Harvard Educational Review
  1. Postsecondary Education for American Indian and Alaska Natives

    Higher Education for Nation Building and Self-Determination

    Edited by Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, Amy J. Fann, Angelina E. Castagno, and Jessica A. Solyom

    Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Periodicals, 2012. 152 pp. $29.00.

    As a Native scholar researching American Indian and Alaska Native students in higher education, I often find our students relegated to asterisks at the bottom of the page, footnotes saying “sample size too small,” “the results not statistically significant,” or “no data available.” When data are available, the pattern and story are often the same: Native students in higher education are struggling, they are dropping out, and they are failing. Research that explores the stories and experiences of Native students navigating the world of postsecondary education are few and far between. But in Postsecondary Education for American Indian and Alaska Natives: Higher Education for Nation Building and Self-Determination, we find a resource that weaves together the existing research on American Indian and Alaska Native students, both the stories of struggle and strength, to make an argument for not only the power of postsecondary education in Native communities but also the pressing need for more research in this area.

    Rather than a “simple review of the literature,” the editors conceive of this book as an illustration of how “conversation, research, policy, and practice regarding American Indians in higher education can be framed within the context of tribal nation building” (11). Through the lenses of tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and nation building, the editors show the reader that “postsecondary access and persistence cannot be understood independently from the unique political and legal status of tribes” (11). In order for tribal nations to build capacity in political and economic arenas, they must first be successful academically. This nation-building framework underlies the entire book.

    In the conversations that make up the volume, we are guided through a review of research that covers the postsecondary pipeline for Native students, spanning college access, undergraduate and graduate school experiences, and the experiences of Native faculty members. The text brings in data from large national studies and well-known and often-cited pieces, but it also draws on evidence and research from unpublished doctoral dissertations and master’s theses. In some cases, such as with college access programs that serve Native populations, like GEAR-UP or College Horizons, the editors do the work themselves, including personal communications and internal statistics where no such research yet exists.
    The picture that the research paints is one of survival in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, showing Native students at all points along the pipeline facing feelings of isolation, cultural misunderstandings, racism, perceptions of low expectations, and other challenges. Yet, at each stage, we see Native students and faculty finding strength and success through family, community, and their commitment to giving back to their nations and communities.

    The inclusion of chapters on the specific experiences of Native graduate students and faculty members acknowledges an important shift in Indian Country: as our students move into the college pipeline in higher numbers, no longer is college acceptance and graduation the end goal. Native students are continuing on to graduate and professional schools and into the professoriate, and research and support services need to follow. Despite scant research, it becomes clear that “graduate and professional school participation is not simply about adding letters behind one’s name; it is about being positioned to serve one’s community in ways that may or may not be possible without having attained that success” (89). There seems to be evidence, through cited studies and anecdotes, that the students and faculty who are most successful are those who are working toward the betterment of their tribal communities.

    Throughout, small, careful details define the text—such as the citing of studies in the literature review that strike a balance between highlighting challenges and strengths, clarifications around terminology, and asides that provide context and elucidation for those well versed in the world of Native education as well as those new to the field. These details illuminate the care and passion with which the editors approached providing a text that would be useful to a wide audience without falling into traps of deficit-based thinking or tired stereotypes.

    The final chapter asks, “Where Do We Go from Here?” and provides concrete recommendations for future research, policy, and practice. The editors call not only for more research but for pointed research that would fill in gaps, such as examining the experiences of Native students raised in predominantly white communities or the experiences of Native men navigating the postsecondary pipeline. Additionally, they highlight the need for quantitative data to be disaggregated along tribal, gender, and other lines, which would assist in breaking down perceptions of Native students as a monolithic group. Their policy recommendations stress the unique government-to-government relationship of tribal nations to the U.S. government and the ongoing obligation and commitment made through generations of treaties and promises, a commitment that needs to, and should, be honored through funding and support of Native education initiatives. Finally, the editors challenge educational institutions to critically examine their school climates and policies, to engage with tribal nations, and to work toward goals that benefit Native communities.

    Postsecondary Education for American Indian and Alaska Natives will prove an invaluable resource and reference for those of us in the field of Native higher education, as well as for those who work in student services at high schools, colleges, and graduate schools and wish to better serve our Native populations. Rather than relegate Native students and faculty to an asterisk, this text successfully presents them as centered and strong testaments to the power of education in Native communities.
    a.k.
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    Book Notes

    Postsecondary Education for American Indian and Alaska Natives
    Edited by Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, Amy J. Fann, Angelina E. Castagno, and Jessica A. Solyom

    Asian American Education—Identities, Racial Issues, and Languages
    Edited by Xue Lan Rong and Russell Endo