Diving into Global Indigenous Studies Research
The five students in the 2017-18 Martin Scholars program, an intensive research-focused class, delve into global indigenous studies with faculty mentor Ashley Kerr
For the last year, Alma Delić has studied the opioid crisis facing indigenous people in the United States.
“I watch PBS a lot, and I had been seeing so many things about the opioid crisis,” Delić said. “I started to wonder how that would be affecting indigenous communities. They are some of the most affected populations in the entire U.S.”
Each year, the Martin Scholars, sponsored by the Martin Institute in U of I’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, selects four or five individuals to participate in the intensive program. After a six-week course, the scholars develop an independent research project to pursue with that year’s faculty member.
“It’s a chance for a group of undergraduates to really have graduate school seminar experience, where you are working one-on-one with a faculty member and also have the time and the space to be able to try doing independent research,” said Ashley Kerr, an assistant professor of Spanish and Latin American studies, who led this year’s Martin Scholars program.
Kerr’s research focuses on how anthropology, politics and literature mold racial identities for indigenous and non-indigenous populations. She selected global indigenous studies as the topic for the students to focus on for the semester.
“There are so many connections in how indigenous people were treated across the world and are treated today and getting to see those connections has been really interesting for me,” Kerr said.
Kerr is in the process of writing a book describing gender discrimination, how it can be an aspect of racial discrimination, and how this contributed to the indigenous genocide that took place in Argentina during the 19th Century.
During the first six weeks of class, students learned about what being indigenous means, what kinds of problems indigenous people tend to face and the history of colonization.
“Each year there is a different theme, and this year it was right up my alley,” said Catherine Yenne, a senior majoring in French, international studies and political science, with a minor in comparative international politics.
Yenne has done service trips to work with refugees in Twin Falls, Idaho. As a Martin Scholar, she is researching how the U.S. can make reparations to indigenous people who were made to participate in forced boarding and education.
“I’m really interested in refugee law and so this is kind of the perfect culmination in terms of refugee work and just really wanting to gain an international perspective and talk about identity and all of these different components that fit into indigeneity,” Yenne said.
Students in the Martin Scholars program dedicate about four hours a week to reading articles and conducting secondary research.
“This research is interesting because you are surrounded by people who are so supportive of you tackling this higher-level research opportunity,” Delić said. “The most important thing for me is that I’m excited about what I’m researching. I feel like if you aren’t excited, you’ll never be satisfied.”
While Delić and Yenne are focusing on the United States, other students in the class are studying the Masai people in Tanzania and Kenya, as well as the indigenous people of Australia.
An Opportunity For Growth
The Martin Scholars program has afforded its students countless opportunities for growth.
“It’s a chance for a group of undergraduates to really have graduate school seminar experience, where you are working one-on-one with a faculty member and also have the time and the space to be able to try doing independent research,” said Ashley Kerr.
“Being a Martin Scholar has taught me a lot about what I like and what I don’t like. It taught me how worthwhile it is to have a good mentor when pursuing research, and that it’s always good to have a team that is talking about real world problems and coming up with solutions,” Delić said.
Delić will graduate in May 2018 and hopes to teach kids in Spain for the next year. She eventually hopes to become an advisor to students preparing to study abroad.
Yenne wants to continue her studies in public policy and reform by becoming an immigration attorney.
The Martin Scholars program has trained 57 students since it was created in 2005. The Martin Institute established the program to help international studies majors be more competitive for post-graduation employment and admission into graduate programs.
“The international studies program is fantastic when it comes to community and investing in their students,” Yenne said. “These sorts of programs are fantastic and they are definitely worth the dollars to put them on.”
Article by Madison Perdue ’18, Public Relations, CLASS
Published April 2018