Inclusion, and Transit we are creating a space that helps students with the framework of their world. We are preparing them for life in those three areas,” says Peters. “It’s also providing the skills that employers want, innovation, creativity, adaptability, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration.”
In the past year, the three-pronged structure has brought five visiting scholars to campus, extended unique undergraduate research options to students, and provided diversity training and pedogogical development for faculty.
Through the course of the grant, five scholars have come to FLC as presenters and Visiting Fellows. In November 2018, Herman Cody and Avery Denny, both faculty at Diné College in Arizona, presented "Integrating Diné Epistomologies and Perspectives Into Higher Education-Teaching." In March 2019, Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network presented "Earth Jurisprudence: Protecting the Rights of Nature." The Mellon Grant supported these visits organized by the Native American Center and the Political Science faculty respectively. Many students and faculty interacted with the scholars during their visits, and their talks provided subjects for discussions linked across the curriculum.
For the 2019-20 academic year, two Mellon Fellows joined FLC as visiting instructors in the Sociology & Human Services department and the Native American & Indigenous Studies department. Deanne Grant is an FLC alumna (International Studies, ’04) and has master's degrees in International Studies and Indigenous Governance, and she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder in Ethnic Studies. Grant is Pawnee from Oklahoma. Bridgette Groat holds a doctorate in History from Arizona State University. Groat is Alaska Native and did her doctoral research on the history of salmon fishing in her community.
In addition to their teaching schedules, they hosted talks on campus and facilitated workshops. At their talk “Looking Beyond the Linear Path to Higher Education,” they both spoke about their academic journeys, including the successes and struggles. Both referenced the mentors they connected with early on who not only encouraged them to continue their studies, but to bring their experience as Indigenous women to academia and shift the system of higher education.
“Be willing to be mentored and have the willingness to find those people, they’re there,” Grant says. “Academia will reward you for sacrificing everything to it, and it will take everything from you if you let it. Trust your instincts and make sure it works for you spiritually and physically.”
Both of these scholars have since been hired by FLC as tenure track Assistant Professors and will join the faculty permanently in the fall. “The Mellon grant makes bringing in visiting faculty like Dr. Groat and Dr. Grant possible,” says Dean Peters. “I believe the chance to work here for a year, while providing mentorship and serving as role models for many of our students, influenced them to apply for permanent positions. They saw what a special place FLC is for faculty.”
FLC will have eight tenured or tenure track Native American faculty in the fall, doubling the number since 2017.
During the 2018-19 academic year, 12 faculty members from the Arts & Humanities received Mellon funding to mentor student research projects. Professor of Art Chad Colby, coordinator for the undergraduate research wing of the Mellon grant, has always encouraged his art students to take what they do seriously as research.
“I think there’s a blurred boundary between what’s considered research and creative activities, one that’s maybe more outcome-based versus exploratory, but I think it’s really all one in the same,” Colby says. “For students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences to really take projects and getting funding seriously, they need to have a faculty mentor to guide them and open their eyes to opportunities that are out there.”
Colby said the Mellon grant offers a rich branch of teaching and mentoring. It’s also proven to be beneficial to students too, especially for ones who are the first in their family to go to college or those who have faced other barriers in their education. The high impact experiences between faculty and students leads to better engagement and retention.
“There’s been a shift in higher education from the teacher-student lecture model to more project-based learning,” Colby says. “Students are designing their own projects, and that just seems to be more meaningful to traditionally underserved students. When it is more of a small group, either one-on-one or in a small team, they find a way to really engage more. It’s more profound and in some ways more practical, showing them how they can navigate higher education for themselves, and how this can lead to future opportunities like employment or an internship.”
The grant will continue funding focused projects in the humanities; several have already led to publications and local and national presentations for the students.
Faculty professional development
As leader of the professional development part of the grant, Associate Professor of Education Chiara Cannella has convened a core group of faculty to guide curriculum changes and increase the faculty’s understanding of the factors that shape student experiences, like historical influences and socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. The culturally responsive work has included intensive workshops for 18 current faculty, as well as a set of self-paced introductory tutorials accessed by 40 current and new faculty. Each is focused on faculty strategies to reduce barriers for students and address biases their teaching.
In the "Indigenizing the Syllabus” workshop, faculty focused on foundational ideas related to culturally responsive teaching.
“The workshop shared core information about Native Ways of Knowing, as well as insight into how non-dominant and racially marginalized students often experience higher education,” Cannella says. “Faculty have made changes to how they begin the term, instructional activities, and how they seek to build authentic relationships with students.”
Basic syllabi changes have included adding a land acknowledgement, addressing parenting student needs, aligning assignments with the financial aid disbursement schedule for accessibility, requiring students attend office hours at the start of terms, and guiding students in more reflections on their challenges and successes in college.
“Faculty have already noticed positive student reception to the syllabus statements,” Cannella says. “In addition, students began to attend office hours more regularly to ask questions and talk over assignments, and students began to feel more comfortable participating in a wider range of in-class activities."
The Mellon Grant will conclude in Spring 2021, but the grant coordinators hope to be able to renew for another three years and facilitate more experiences and impact for faculty and students. Dean Peters says that he continues to be impressed by the leadership professors Colby and Cannella provide.
“The Mellon Grant is just one part of the many ways FLC is committed to both faculty and student success,” Peters says. “As we have seen this year with the changes demanded by COVID-19, adapting to diverse needs and complex situations is the path to success for us all. Fort Lewis College stands by its commitment to self-determination, expression, and sovereignty for all students, faculty, and staff. I believe that we walk best when we walk together, and many eyes make a stronger vision.”