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For Dean At Lawrence's Haskell Indian Nations University, Tribalism And Twitter Are Teaching Tools

Jen Chen
KCUR 89.3

In her Twitter bio, Julia Good Fox says she’s “unapologetically tribalist.”

“I love tribalism, and that might be shocking,” she told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard.

People have been taught that it’s a negative word, she added, “which is very interesting, considering how many American Indian tribes we have here, and considering that this is an indigenous area.”

Good Fox is the dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences at Haskell Indian Nations University. Her job, in a nutshell, includes helping with the day-to-day operations and with long-term planning of the school.

She also wants to make sure that her students are having the “Haskell experience.”

Haskell students come from at least 140 different tribes every semester, she said. And like college students everywhere, some are homesick and some are adjusting to living in Kansas.

Because of the school’s small size, she said, they can work closely with the students. And they can also make sure that the faculty and employees are committed to the mission of serving Indian country.

According to Good Fox, there are around 35 tribal colleges in the United States. Most are in rural areas, and they accept non-tribal students.

However, Haskell is an exception. It’s just one of two tribal colleges that are fully funded by the federal government and is under the purview of the Department of the Interior. (The other is Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico). Only American Indians and Alaskan Natives can enroll.

Those two schools are a result of a treaty relationship between the United States and their ancestors, said Good Fox.

There’s not a day when she doesn’t think about why tribal schools were set up in the first place.

Good Fox grew up in Oklahoma as a citizen of the Pawnee Nation. She and her siblings were the first generation in her family who didn’t go to an American Indian boarding school.

From the late 19th century up through World War II, these boarding schools forcibly separated children from their families, which destabilized the tribal community, she said.

“When I was growing up, my mom would say, ‘Oh, I didn’t have a mom like other people think of their mom. My mom was an institution,’” said Good Fox.

Through the social movements of the 1960s and the 1970s, these boarding schools and colleges became more American Indian-focused. The rise of tribal college movement during that time led to a curriculum that’s based on the community that it serves.

As an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, Good Fox realized that she wanted to work in higher education. While she was working on her Ph.D at KU, a friend told her that Haskell had an open adjunct position in the English department.

She thought she would stay for just a semester. She’s been there for 15 years.

“The first day I walked onto campus it felt like home,” she said. “I suppose that because it looked like me. It felt like family. Being around tribal people just felt right.”

A prolific Twitter user with more than 2,180 followers, Good Fox described a day at her job in a “Tweet-along” earlier this year.

“I wanted to put a face on the type of work I do,” she said. “I wanted to demystify the role of dean.”

The effort was partly in response to politicians who have questioned the relevance of higher education, she said. She also wanted to show how accessible administrators can be.

Good Fox said she’s planning on doing a Tweet-along every six weeks or so. For her, Twitter meshes with her own philosophy of having a borderless classroom.

“I think that no matter what college class we’re taking, no matter what the topic is … that class needs to be directly relevant to our communities,” she said. “If that instructor, if that professor can’t make that connection, then they probably, in my opinion, don’t belong in the classroom.”

Education is “more than memorizing,” she said.

For Good Fox, tribalism means self-determination, sovereignty and respectful co-existence. That’s something she sees in the school’s relationship with Lawrence.

Lawrence is coming along in its recognition of Haskell, she said. Especially with the younger generation of business owners.

“Lawrence is very lucky to have the flagship university but also a tribal college,” she said. “Not many communities can brag about that.”

Listen to the full conversation here.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org and follow her on Twitter @JenChenKC.

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