- Looking Forward from Land-Grab Universities
when the nais journal editors contacted us about hosting an intervention on the Land-Grab Universities (LGU) project, we were surprised and excited. We went to press as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded and half-joked that March 2020 may have been the worst month of the century in which to publish. Partners who initially expressed interest in copublishing and investigating dropped out. Universities sent students home and pushed our findings into the background. Then police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, sparking mass protests against racist law enforcement practices that pose urgent threats to BIPOC across the United States. In the middle of a crisis, who would have the time to read about the ties between Indigenous dispossession and land-grant universities, let alone engage with our findings? Judging by the essays here, we had less to worry about than we thought. These responses offer the kinds of critical reactions we hoped for. We are humbled that NAIS solicited them and thankful to the authors for writing them. As an anthology—the first of its kind on the debts universities owe to Indigenous nations—the essays can be read to orient the future study of land-grant universities. That's how we've discussed them, prompted by questions from the editors. We're grateful for the opportunity to present the following conversation in response.
Was there any particular essay or commentary that surprised you? Any that you would like to specifically respond to?
The sheer diversity of approaches jumped out to me, with essays from public policy, American studies, digital humanities, literature, history, education, economics, geography. Still, points of convergence appear that might be useful for outlining a land-grant university research agenda. One of those points concerned the relationship between studies of universities' ties to Indigenous land versus enslaved labor. Nearly half the essays mention the connection. We did the same in our article, but it looks like the time has come to start asking what is distinctive, and distinctively challenging, about unpacking histories of capital accumulation from stolen Indigenous land. We can see some of the contours here. Stephen Gavazzi reminds us that universities' profits from Indigenous land can be tracked with greater [End Page 176] precision than is often possible with those from the slave trade. We relied on that precision in the LGU project, but as several other essays point out, that condition doesn't always hold. Using IPEDS data on higher education, Donna Feir and Maggie Jones provide evidence of how land-grant universities have underserved AIAN populations but note that getting more granular is not possible. Randall Akee diagnoses similar limitations on measuring the impact of dispossession, while Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy and Amanda R. Tachine talk about the reduction of Indigenous experiences to an asterisk as a form of erasure.
Caitlin Harvey's essay really surprised me. She provides an international look at how this same process worked elsewhere, and I just had no idea. In retrospect, that makes sense, since our project revealed truths that seem obvious but well hidden. That Harvey was able to pull this together and provide an international lens gave me pause to think about how this project could be done globally as an even bigger look at the ways in which settler colonialism and education are hopelessly intertwined. It's the same brand, just different flavors in other parts of the world.
Harvey does with the British Empire what others do for the United States: push the story beyond the Morrill Act of 1862. Theresa Stewart-Ambo tells us about UCLA. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant and Stephen Kantrowitz dive into SUNY-Buffalo and the University of Wisconsin. Meredith McCoy, Roopika Risam, and Jennifer Guiliano point us toward Ohio universities. Against these essays and in light of what we don't know about non-Anglo contexts, Harvey's table showing a total of 15.4 million acres looks like a starting point to ask just how much Indigenous land around the globe has aggrandized universities. Any attempt to answer that question will make the scope of the LGU project look small.