Race, Indigeneity, and Relationship in Student Affairs and Higher Education

This past fall, the American College Personnel Association (ACPA)’s Journal of College Student Development published a special issue, answering a call to promote scholarship that engages both racial justice as well as decolonization. We asked Guest Editors Stephanie Waterman and D-L Stewart to discuss Race, Indigeneity, and Relationship in Student Affairs and Higher Education and the work behind it.

How did you decide to work together as Guest Editors on this issue? Had you worked together before?

DLS: I had been approached to consider submitting a proposal to the Journal of College Student Development editorial boards call and immediately went to Stephanie as an ideal partner due to her scholarship and relationship we had built through our participation in the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE). We had not previously collaborated on a scholarly endeavor. 

SW: I was sitting next to D-L when I heard about the special issue and thought, “Hmm, I wonder if D-L is interested in working together.” Then someone suggested I think about submitting a proposal and here we are.

For readers who might not be familiar with the term, can you explain what "decolonization" means and what it aims to do? 

DLS: As I understand it, decolonization refers to the process of disrupting, dismantling, and transforming the multiple ways that western colonial ways of being, knowing, and doing have informed and operated within relationships, knowledge, and institutional systems. Ultimately, the fulfillment of decolonization is the rematriation of land to Indigenous peoples.

SW: Right, I agree. There is an emphasis on the de-, the deconstruction and dismantling of colonial impositions to recognize the intentional destruction by settler colonialism of all things non-settler. Decolonization also emphasizes the transformation of these systems by re-storying, restoring, and reframing relationships. In Reclaiming Indigenous Research in Higher Education, editors Minthorn and Shotton provide the reader with examples of Indigenous research done by Indigenous researchers through Indigenous methodologies, in other words, decolonized work through “Indigenous knowledge systems and frameworks on our own terms (2018, p. 16).

In your thoughtful introduction to the issue, you note that this work is "a practice of reflection, relationship, and accountability. We learned a great deal." Can you share with our readers something you learned?

Our authors, and all who submitted for the special issue, demonstrated the possibilities for the breadth of application of the theme of the issue in student affairs and higher education scholarship. It spanned more than we ever dreamed of. 

The papers are organized into empirical articles, methodological discussions, and practice-centered pieces. Was that an intentional decision, or one that came organically based on the submissions?

It was both. We wanted pieces that covered a range of scholarship and the call specifically invited that. We didn’t know what we would get in the submissions though, so the particular shape of the issue came about organically. 

You note as Editors, you "strove to create a humanizing and supportive review process". What practices and decisions did you put in place to foster such a review process? What can other editors learn from your experience or put into practice with their own journals to work towards those goals?

In our instructions to reviewers, we asked them to be developmental in their approach to the manuscript. We chose reviewers who we felt could offer that. And, in our comments back to authors with reviews, we framed feedback in such a way that we hoped would be received as humanizing and supportive. As we note, we did not always succeed. This was not an exercise in perfection, but rather one of deliberate intention. Had we not expressed this intention, the work would not have been congruent with the intent of the Special Issue and who we are as people because colonization rests on the dehumanization of others.  

What research (either in this issue or beyond) surprised you the most? What work sparked a sense of progress and hope for you?

DLS:  It’s really hard to narrow down because all the articles are so unique and powerful each in their own ways. If pressed, I really appreciated Jourian and McCloud’s article and the demonstration of the possibilities for reimagining masculinity through the praxis of Black trans masculine people. In a world, where white supremacy portrays Black manhood as inherently dangerous, sexually aggressive, and deserving of annihilation, this work illustrated the resistance and futurism shown by trans people who are typically ignored and left out of the conversation about gender. I also found Lopez’s article to be really innovative in thinking about different ways to approach data collection with Indigenous peoples, overcoming the asterisk mentality - this mentality is beautifully addressed in a text co-edited by Heather Shotton, Shelly Lowe, and Stephanie Waterman.

SW:  I agree with D-L; hard to pick. I think centering decolonization encouraged scholars to submit pieces they might have been reluctant to submit to another journal. In a way, it was freeing. Garibay, West and Mathis used QuantCrit of Black students and their post-secondary institution’s “history of slavery” is one that comes to mind. 

What do you hope readers of this issue will take with them?

We hope readers of this issue will read it and carry with them a recognition that racial justice and decolonization is more than a mere topic of research, but also frameworks through which any topic of research can be understood and engaged to make a difference.

What is your specific area of research? What are you currently working on / what's next for your work?

DLS:  My area of research concerns the development and experiences of minoritized students in higher ed and the history and philosophy of higher education related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Currently working with my research assistant (Douglas Lee) on empirically studying how the conceptual framework I proposed in 2017, introduced in Inside Higher Ed, shows up in university strategic plans. 

SW: My area of research is about Indigenous students in higher education and the institutional units that support them like Native American student affairs units. My research assistant (Michael O’Shea) and I are working on a Critical Indigenous Higher Education Geography framework and are working on maps to show Indigenous lands and the PSE that occupy them as well as providing links to the Native student affairs units on campus and local Native Nation offices.  

Stephanie J. Waterman
Stephanie Waterman (Onandaga, Turtle Clan) is Associate Professor of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto located on the traditional homelands of the Huran-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River.
D-L Stewart
D-L Stewart is Professor and Co-Coordinator of Student Affairs in Higher Education in the School of Education at Colorado State University located on the traditional homelands of the Arapaho, the Cheyenne, and the Ute.