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About This Episode

Chris Nelson, Ph.D. (@Chris52nd) is of the Diné and Laguna Pueblo tribes of the southwest. Dr. Nelson received her doctorate in Higher Education from the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education. With over 10 years of higher education experience, she has a cross sectioning of experiences ranging from educational pathways in STEM, policy research, and student affairs.

The research she engages with strives to challenge the status quo of higher education for Native students and their communities. Her primary research interest focuses on finance in higher education, which ranges from student experiences to policy. Chris also blends critical theory and Indigenous perspectives/methods to explore the long-term impacts of pre-college access programs.

During this episode, we discuss why financial aid is more than just money and how the meaning of money for students changes over time.

THIS EPISODE COVERS:

  • The tension between being a part of a greater community as a Native and individualism taught by Western Society.
  • How your relationship with money impacts how you decide to pay for school.
  • How following the path of others in your own way will inspire others to do the same.
  • Why and how Dr. Nelson persevered as a first generation college student to achieve her current level of success.
  • Why Community matters when making decisions for how to pay for school.
  • And much more…


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Dr. Chris Nelson (00:00): It wasn't just about a transaction. It wasn't just an envelope of money that was given to the student who could then go off and do whatever with it. But there was a meaning behind it.

The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:12): Welcome to the student loan podcast. Here. You'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses and inspiring stories about paying off student loans, where your hosts, Daphne, Vanessa and Shamil Rodriguez.

Daphné Vanessa (00:31): Welcome everyone to the student loan podcast. Today we have Dr. Chris Nelson on, and we are so excited to share with you some new pieces of information that you may not be so familiar with. So with that, Dr. Nelson, if you could please share with the audience and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dr. Chris Nelson (00:53): Hello everyone [Navajo Introduction]. My name is Chris Nelson. I use she, her hers pronouns. I am from the Navajo nation and also the Laguna or awake tribes of New Mexico. I am currently an assistant professor at the university of Denver in the higher education department, getting ready to prepare my documents to go up to tenure. So really excited to kind of hit this milestone, but then also just having a point of reflection of like what these past five years or so have been in terms of the work that I do and why I do it. So I'm feeling really great about that. Um, the work that I particularly focus on is understanding notions of relationality throughout the study of higher education, whether that includes curriculum development for pre-college students, or how native students, indigenous students navigate higher education and also understanding notions of policies through a relational lens. And with that, I'm also a mother and a partner. My partner Johnny is an artist and my son just finished fourth grade. So we're really excited to kind of see what happens over these next few summer months just to kinda get back into our normal routine in the fall. But thank you for inviting me. I really appreciate it. No,

Daphné Vanessa (02:13): We're so happy to have you and what a successful list of accomplishments you've had. How did you get there, Dr. Nelson? How are you where you are today? Give us your backstory.

Dr. Chris Nelson (02:26): Oh, definitely. So I am a first-generation college student. I was, uh, I benefited greatly from a lot of pre college access programs when I was young. And I think just expose me to what an indigenous person can do in terms of higher education. And, um, I started my career in higher education after I completed my bachelor's degree of which it took me about six, seven years to complete. And I often tell students is that it took me attending five different institutions before I graduated with my bachelor's degree. Um, but what I, yeah, so it's silly. It's kind of one of those funny things where I was, I can see myself in the literature as I was studying higher education, but it also gave me a point to pause and to think about what has kind of led me to, um, the, the place of privilege that I really live right now and how meaningful my role is in terms of just improving access for other indigenous communities and students to have higher education as part of their future.

Dr. Chris Nelson (03:34): Um, I really credit students as being the catalyst for pushing me to see what, um, what is the future. So when I was a advisor at the university of New Mexico in the American Indian, um, student services, a student came to me and asked me what, how do I get into grad school? And at that point in time, I had never really even considered grad school myself. And it, I was like, I don't know how to get there, let's figure it out together. And that was when I thought, you know, what if I really want to help students, I myself need to go through this process and understand what it means. And so from there, I just started taking non-degree seeking, um, graduate level classes, and then eventually through mentorship with other indigenous scholars, found my way to the university of Arizona, where at their, um, college really just supported me and gave me a really great foundation to kind of allow me to understand academia and encourage me to engage in academia.

