The Leaders Indigenous Students Have Been Waiting For: The Indigenous Student Affairs Network

By: Cori Bazemore-James (Seneca)
ISAN Chair and ACPA19 Indigenous Advisor

ACPA18 Convention hosted the first meetings of ACPA’s newest network – the Indigenous Student Affairs Network (ISAN). The purpose of ISAN is to create a professional home for folx who work in Indigenous Student Affairs (ISA) offices in higher education. The offices where this work happens go by many names, such as Native American Student Affairs, American Indian Student Services, etc., and typically focus on the retention of Indigenous college students. Although I am a member of the Native, Aboriginal, and Indigenous Network (NAIN), I found a need for creating ISAN from my research with ISA directors from across the U.S. While NAIN is for folx who identify as Indigenous, ISAN is for folx who work supporting Indigenous students.

Thereis no definitive literature stating when ISA programs started existing in their current format on our college campuses. They often began informally in one of two ways in the 1980s and 1990s. Some began with a Native American student club, an advisor, and a dedicated meeting space (Wright, 1985) which grew with Native student activism (Minthorn & Marsh, 2016). Others started with the hiring of a single Native person into some academic department or student affairs office, who was continuously assigned greater amounts of responsibility for supporting Native students more broadly (Bazemore-James, 2017). Today, ISAs appear as either a single ISA person within a multicultural office or as a stand-alone ISA office with one or more staff.

There are currently no published empirical studies about ISA nor any national or international professional organizations specific to the ISA functional area. In my research (Bazemore-James, 2017), I found ISA folx are often siloed within and across institutions and in need of community in the same ways they provide community for students. ACPA implemented the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization (SIRJD) in November 2016. The SIRJD describes ACPA’s renewed focus to reduce the oppression of communities of color and Native Americans and provide leading research and scholarship; tools for personal, professional, and career development; and innovative praxis opportunities for members that will actively inform and reshape higher education.With the support of NAIN and the National Coalition for the Advancement of Natives in Higher Education (NCANHE), I proposed the creation of ISAN to the ACPA President Stephen Quaye in October, 2017, which was quickly approved and greatly supported. I connected with another NAIN member, Dr. Stephanie Waterman (Onondaga) who was also performing ISA research in Canada. Together with some volunteers, we located 311 individuals working in ISA within 139 ISA programs in institutions across the U.S. and Canada and invited them to join ACPA and the newly formed ISAN. From that list, 85 new folx became members of ACPA and ISAN, and 24 attended the ACPA18 Convention.

The first convening of ISAN members was a huge success. We held 2 official ISAN meetings during the ACPA18 Convention, and members spent time connecting with one another throughout their time in Houston. We networked with each other and with NAIN, attended ACPA sessions and programs together, connected over meals, and attended local Houston attractions. Some of the favorite activities mentioned were Culture Fest, the 20th Anniversary Cabaret, and the Houston Rodeo! The new ISAN members expressed how important and renewing it was to connect with others in ISA. They were able to discuss similar issues they are facing, exchange programming ideas, and provide guidance on navigating institutional structures. They were also able to connect for the first time with folx who work in Indigenous non-profit organizations, such as the National Indian Education Association, Indigenous Education, Inc., and the American Indian College Fund. And of course, they made many connections with others throughout all of ACPA. ISAN members expressed how welcomed they felt by ACPA as a whole and how grateful they were to see the Elders and land acknowledgements be so integrated into the convention. Many signed up for leadership positions in ISAN and plan to return to ACPA19 in Boston in March 2019.

The experience of creating ISAN has been an honor. I am truly humbled by the success we saw this year, and by the momentum that has continued beyond the convention. Creating a new professional network for a relatively new field comes with the potential for many difficulties, but we did not have any such issues as this group is clearly very dedicated to the larger goals of supporting the next generation of Indigenous scholars.We have succeeded at creating a much needed community for ISA folx. A few of the new members expressed they felt as though the Creator had brought us together at the time they needed it most. We are only in the beginning stages of this new endeavor, and I am excited to see how far we go. If you work in ISA or otherwise want to join our efforts, we welcome you to join the ISAN network and also join the conversation on the ISAN Facebook Page.



Bazemore-James, C. (2017). Creating Ganë:gwe:göh: The Roles and Experiences of Indigenous Directors of Indigenous Student Affairs. Unpublished manuscript, University of Georgia, Athens, GA.

Minthorn, R. S. & Marsh, T. E. J. (2016). Centering indigenous college student voices and perspectives through photovoice and photo-elicitation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 47, 4-10.

Wright, B. (1985). Programming success: Special student services and the American Indian college student. Journal of American Indian Education, 24(1), 1–7.

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