Diversity Trip Enlightens Residents
Posted: October 4, 2012
Living the Cherokee Experience: Two students’ mission to teach lessons in cultural pride, preservation, and power
The Cherokee Diversity Trip was an organic collaboration between two Master’s of Counseling students who have a passion for diversity and education. Sara Vogel is a second year residence director in the Wolf Village Apartments and a college counseling student. Kelsey Standingdeer is a native of Cherokee and in the school counseling program. In May 2012, Sara approached her classmate Kelsey Standingdeer with the idea to create and lead a diversity trip to Cherokee, NC, in the fall. Kelsey jumped at the chance. They both agreed that this trip would be a great opportunity not only to share and teach college students about the rich history and culture of North Carolina, but also a wonderful way to put theory into practice. This expedition would be the perfect occasion for them to put their theories of multicultural understanding and advocacy into practice.
During the summer, Kelsey and Sara worked together to create an itinerary, application process, gather reading materials, and secure funding from various departments and organizations across campus. In August, Sara and Kelsey held interest meetings in the Wolf Village apartments, selected the participants, and in late September on a cool autumn morning, they boarded two fifteen-passenger buses with 17 university students. Students were representative of almost all eight buildings in Wolf Village and ranged from sophomores to graduate students. There were international students, transfer students, nontraditional students, and a wide representation of majors from environmental engineering to education. The diversity within the group strengthened the discussions and lead to many educational moments throughout the trip!
The three-day adventure to Cherokee, NC, began with lunch with the Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian (EBCI), Michelle Hicks, along with four members of the tribal council. During lunch at Harrah’s Casino, the Chief shared the history of the EBCI, the governance of the tribe, current and future developments of the tribe and the importance of young, educated people in the tribe. He promoted the Cherokee values of understanding one’s culture, the pride in one’s heritage, and giving back to the community in whatever way possible.
After lunch, the students toured the Kituwah Academy Cherokee Immersion School. This school began in 2006 with the purpose of teaching the Cherokee language to young children. Through presentations and a tour by school administrators and teachers, students took away the importance of reviving dying languages and how oppressive laws of the past led the Cherokee to nearly losing their language completely. The teachers showed the students that hope is never lost, and that they are reviving the language one student at a time. As long as you have the drive, the passion, and the dedication, you can make a difference in the world.
The students on the trip were also able to learn about the Cherokee culture through native Cherokee meals, touring a Cherokee history museum, visiting a reenactment of an 18th century Cherokee village, hiking various trails, and visiting the Kituwah Mound - a sacred meeting site for the Cherokee council before the Trail of Tears occurred.
Guided by Kelsey and Sara, the students synthesized their learning through hour-long nightly reflections. These discussions happened after the students wrote in their journals for 20 minutes answering questions such as: What have you learned today that has changed your perspectives on diversity? What surprised you today? What upset you? What changes will you make based on what you learned today? These questions helped the students relate the lessons they learned not only to their lives, but also to the current events that are going on today in the United States and in the world. Students were able to see the interconnectedness of the issues they saw in Cherokee and those problems that we see across the world. Most importantly, they learned that they have the power to do something to change these issues and make a positive contribution in their communities.
The goal of the program was to introduce students to the Cherokee culture while using their story to explore greater issues of cultural diversity, oppression, privilege, pride, and power. With the permission of the students, the leaders of the trip collected the students’ reflections and copied them for their records as a source of qualitative data on the positive impact of the trip. Leaders of the trip also created and administered a short survey that asked students to rate their comfort level when discussing issues of diversity along with their knowledge of Native American culture. This assessment was given before and after the trip. Through the before and after surveys, the trip leaders saw a positive growth in students’ knowledge of Native Americans and their comfort level when discussing and encountering issues of diversity.
This diversity trip was an interactive and experiential learning project that will hopefully continue every semester in the Wolf Village Apartments at NC State. It has allowed international and transfer students to make friends early in the semester to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Students have had the ability to synthesize what they are learning in the university and apply it to the real world. They see that although they all come from different backgrounds, majors, and specialties, everyone has a role to play in this world, and everyone can make a difference. The chance to contribute to the community, whether holding a conversation with those who are culturally or ethnically different, planning a diversity trip, or opening a language immersion school, is available for all.
In November, the students and leaders from the Cherokee Diversity Trip will be reuniting to attend the cultural events of Native American heritage month hosted by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. To learn more information about the Diversity Trip and how you can participate in cultural understanding and advocacy, please contact Sara Vogel firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Native American Heritage Month, please contact the Office of Multicultural Affairs at (919) 515-3835.
To read a blog series that explores the trip in depth, please visit Darren Lipman’s Writing Wolf blog at http://thewritingwolf.wordpress.com/reality/cherokee/.
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