Dr. Chris Nelson (04:37): Because again, that was not on my, my plan. Like I didn't know what I was going to do or how I was going to do it, but, um, I really believe that our faculty just saw something in me and foster that. So I really just appreciate the work of, um, Dr. Gary Rhodes, Dr. Jenny Lee and my advisor, Dr. Regina Diller, man, for helping me see that. And then of course, our indigenous scholars at the university of Arizona that also were helpful such as, um, Dr. Mary Jo Fox and also, uh, Shanina Lomma Waymo, who is, I'm currently at a different institution, but yeah, they all were really great to helping me get here.

Daphné Vanessa (05:14): I appreciate that you paid tribute to those that helped you become successful. And it sort of sounds like you spent some time in New Mexico some time in Arizona. Talk to us about the differences in experience between the pueblos of New Mexico and the indigenous cultures in Arizona.

Dr. Chris Nelson (05:35): Oh, sure. So for me growing up, um, I grew up on a border town of the, of the Navajo nation and my connection to the Laguna Pueblo tribe has been through my mother's side and we're a matrilineal society. So I just inherently have a close connection to that side of my family. And in terms of the, I think there's actually more similarities than differences in terms of just the meaning of community, the meaning of being there with family and the practices and the meaning behind cultural practices, right. Um, those cultural practices are what kind of very come differently from tribes to try, but I believe that the kind of underpinnings and the reasons for these practices are really about just being a good, relative, being a good person to your community for future generations, taking care of our elderly, um, and just being present and a good steward of this land as well.

Dr. Chris Nelson (06:38): So those are, I think, again, some similarities and I've been really fortunate in my work to be brought up, um, into projects that are focused a lot on pre college STEM programs. And, um, so learning with elders from my community and from different tribal communities has been really great to understand how we can be good stewards of this world. And, um, just really centering that at the core of how we see programming for college access. And also for my case, like how I was a practitioner when I was doing a lot of that work more hands-on with the communities too.

Daphné Vanessa (07:16): Amazing. Amazing. One more question on New Mexico, there is an Indian Pueblo cultural center, and some have shared that the term Indian is not the appropriate term to use. Talk to us about the linkages between the cultural center and how it could play a better impact in education in tribal communities.

Dr. Chris Nelson (07:44): Sure. So I think it's important just to note that communities across the, what we call turtle Island are now, the United States is the use of Indian has a lot of different connotations. And a lot of it was rooted in this notion of settler colonialism and how the federal government was really trying to other indigenous people. And so there is kind of this consistent use of Indian because it's written in tribal policy and treaties and use consistently throughout that. So I think that in some sense, it's never going to fully go away, but, um, and then some people see it as a derogatory term that doesn't accurately, um, portray indigenous people as a whole or as, uh, as, as individual tribes as well. But I also find that even within our own communities in particular, like on the public tribes, like if I go back home, um, it's pretty common in our community just to call ourselves, um, not really in the end, like the, the annunciation of it, but more Indians, which is like, uh, just representing ourselves. And so, or if I talk elders, they might say that they speak in them, which is the Kara's language. But I know that it's not in a disrespectful manner, um, in terms of the Indian, Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

Daphné Vanessa (09:05): No, I, I see I'm understanding now.

Dr. Chris Nelson (09:08): Yeah. And so Indian Pueblo cultural center is actually a collection of, uh, like a, really a tribal grouping of all the different problems across New Mexico and, and other areas. And just a point to really gather, um, a coalition of how do we advocate for tribal sovereignty and, um, provide avenues of learning, um, places of convening, whether it's a public kind of education, or can we, um, education that happens within the communities. And so for, for us, because pueblos, the public tribes are varying in sizes, the capacities across different tribes vary. So by having this coalition, it's really the sense of pulling together, um, similar interests in a way that doesn't require the individual tribes to do a lot of the labor on their own.

Daphné Vanessa (10:04): So really almost a middle ground, a meeting place, if you will. Uh huh. Interesting. So you have accomplished so much and your journey is very interesting. Five colleges in seven years. Was there any student loan debt?

Dr. Chris Nelson (10:25): Oh yes, there was.

Daphné Vanessa (10:28): We are the student loan podcast. So I'm curious.

