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Vibrant Voices

Vibrant Voices

Kiiyahno Edgewater

Friday, May 24, 2024 | Number of views (89)

 

Nearly half of Fort Lewis Colleges’s student population is Native American and Alaska Native, and students of color make up 59%. With such a large percentage of students with diverse voices from all corners of the world, how does FLC manage to represent every unique voice while maintaining all else?

 Vice president of Diversity Affairs, Heather Shotton, came to FLC because of the evident commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, she said. 

Under Diversity Affairs is a program called Diversity Collaborative, Shotton, said. 

“Mainly our role is to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion,” Shotton said. “We think about creating a welcoming campus, and honoring the diversity of our student population.” 

Those centers are the Native American Center, El Centro de Mucho Colores, Black Student Resource Center and the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center.  

Past & Present

The Native American Center was stationed in the Skyhawk Station before it was relocated to the Student Union in 2011, and donated to FLC by the U.S. Department of Education, Rexine Williams, director of the NAC, said. 

 

Assistant Director of El Centro and the Black Student Resource Center, Gyana Gomar, oversees both centers by making sure they are staffed, welcoming to everyone and clean. 

El Centro started back in the 1980s, and the initiative was driven by a group of students and the Dean of Education, Jenni Trujillo, Gomar said. 

At first, El Centro was in Family Housing, and from there it moved to different buildings before becoming a designated center at the Student Union in 2011, Gomar said.

The BSRC was originally under the Black Student Union, a student-led group on campus, which was on and off for some years before 2018 when they settled down to one room, Gomar said. 

Katherine Smith, a professor in the sociology department, fought alongside students to find a suitable space that was specific to the BSU, and the original center was in a small classroom in Jones Hall, Gomar said. 

It wasn’t until 2020 that the BSRC would move to the basement of Reed Hall, where The G, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, can also be found. 

For FLC, representation is at the forefront of everything, and that is seen through the help of many faculty members. 

At the NAC, Black Student Union, The G and El Centro, students can access educational resources such as a computer lab. 

 

“I didn’t attend Fort Lewis as a student myself, and the school I went to didn’t have things like this,” Gomar said. “ I really wish that it would’ve, because I do think that they make such a difference and, having students feeling a little more welcomed on campus.”

Diversity Affairs helps coordinate events during months of recognition and celebration, such as Native American Heritage Month,  Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month and Pride Month, Shotton said. 

Drag Loteria, a collaborative event between The G and El Centro, is an example of how Diversity Affairs and the centers support students by creating a sense of belonging and community on campus, Shotton said. 

Another event that Diversity Collaborative is in partnership with is the Graduation Celebration that started last year to recognize that many of the students at FLC participate across the different centers and or hold multiple identities, Shotton said. 

“We have such a diverse population, and there's so many voices in so many cultures that can be heard, and this is a good, like, this is a good epicenter for all these voices and cultures,” Byron Tsabetsaye, director of the Student Involvement Center, said. 

When Tsabetsaye attended Fort Lewis, the Native population was 33%, he said. 

Today 59% of the student population is students of color, and within that 48% are Native Americans and 15% are Hispanic/Latinx students, Shotton said. 

And with such a large, diverse student body comes the efforts needed to provide a safe community, as well as acceptance and appreciation. 

“That statement and that statistic in itself is enough for the college to institutionalize these truth and reconciliation efforts, because even when Tom Stritikus is gone or the oldest of the tenured professors are gone, we need that community to stay connected, and the only way to do that is to learn the history and learn why this is even a school,” Brittany Bitsilly, president of ASFLC, said. 

Last Oct. 3, History Colorado and FLC released the 140 page “Federal Indian Boarding Schools in Colorado, 1880-1920” report, detailing the dark history of the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School.

Since then, FLC has been a driving force for the reconciliation efforts, with the removal of the clock tower plaques that showed an inaccurate portrayal of the boarding school in September 2021. 

“Truth and reconciliation is hard work, but it’s also heart work, too,” Bitsilly said. “And I think it’s really important for the institution to understand that they need to be the ones to take the reins on it because it can’t be student-led all the time.”

FLC is a Native-serving, non-tribal institution, and according to its website on the history of the school, the U.S. government offered the land to the State of Colorado in agreement that the school admit Native American students with a waived tuition. 

The Indigenous population is large, and the students a part of that community should be able to recognize that there is a legacy of success from within, Tsabetsaye said. 

“What I always like to tell people, too, with El Centro—obviously El Centro de Muchos Colores is Spanish—but it means The Center of Many Colors,” Gomar said. 

Diversity Collaborative strives to bring inclusion on campus, and its commitment has been everlasting over the years, with a recent expansion to the department six years ago due to Tom Stritikus’s recognition of the many voices across campus, Shotton said. 

“That’s the hope for me,” Gomar said. “That El Centro can be that space even for students that don’t feel like they have a specific center.”

 

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