Coming Soon: A New Center for Indigenous and Native Students at Tufts

The Indigenous People Center will open to the Tufts community as the newest identity center in the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion
Yellow fall leaves on the Tufts University Medford/Somerville campus. Photo: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University
"The launch of the Indigenous People Center creates a safe, dedicated space for students who want to support their Indigenous and Native American peers," said Ellise LaMotte. Photo: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University
October 25, 2021

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A new identity center to serve Indigenous and Native American students at Tufts will open to the community later this academic year under the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion (DSDI), which serves as a resource for undergraduate and graduate students interested in thinking about social identities and the ways they impact the world. The new center will join the university’s seven other centers, including Africana, Asian American, FIRST, LGBT, Latinx, Women’s, and the Center for STEM Diversity.

Starting November 1, DSDI will be led by Ellise LaMotte, associate dean of student diversity, inclusion, and success for the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering.

“The launch of the Indigenous People Center demonstrates Tufts’ commitment to equity and inclusion and creates a safe, dedicated space for students who want to support their Indigenous and Native American peers. I look forward to working with students who identify as Indigenous and keeping an open dialogue about how we can support them during their time at Tufts,” said LaMotte.

The decision to establish the new center, which will be located at 112 Packard Avenue on the Medford/Somerville campus, was made by James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Kyongbum Lee, dean ad interim of the School of Engineering. The opening of the center is one of several recommendations that Tufts is implementing from the Compositional Diversity Anti-Racism Workstream on how to better recruit and support Native and Indigenous students, according to JT Duck, dean of admissions for the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. (Compositional Diversity was one of the five workstreams within the Tufts as an Anti-Racist Institution initiative, which issued its recommendations in February 2021.)

LaMotte will hire an associate director of the Indigenous People Center, who will hold a joint DSDI/Admissions staff position. The associate director will “play a role in the admissions process through building relationships with Native and Indigenous prospective students, with tribal communities, and with Native-serving schools and college access organizations,” said Duck.

Tufts actively recruits Native and Indigenous students through multiple initiatives. For example, Duck and the Admissions team began working with the Indigenous Students Organization at Tufts (ISOT) last fall in order to better communicate the experiences of Indigenous students at Tufts to prospective students. “Hearing directly from current and recent students about their experiences is critical in helping prospective students understand what the experience here might be like for them,” Duck said.

In addition, when announcing news about admitted and enrolling classes at Tufts, the university is now including the number of students who identify with Native or Indigenous heritage, and the number of students who are enrolled citizens of their tribes. In recent years, Tufts has partnered in college admissions programming with College Horizons and the Tokahe Institute’s College Fair and Symposium. These organizations are dedicated to increasing college access and opportunity for Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students.

Collectively, these efforts have contributed to a steadily increasing number of Native and Indigenous students applying to and enrolling at Tufts in each recent first-year class. There was also a sizeable increase in the number of Native and Indigenous students participating in the Admissions Office’s annual Voices of Tufts Diversity Experience program for high school seniors—12 percent of this fall’s Voices participants identify as Indigenous as compared to six percent in each of the two most recent years.

With regard to related faculty hires, last year, the School of Arts and Sciences hired Sarah E.K. Fong as an assistant professor in the Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora (RCD). Fong studies how 19th- and 20th-century social welfare practices and educational institutions reproduced racial difference and settler colonial relations. The hiring is currently under way for another tenure-stream faculty member in RCD to teach courses on Indigenous and Native American studies.

The Land Acknowledgement Committee at Tufts is actively engaged with local Indigenous leaders in order to draft a land acknowledgment for the university and to decide how and when to use the acknowledgement. One of the committee’s leaders is Rob Mack, associate provost and chief diversity officer for the Medford/Somerville campus and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts in Boston. The committee’s hope, according to Mack, is that building relationships with key stakeholders in the Native community through a deliberative process will ultimately yield the strongest and most meaningful recommendations from the committee.

Of the initiatives currently under way at Admissions, Duck offers that “these and other efforts contribute to greater representation for our Native and Indigenous community. There are many more opportunities to explore, and our office remains committed to and energized by building a more diverse, inclusive Tufts.”

Angela Nelson can be reached at angela.nelson@tufts.edu.

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