Dr. Chris Nelson (10:32): I, I, you know, I, I guess I'd mentioned earlier, I was a first-generation college student and I think that really, um, influenced how I navigated higher education because I didn't know that it was a problem to transfer in my mind. I just thought as long as I continued, I was a good student. And what now in knowing the study of higher education, I can see the, the credit loss that I had, how I had to retake so many classes because of the institutions that I, I went from, maybe didn't recognize the, um, like certain classes for covering a certain requirement. The, the other part that ended up happening for me was I had a significant scholarship through my tribe that I actually lost because I was, um, not at the institution that they hoped I would be at. Um, and so based on a policy, um, I lost my tribal financial aid scholarship, and that was when I decided that I would stop out for a while.

Dr. Chris Nelson (11:34): And I went into the workforce. I people often surprised at what I use, what I've done in my, in my, my pre higher ed days. Um, I used to work for a financing company and that was the did car loans. Um, so I got to like a financial aid kind of component from a different perspective. I was a as an assistant for a financial planner. So I learned a lot about financial planning. And then I ended up being a sales person, selling fine jewelry, where I would, you know, be able to push out the door $20,000 diamond, you know? So like, those are all the things that happens in, but yeah, and, um, and then being able to kind of, uh, be in those spaces, that's when I realized that that's not really where I want it to be in terms of my contributions to, just to broader society, I guess you could say.

Dr. Chris Nelson (12:30): And, um, I started to attend a for-profit institution because of, we all know the accessibility that they give for certain individuals, how the ease of enrollment and how they really don't show you the law, the final bill until you graduate. And you're like, okay, this is really how much it costs. And, um, so that's how a lot of my debt came from was the last few years that I was at, um, attending that for-profit, um, college and, and granted, I still felt like I got a good, a good education out of it because, um, the dynamic that they fostered in those spaces was, um, where I could thrive at that moment in time, I walked away with a lot of competence because at the time I was barely, I think, 23, 22 years old. And I was going to school with folks that were well into their careers who were, you know, maybe working at these big tech firms that just needed a bachelor's degree to move on. And I realized I could run with these folks and, um, contribute in the classroom. Um, I did get my business, my business degree in marketing. So I, you know, you can imagine that the individuals from say more tech oriented areas would be what kind of mindsets and what kind of, um, knowledge would be shared. But for me as a 20, like 22, 23 year old being able to navigate that, it really built my confidence. And so I'm very grateful for that.

Daphné Vanessa (14:01): It's fantastic. What mentality did you have to have? What kind of perseverance did you have to have to go through that?

Dr. Chris Nelson (14:11): I think the sales, that experience really helped me understand people as a whole and how I, you know, just needed to draw upon my own strengths to show that I had, um, value in what I could bring into those spaces. And it wasn't always easy for sure, because I was very easily swayed into certain conversations or talks and maybe was adopting more, um, Neil liberal ideologies of what higher ed meant or what degrees meant. But I think in the end though, I was able to, through my own personal growth, be able to understand that that's not where I want to be as a person, as a scholar, as a, as a parent, as a community member. But I could still understand that perspective, right? The more like this is why a degree is important to get a great job, to have job security, financial security, um, which is why like a lot of my research has focused on questioning, like what is the purpose and function of higher education?

Dr. Chris Nelson (15:20): And, um, whenever I started doing my dissertation research, that's where that financial aid components started to come in to understand how does money not just as a transactional piece, but the meaning behind it. How does it influence or shape individuals understanding of their decision-making while they're in college? Because again, I could see that happening in my own life of when I did lose my financial aid scholarship, like what changes did I make? How did that make me feel? What change, um, what decisions did I make? Why did I enroll at the institution I decided to enroll in and so forth.

Daphné Vanessa (15:58): So powerful. Let's talk about that research though. Let's, let's get into that. Talk to us about your dissertation and the logic that you went.

Dr. Chris Nelson (16:09): So the, I really, I think, um, as with probably anybody who's gone through a dissertation, you kind of go through that crisis of like, am I doing this right? Is my perspective valued? And right when I was getting to defend my proposal, the work of Brian [inaudible] and colleagues came out, um, which is a Ash higher ed, um, report series that focused on understanding native students through it, a native nation building theoretical framework. And that work was very influential in terms of putting the academic knowledge, that the terms to something that I knew deep within my heart and how I live my life. And so whenever I started thinking about conceptualizing a piece, I often heard this narrative of, of native people having to navigate two worlds. You were either in navigating the white man's way or the native way. And for me, I, I kind of bristled with the idea of it being a dichotomy like you had to choose.

