In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Emotional Labor and Precarity in Native American and Indigenous Studies
  • Alyssa MT Pleasant (bio)

In October 2015 Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, an undergraduate admissions officer at Santa Clara University who is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, tweeted a series of statistics about Native American PhD recipients from the early 2000s.1 These tweets then recirculated on Facebook. When the statistics appeared in my social media feed, I was startled to be reminded of the very small number of PhD recipients who identify as Native American. I am a Native person, a Haude-nosaunee scholar of Tuscarora descent, and I am under no illusions about the dearth of Native scholars in general and in my field (History) in particular.2 Throughout my secondary education, during graduate school, and as a faculty member, I have frequently been the only one: the only Native student in my courses, the only Native graduate student in my department, the only Native faculty member in my department, one of a very small number of Native faculty members on a particular campus. This has been my lived experience. Reading the statistics brought this reality into stark relief. These numbers document the precarity of Native American graduate students and (by extension) faculty. This demographic information provides a jumping off point for my brief reflections about dominant narratives regarding Native Americans in higher education and the ways in which these demographics can shape the labor that Native faculty undertake in the academy.

Every year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) conducts a survey of earned doctorates and every PhD recipient in the United States is asked to share a variety of demographic information. The statistics from 2006 to 2009 show that during those years between 129 and 156 PhD recipients self-identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, and another 87 to 107 listed Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander as their race and ethnicity. This means that Indigenous scholars (American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander) account for less than 0.5 percent of the PhDs granted during those years.3 This demographic data came across my desk at the same time that I was contemplating my contribution to this special issue, and it provided an opportunity to juxtapose quantitative data with personal testimony as part of a modest effort to address the emotional labor that Native scholars undertake in the academy. Drawing on my own experience as a Native scholar working at the intersection of History and Native American and Indigenous Studies, conversations and exchanges with colleagues in the field, and my reading of a range of scholarship and commentary by scholars, this short essay grapples with the issue of emotional labor undertaken by Native scholars and the structural conditions surrounding that labor. [End Page 175]

American Indian people represent approximately one percent of the United States population and, as shown above, we are under-represented among the ranks of PhD recipients.4 In the post-secondary education experience, although Native students constitute one percent of the total undergraduate population, they are "underrepresented at prestigious private and four-year [institutions]...and overrepresented in less prestigious public and two-year institutions."5 Six-year graduation rates for American Indian students are the lowest of all racial and ethnic groups, and fall well below national averages.6 As the editors and contributors to Beyond the Asterisk have noted, while there is a small but growing body of scholarship about Native undergraduates, there is far less data and analysis addressing the experiences of Native graduate students and faculty.7 Their argument regarding the "asterisk" phenome-non-that Native students are invisible within a multitude of conversations regarding higher education because they make up such a small percentage of the student body-is borne out In the NSF data regarding earned degrees, where the imperative to maintain the anonymity of PhD recipients results in an absence of fine-grained data about degrees received by Native scholars In any number of fields in the humanities, social sciences, or STEM depending on the year.8 Regardless of the lack of robust data, it is clear that Native American and Indigenous people who...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 175-181
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.