Collaborating for change

Faculty and student groups join forces to spread awareness of Indigenous cultural perspectives at K-State

Just a few years ago, a group of faculty and staff came together to start an organization that would support the Indigenous populations of Kansas State University and educate students, faculty, and staff about Indigenous issues and innovations. This group has now evolved into the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance (IFSA). The IFSA works together with the Native American Student Body (NASB)  to draw awareness to Indigenous cultures and nations as well as the academic and scientific contributions of Indigenous intellectuals.

After learning that many indicators from the university showed zero to negative growth for the Indigenous populations at K-State, the IFSA came together to discover how many Indigenous students were at the university and how they could best connect with them. Since then, the IFSA has become an important resource for education and retention.

IFSA works together with the NASB affinity group to support students. Whether it is cooperating to gather demographic data, hosting speakers, writing proposals or co-hosting the K-State Alumni Powwow, these groups create a space for Indigenous cultures and knowledges to be recognized and celebrated on campus. 

One important way IFSA works with NASB is through networking. IFSA has members from many different colleges and departments on campus, which allows students to get the direct support they need.

“Connecting the campus faculty and staff network to the students is one of the things we try to do as IFSA,” said Alex Red Corn, IFSA co-chair and assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership. “If they come to see somebody in IFSA and need support for something, even if the support can’t come directly from the person they went to, they have that network and trust to go out and get the support they need in other parts of the college and university.”

In addition to helping connect students to the university, IFSA also helps students network with larger Indigenous communities, which provides unique professional development opportunities.

“We give them a broader perspective on Native issues around the country so they can bring to campus relevant and important issues that are maybe not as visible in Kansas, but are going to be affecting tribal nations across the country,” said LaVerne Bitsie-Baldwin, co-chair of IFSA and director of the Multicultural Engineering Program.  

Ultimately, IFSA and NASB work to help educate K-State’s campus. One way this has been done is through the land acknowledgement video. Additionally, Audrey Swartz, a member of IFSA who works in K-State Libraries’ Special Collections, is compiling information regarding the first Indigenous students at K-State. Because of the lack of inclusion for Indigenous history within the school system, these organizations seek to fill the gap and help others understand more about the genuine history of Indigenous peoples.

“I think IFSA contributes many assets to KSU, including an educational voice that Indigenous people exist, and we work in many disciplines, such as aerospace, engineering, education, agriculture, health sciences and film-making, just to name a few,” said Debra Bolton, director of Intercultural Learning and Academic Success with a faculty appointment in geography and geospatial sciences and National Geographic Explorer.  

Another way education has been achieved is through an Indigenous Peoples Day conference held every year in October. With a variety of speakers and events, Indigenous Peoples Day serves to highlight the Indigenous scholarship that exists in every realm of academia.

“It’s [Indigenous Peoples Day] bringing together Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous intellectuals from science and engineering, from filmmakers to language rights activists,” said Lisa Tatonetti, professor in English. “In whatever program or department we have at K-State, there is Indigenous knowledge, existing Indigenous intellectuals and Indigenous scholars that bring knowledge and sometimes form the basis of the knowledge in those fields.”

IFSA has worked diligently to establish itself on campus. Through soliciting sponsorships from various departments and colleges, this group ensues the support it needs to run events such as Indigenous Peoples Day, which costs $12,000 each year. In particular, the College of Education and Diversity Program Council have helped financially support IFSA and NASB. Through this support, IFSA and NASB have been able to grow their events and create additional opportunities, such as traveling to Washington D.C. to learn about policy writing.

Looking forward, the College of Education is planning to add a certificate program for Indigenous Educational Leadership, and begin the process of establishing scholarship programs specific for Native students in Educational Leadership graduate programing, which includes Adult Learning and Leadership programming.  Additionally, the College of Education is always looking to build long term partnerships with Native nations so that those nations can utilize College of Education programing to build their professional capacities to take on a more prominent role in the education of their citizens. Philanthropic support can make these initiatives possible and increase the outreach of IFSA and NASB. 

“I see the intellect and curiosity of our students. I believe in their potential for greatness, and I believe that the key to Native student success is to restore their personal pride by placing high value on the traditional knowledge and ways of their families. We must have high expectations of our students in developing their academic identities,” said Debra.

To support the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance visit Kansas State University · GiveCampus or contact Heather Strafuss at or 785-775-2146.

Written by: Ariana Brancato

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