Dr. Chris Nelson (17:20): And I saw native nation building as a way to break down that paradigm and to think about it as more of a navigational skill, like how can we see native nation building as a perspective to balance the demands of the Western education with the demands and expectations of our native communities. And so for the work that I did, I was really trying to like, are students doing that? Because I knew I did that. And what I ended up finding through that research, and this was all through like financial aid. It was all through like asking them like how they paid for college, how they applied for college was really this navigation of understanding themselves as being individuals operating within a collectivist society. And so talking about their college choice process as a weed, rather than an I, so we went to do this, we did that meaning like their parents, their counselors, their teachers, and whenever it came to choosing a class or a program, it was really about like, how do we see ourselves?

Dr. Chris Nelson (18:36): Um, how do I see myself operating or contributing to a community? And within that though, there was also these tensions where students might make maybe too much, not too much, but maybe we're understanding that connection to their collective community, but maybe not drawing upon the strengths that they knew they had as individuals. So for example, I was able to interview one student that talked about wanting to be a pharmacist and how that was really driven by their experiences of growing up on, on their tribal lands, going to Indian health services and wanting to have better treatment in the pharmacy space. But what they learned is that individually, like as an individual, that the science component wasn't really where they wanted it to be. So they had to understand them their individual strengths and how do they make that contribution to the collectivist approach. And, um, this person ended up going into more of like a public health arena because they were, they found out that they want it to be more about the preventative work. They want it to help the community. And that really was where their strength lied as an individual. And so for me, what I see that kind of navigation, it's not really choosing one or the other, but it's understanding what are your strengths and how do you still fulfill that desire to be part of the community and contribute to the community without sacrificing, you know, those, those individual strengths or going through so much, um, challenge, whether it's academically to figure out where it is that you want to be. I love

Shamil Rodriguez (20:16): That you, you took that deep dive into the psychology of it, right? Because oftentimes a lot of our guests or listeners we'll talk about the collective. We, especially if they're first-generation students that are going through the college process and trying to figure out like, well, you know, Hey, me and my mom or me and my dad, we're trying to figure it out. Or they had no one, you know, like you had that student, they came to you when you were serving as an advisor and saying, Hey, let's figure this out together. Right. Like you clearly were living that same perspective. So speaking of that, do you, have you seen, you know, seeing it from the TCU perspective, uh, and then some of that research that you did, do you see that as something that translates beyond, or was it only found, you know, at TCUs or did you just find that collectively just students across the country that were native, is that, would you mind just taking, uh, taking us down that road

Dr. Chris Nelson (21:09): A little bit? Sure. Of course. So the work that I did for the dissertation, um, was that inclusive of tribal college students. They were all students that were attending a four year institution. Um, but in terms of like my understanding of tribal colleges kind of comes from two different areas. One being that I worked at a tribal college, um, before I entered into grad school and was able to kind of just see how a tribal college operated and how they even, um, shaped their culture around like community. And so it was, it was, I often share this like some, some similar, like cultural events that would happen that I just thought were normal practices at a university. So for example, at the institution that I worked at, there would be one month, every, I think it was like a Friday that they would, um, shut down everything like classes would be not held.

Dr. Chris Nelson (22:09): Staff meetings would not be held and everyone just went to the community to have lunch. And it didn't matter, like that was just a practice that everyone did. And, you know, we would, the whole staff, students, faculty would be there. And to me that was a real clear, evident, like, you know, institutions can make those changes and there can be collective buy-in to create and foster community. And so for, for me that when I went to regular mainstream institutions, I was like, Oh yeah, this doesn't happen. Like there's different ways that it, that it can be like, kind of created and fostered, but I don't see an institution taking that such dramatic kind of emphasis of saying our community matters. Like we want you to connect. We want you to get out and out of, in front of your computer and in the faces with other individuals.

Dr. Chris Nelson (23:06): And, and so for me, when I, when I worked with students from, um, at the tribal college level, I felt like there, there was always a strength. Our students were told that that was a strength, right? That, that they were, that they should do these kinds of activities, that they should see themselves as part of a community. Whereas I think sometimes at a mainstream institution, those, um, strengths are actually frowned upon, right. We think about certain, um, foundational student development theories, where they're really about the individual becoming that person that has agency and can make decisions based upon themselves and what their needs are. And, and so for me, when I got into like working and also researching at institutions, mainstream institutions, I realized that our native students in particular have always brought that, that through. They've always carried that, and that has always helped them navigate a mainstream higher education.

