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Same Country, Different Nations

student overlooking mountain valley

Westminster professors lead students on an educational excursion to the Hopi and Diné Nations

by Jacque Dobbins (’16)

Watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, experiencing a ceremonial Hopi Kachina dance, wandering the Walpi ancient stone pueblo complex, drifting down the San Juan River in a raft—the Exploring Hopi/Diné Nations May Term trip is filled with new experiences.

While students have the opportunity to take part in activities like these, the nine-day trip is more than just exploring sites and taking in breathtaking vistas. The goal of this experience is learning and understanding.

“We want to help students understand the assets that people from marginalized positions have,” says Marilee Coles-Ritchie, an associate professor in education and one of the trip leaders. “We use the term ‘funds of knowledge,’ which refers to the historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential to the way a certain group of people work. It’s a little different than just saying culture: culture tends to be a bit more bounded.”

To achieve this understanding, trip leaders Marsha Morton (who originally developed this experience), Marilee Coles-Ritchie, and Cordelia Schaffer have crafted an excursion that combines cultural and instructive experiences. One day students eat a traditional Hopi meal and appreciate Hopi art, and the next they visit a local school or clinic. The trip culminates in a research project that focuses on a relevant issue with an insider view—based on research and ideas from Hopi and Diné people.

“We want students to go with the attitude of, ‘I’m coming here to learn from you,’ rather than ‘I’m coming here to help you,’” Marilee says.

Unlike international experiences, students can see firsthand how they’ve influenced these groups. “Students are surprised that this place is so close to home,” Marilee says. “When you go to a different country, you expect it to be very different. But here, we have actually contributed in part to some of the issues that the Hopi and Diné people have from historical trauma. There’s a sense of ownership of our decisions in history and how they impact people.”

Students leave this experience with a more in-depth and well-rounded view of the Hopi and Diné Nations and gain a deep appreciation for the knowledge that the people in these groups have.

To learn more about other May Term Study Experiences Westminster has to offer, read the cover story on page XX.



About the Westminster Review

The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.