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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Something is missing on BSU search committee

An injustice has occurred -- an important voice is being silenced. The Bemidji State University presidential search advisory committee does not have one American Indian person among the 17 members.

An injustice has occurred - an important voice is being silenced. The Bemidji State University presidential search advisory committee does not have one American Indian person among the 17 members.
While this may not seem important, let’s put things into context. As a regional university, BSU’s mission is to serve all citizens in our area.
BSU is centered between the three largest American Indian reservations. American Indians are 20-25 percent of Bemidji. Twenty percent of the children in  the Bemidji Schools are American Indian. We are a part of this community.
Yet, our voice is not represented in selecting the new BSU president. The American Indian perspective on education is unique, profoundly shaped by the Boarding School era. American Indians have the largest achievement gap in the nation. Minnesota is 50th in high school graduation rates for American Indians. At the college level, we are the most underrepresented group. This is true right here at BSU - only 4 percent of BSU students are American Indian.
Again, 25 percent of Bemidji is American Indian - that disparity should not exist. Retention rates for American Indians at BSU are 35 percent and six-year graduation rates are 13 percent. Many factors contribute to this, historical and contemporary, both within and outside the university. The lack of representation in leadership and decision-making is one of them.
How could this happen? The process for selecting committee members seemed “fair.” The unions for each of the BSU/NTC representatives called for nominations and the members voted, so the most qualified persons were selected, in the most “fair” way, right? Well, this is a striking example of a race-neutral policy, meant to be fair, results in the unfair practice of oppressing the racial minority. There were American Indians nominated.
As a professor of psychology, who is an expert in race relations, this is what we call a microaggression - an unintentional act of bias with an underlying message. The message for American Indians is: that our voice doesn’t matter; that we don’t belong at the table; that BSU is not for us.
This is not hyperbole; this is the everyday experience for American Indians.
I am sure the committee members are good decent people, who are compassionate and care about American Indians. But the reality is they don’t have the same lived experience and deep understanding of American Indians’ relationship to education. That voice must be heard.
John Gonzalez
Associate Professor of Psychology, BSU
Bemidji

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