Dr. Chris Nelson (24:11): They just don't don't that the institutions just don't recognize it, or either the students just kind of do it out of, out of natural kind of tendencies. And so for the research that I try to do is like saying like, you know, we need to draw upon this. We need to see this as, um, a strength, because if we don't, then the institutions are creating the barriers for our students to be successful in these spaces. And, and specifically within financial aid, it's like, how can we see financial aid through a relational lens of that nature? If we just think of it as a transactional piece, where if we provide enough money to students that are somehow going to find that space to persist, I think is, is, um, shortsighted there, there needs to be this more layered and nuanced understanding that the money creates a relationship. And that relationship in turns has, um, a different understanding through different students, whether it's culturally, whether it's, um, financially like different socioeconomic systems, you know, how they navigate it as well. So there's just so many, um, layers of financial aid that I think we have, have the opportunity to look into, um, because if we just keep it at this transactional level, it removes that. And, and my hope is through some of the work that I'm able to do to, to highlight those nuances.

Shamil Rodriguez (25:37): And would you mind before we take a dive into like the relationship of money? Cause I actually love that idea that the psychology towards money really impacts how you make decisions as you're going through school and growing up in life. Right. Um, what were, what are some of the major points that you would see that could actually be implemented that would change that transactional perspective and the meaning of money from, you know, from an institutional, uh, view?

Dr. Chris Nelson (26:03): Sure. So in my dissertation, I was able to, um, get an overview of different tribal financial aid offices. So not all tribal nations have a tribal higher ed office that supports students financially, whether that's through scholarships or, um, need-based aid, but this, the schools that I worked with, they all had strong connections with different tribes, primarily in the Southwest. And so what I would I was able to do is, and there's a book chapter written about this, um, with, I think it's within reclaiming indigenous higher education. That's the edited book by Dr. Robin Minthorn and Heather shot. And that highlights how, um, tribal tribal, higher ed offices can operate within different areas. So there's, um, one group of higher ed offices that would provide a very holistic approach to helping students navigate higher education or the financing of higher education. So they would combine their tribal resources with other, um, federal and state ran funding programs that they could scaffold together to help the student navigate the expenses of living while being a college student, they would also provide like opportunities for students to return back to their communities, connect with tribal officials and departments to kind of let these departments know that, Hey, there's these students that are out there doing this hard work, like we need to create spaces for them to return.

Dr. Chris Nelson (27:39): And so that the idea was very like, okay, there's this investment not, we're not just throwing money at you and saying, good luck, you know, see you in four years. But like really trying to keep that, that relationship going because native students can say off of many times that, you know, being in higher education is a very lonely place. They're, they're often the only ones in a program in a class and are often then tokenized as, as being that voice for native people. Right? And so by knowing that there is a tribal community that's behind you and supporting you has, has a lot of, um, influence on whether or not a student can see themselves persisting and achieving the goals that they have set out for me.

Shamil Rodriguez (28:25): That's amazing. And I'm glad that you're highlighting that, especially with what we cover here on the student loan podcasts, because they're there, we hope we hope that someone out there is listening and say, Hey, you know what, this is a resource that I can share with someone that I know that might be suffering in silence. Right? Uh, as you say in your research and you've covered, people are coming in already with that communal aspect, but you know, sometimes you don't know what you don't know. And so hopefully, um, that right there can help somebody else out there who may, uh, may need that assistance in one way or another. So thank you so much for sharing that, Chris. Um, but I wanted, I wanted to take us back into something that you had said earlier about how that relationship between money forms, um, and how there's like a very transactional perspective of, you know, you're going to school.

Shamil Rodriguez (29:13): And, and I think there's a shift, I think, and maybe this is just me and my mind that there is a shift towards, you know, completion rates, successes, and trying to see if schools can be held accountable for that and not just accepting federal funding. Right. And making sure that students get what they came to school for in the first place. Right. So can you talk a little bit about the differences between the meaning of money and some of what that looks like from, uh, the tribal perspective versus like what we know in mainstream America today?

