‘Always on the outside’: Former students share experience being Black and Native American at Haskell
photo by: Screenshot // Haskell Indian Leader
Four former Haskell Indian Nations University students who are both Black and Native American called for the university to implement diversity training and hire more multiracial faculty and staff in a panel discussion on Thursday night.
The panelists participated in a virtual event put on by the student newspaper, The Indian Leader, called “A Conversation on being Native American and Black.” They said the color of their skin made them an “other,” despite attending a university with a diverse mix of cultures.
“There’s a lot of anti-Blackness that does go on there,” said panelist Keiton Guess, who graduated from Haskell in 2017.
Terrance Little John, a 2018 Haskell graduate, said a maintenance worker once came up to him in the Haskell parking lot and told him he looked suspicious. When Little John asked why, the worker responded that a lot of Black drug dealers come to the campus. And Guess said he had a similar experience in which a maintenance worker illegally cut him off in his car to ask why he was on campus.
“We know how hard we’ve worked to get to where we’re at. So it’s kind of like a slap in the face whenever we get questioned on why we’re there — what are we doing,” Guess said.
Reia Whiteside, who graduated from Haskell in 2020, said she felt some of her professors would pay less attention to Black students, or were less willing to help Black students. The final panelist, Russell Parker, who was a nontraditional student and was older than most of his classmates, said he felt lonely during his time on campus because many students would not interact with him. Parker was a student from the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2020.
“It was like I walked around with a sticker that said, ‘other,’ you know, and especially being older, it was like ‘older other.’ So you’re always on the outside,” he said.
When the panelists were asked what changes they would like to see at Haskell, they agreed that there should be more faculty and staff members who were both Black and Native American. Guess said he remembered having one Black adjunct professor at Haskell who was inspirational to him.
“She’s one of the people that broke those kinds of barriers,” said Guess, who is now a seventh grade social studies teacher. He said having more staff members who are both Black and Native American “can help us with identity.”
Guess also recommended diversity training, although it was not clear whether he was suggesting diversity training for the university community as a whole or just for the staff members.
Whiteside also said there should be training on how to de-escalate sensitive situations, especially for the staff. She said sometimes staff members make conflict worse. Whiteside also said she would suggest that the Haskell administrative staff “be more inclusive of people coming from different backgrounds” and reach out to struggling students instead of waiting for them to make the approach.
When asked what advice they would give to future multiracial students at Haskell, Guess said students should put themselves out there and experience new things. Whiteside said she would tell future multiracial students to “stick it out” and not be afraid to share their culture with their classmates.
The panelists emphasized that future multiracial Haskell students should be themselves.
“I know Haskell is a Native American school, but I mean, don’t ignore your other half too. Because you’re not being true to yourself if you’re ignoring — I’m proud to be what I am,” Little John said.