Dr. Chris Nelson (29:44): Sure. And I think that the meaning of money for students in, from the study that I did can shift and change as well. I think it's important to not glamorize that all native people come with the intention to go back to their community. That's often just an expectation that we often hear. And sometimes students just really want to be there for themselves, which I think is totally fine as well. Um, but I think there's also underlying motivations that can get fostered over the years as students like emotionally grow into understanding their place in the world. And so that meaning of money can be really helpful in, in centering a culturally kind of oriented way of, of understanding what the purpose of higher education can be. Because I can, I'm in part of my lit review, I was just really overwhelmed by how many times there's justifications of why a study is important or why college is important is because we want to improve the financial securities of, of folks, which is important for sure.

Dr. Chris Nelson (30:52): I, I, I don't disagree with that by any means, but that being the primary and only reason I think is in, and we're not leaving in, not by mentioning the notions of community and the cultural nuances that students come with. We're all missing out on a strength that can actually help students make meaning of their experiences a little bit differently. And now there's this one example that I have, um, it's regarding one particular student that talked a lot about how, when they first started college, they were very much so driven by that individualistic idea of what college was about how going to the best colleges most important, but having the best close by having this persona of like I've made it. And then whenever they were faced with certain challenges during the school year, they had to actually leave. And, um, when they finally decided to re-enroll back into college, they were unsure about what they could financially afford and knowing that they had a different financial situation and they had, they had almost like taken granted for, and it wasn't until they, um, were leaving to college that one of their relatives presented them with some money that the community had raised for them to help pay for books.

Dr. Chris Nelson (32:11): And the student was really just blown away that the community where, um, their grandparents grew up at was willing to put forth money, to help. And for the student, it really helped them change their understanding of like, Oh, wow. You know, like, why am I here? What do I need to do to make sure that I honor this money that came from my community rather than just taking it for granted to achieve that very, um, neoliberal idea of what college is meant to be for. And, and so for me, I feel like that was a really strong point because it helped me understand that that wasn't just about a transaction. It wasn't just an envelope of money that was giving to the student who could then go off and do whatever with it, but there was a meaning behind it. And that meaning really shifted the trajectory and the pathway that the student took, whether it was with their degree or just how they saw themselves, you know, spending their time while they're at school. So the meaning behind it was really influential to the

Shamil Rodriguez (33:15): Student. That's really moving. And I think thank you for, yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Definitely. Please go ahead. I, I really appreciate you sharing that story there, Chris. No,

Daphné Vanessa (33:24): I think that, that, that story showing how important the meaning is for students is something that we should, the Western society. When I say we should learn from tribal colleges. Right. I think that's an opportunity of learning.

Shamil Rodriguez (33:44): Yeah, absolutely. No, I absolutely agree. I think that one thing that I, that I'm hearing here, uh, from Chris and like outside of just like being amazed at your hustle and like how you got to where you are today and, and how you, it seemed like, correct me if I'm wrong, Chris, but it just seemed like you, you turn every, every opportunity or let's say it this way, you turned every event in your life into an opportunity to build upon. Right. Um, you know, whether it was working in one area, working in another, and then somehow figuring out a way to draw those connections into becoming who you are today, was that intentional, or did you just have like a mindset of like, everything that happens in my life is going to be something towards, you know, Migrator success. I just sidetracked there, but I just really love and appreciated that, that part of your,

Dr. Chris Nelson (34:33): I think a lot of that is drawn from my parents. Um, my father worked nearly 40 years, um, at a mining company, you know, doing the same job every day, but still having some purpose behind it. So that persistence, I really accredit to him because he, he, he, he showed me that growing up. Um, and, and of course my, my mom for being well, I think she always embodied was like being a good human and just being intentional around how we carry ourselves and being authentic to who we want to be. I, I also think that it's part of my lineage, you know, being Navajo, we often talk a lot about the sheep and the role of the sheep in our society and how we always use every aspect of the sheep whenever, whether we're caring for them, whether we're butchering them to eat or for special service, um, special events, it's like we use every component.

Dr. Chris Nelson (35:36): Right. And so maybe that's a good reflection of it is like, you know, I have that in me to try not to see an opportunity, even if it was a challenging opportunity to be able to learn from it and, and use it in a different way. So I do that a lot with my advising as well, like sharing my own challenges with students, to be able to help them maybe understand, like, and relate to some of the situations that they may find themselves in, or just kind of the meaning-making behind it as well, because I think that's what keeps us connected to each other as well. And that notion of relationships and not just human to human relationships, but how we connect to the world, how we connect to the land, to the waterways, to our four legged, uh, you know, friends here, like my cat, you know, like hurt her. And I, we have these really intense conversations, even though she doesn't know what I'm saying. Like I still feel like she can know. Right. So, you know, being able to see these different elements and how we can learn from each other is really important to me.

Shamil Rodriguez (36:40): Absolutely. And I like that. Um, she may not understand, but it's, it's coming full circle for you at least. Right. No. Great. Absolutely. So, um, so Chris, before we segue into a different part of the conversation, um, is I wanted you to share at least your perspective, because we're speaking about, and I feel like we're really getting into the ideas of like what students are seeing, uh, when they come in or like their mindset that they have when they get to college and how that may change, uh, through your dissertation and your research. But what about that? The idea of self-determination from a tribal perspective and then from a student perspective as well, would you mind just shedding some light on what that means? And like from a global perspective, what that, what that means, right. As a macro perspective of what that means? Yeah,

Dr. Chris Nelson (37:24): For sure. So from a, from a native nation kind of self-determination perspective, it's really embedded within notions of treaty rights and how tribes are they're sovereign nations. And the way that I explain it to someone is like, I, you know, I am enrolled in the Navajo nation tribe. I am also a us citizen. So in a way I have like dual citizenship, but a lot of times people don't understand that tribal nations, they are nations that exist within the United States. And within that become, come inherent rights to be able to self-determine what education looks like, what food sovereignty looks like, what, um, how we, you, you, how we do or don't use our physical surroundings for economic or capital, um, building as well. And it relates to cultural practices. So all of these things around native nation building, it's not about a, um, building capitalistic ventures or financial security.

Dr. Chris Nelson (38:36): It's about building a nation that it was really as close to representing pre-colonial times, right. Of community of honoring our traditions and cultures and preserving them and sharing them with the people that want to have be part of those communities as well. And, and so for me, when we take that ideology of self-determination and native nation building and carry it into spaces of higher education, there's actually a lot of opportunity there because we can then say that when we just don't want you to become a doctor, we want you to see how can you, if you choose to blend and navigate your cultural identity as a doctor, not to assimilate, but to adopt and to flourish in a different way that maybe has not been in existence. And you can do that for every discipline in terms of, um, like in higher education. So there's so many opportunities of how we can expand notions of what it means to be in an academic discipline.

Dr. Chris Nelson (39:45): And I think within higher education, you'll see that, that there's a lot of indigenous scholars that are engaging in research and practice through a very culturally driven lens that is then opening up opportunities of how higher education operates, whether it's through practice or policy, which then in my mind leads to then improving access to those academic disciplines. Um, one time I was kind of belittling my, my role as like, Oh, I'm just studying higher education, but I had a really great, um, scholar friend who was like, no, Chris, you realize that you're changing. You're trying to change systems that will allow more students like myself to go into the academic fields that I am going into, which then I am now navigating as a, at the time she was a PhD student. Now I'm now a doctoral or a doctorate. So it's really one of those things where I had to realize that I I'm committed to understanding individual nuances and experiences, the psychology of it all. But what I'm really interested in doing is looking at how systems can then be informed and changed and shaped differently through the, these individual experiences that we see, particularly through indigenous ways of knowing and indigenous people's experiences.

Shamil Rodriguez (41:09): Yeah. It sounds like, uh, you know, let me know if I'm on the right path here. It sounds like the idea is that these individual experiences create the collective experience. Right. And so that institutional knowledge doesn't become institutional, unless less, there are several generations essentially of individuals that have those experiences. And then we kind of agree on what that might mean or what that doesn't, you know, other formally or informally. Um, and like you said, you're, you're, uh, you're creating a pathway for someone else to follow, uh, directly and indirectly, right. Because someone can just see, you never speak to interact with you, but just know about you from a, uh, undergraduate perspective and just say, Hey, you know, she can do it, I can do it too. Right. Um, and I think that's such an amazing, and I'm glad that your, your colleague has said that to you to say like, Hey, don't belittle your experience because you are literally making a difference.

Shamil Rodriguez (42:05): And the only way that difference can be made is if you do it. Um, so thank you, Chris, for, for, for saying that and sharing that because I think it's all too real and it needs to be said more often because, um, each, each, each Avenue that someone takes that's different from the norm is opening not only your mind, the path of the people that are behind you or around you as mine, but also the people that are, you know, maintaining the standard as well. Right. It's, it's, it's also going to be challenging their status quo. Um, so that, that is very important, um, to, to, uh, in my mind highlight because that's not something that happens every day and it's important that you share that story. Um, so thank you for sharing that. Um, is there anything else, um, that you would want to share from that self-determination perspective? I love that example. Um, but I want it before I switch over to something more of a lighthearted perspective of the conversation, I wanted to make sure that I give you that,

Dr. Chris Nelson (43:00): That platform. I think that, I mean, I think just really giving recognition to the scholars that have been foundational and framing that work and, and also understanding that it can still grow. I think that's, that's the part that I'm, I'm excited to kind of see as how as, as, um, we collectively move scholarship towards a more decolonizing approach. Like how do we then build upon these ideas and bring along other folks with us on that journey? I'm, I'm often thinking about, um, Dr. Um, co-head thing, um, Greg [inaudible], he has some really great works that talk about like indigenous science, indigenous ways of knowing. And one of the things that I always think about is his idea of how he describes pathways. Cause we talk a lot about that in college, like college pathways, how students go through college. Um, and, and for me, he, he breaks down the, the notion of pathway to be kind of broken up into two different ways.

Dr. Chris Nelson (44:04): So paths describes the, um, the trajectories, right? That will, that will take during any type of journey in life. But the way is how we do it. And I often think about it, like from, um, the, like, this is the way from the Mandalorian, right? Like the way that we do this and that, and that's like enriched into our culture in, in our past. And so for doc had they, his work really kind of made me pause and say, you know what, there's always going to be a path and that path is not going to be predetermined, but the way and how we navigate that path will always stick with us. And we can use that as our compass, as a way to navigate the twists and turns that may be expected or unexpected. And, and so for me, when I think about native nation building, that is one way to be able to think about higher education, not the only way, but one way. And as we develop scholarship and more practice-based work, we can think about how do we add onto that? What's the next iteration of this work. Great.

Shamil Rodriguez (45:16): That's uh, maybe I may just end the episode right here, guys. Chris, thank you so much for sharing that. That was, uh, fantastic. Uh, so we're gonna, we're gonna switch over to something that we have, that's called a rapid round. I did not prepare you for this intentionally. Um, we kind of spring this upon our guests, uh, as a lighthearted way to end the conversation, uh, because I think we covered such great topics here. Um, so you may have heard this before, but we're going to ask you some questions and we need you to give us your impulse response to it. Okay. Um, that, that is what makes it fun, uh, here. Okay. So, uh, Daphne, are you prepared to jump in as well? I'm going to start off with a couple and then, um, is gonna switch over, is ready to go. Oh man, this is one of definitely favorites. Um, here we go. So first question, uh, is college for everyone

Dr. Chris Nelson (46:06): Sometimes.

Shamil Rodriguez (46:08): Okay. Um,

Dr. Chris Nelson (46:11): Sorry, I didn't ask if it was a yes or no answer.

Shamil Rodriguez (46:15): I might've derailed already. Sorry. That's what makes this fun. All right. Uh, second question is, are student loans good?

Dr. Chris Nelson (46:24): Yes. In certain capacities, right. So definitely. Did we aim to be debt-free? Hmm. Did you say no? Well, this is interesting. So what do you think? I think definitely, I mean, the notion of becoming debt free is a goal for everyone. Are you debt free? Oh, am I debt free? No. Heck no,

Shamil Rodriguez (46:52): No worries. You're not alone. Chris. Why

Daphné Vanessa (46:55): Is America in a $1.5 trillion student loan crisis?

Dr. Chris Nelson (47:04): Yeah. Capitalistic. MV. I would say, you know? Mm,

Daphné Vanessa (47:10): Yep. Yep. Why can't people be happier and be friends?

Dr. Chris Nelson (47:15): Um, I think because there's a drive to be within, there's a, there's a grand narrative that we need to be the cog in the wheel and that everyone has their place, which I don't. I think that there needs to be more nuance to that we can fulfill different roles at different times.

Daphné Vanessa (47:32): I agree. And my last question, when, and what do people need to do to get in touch with you?

Dr. Chris Nelson (47:41): I like that one. Um, so I do have a Twitter it's, uh, at Chris' 52nd. So C H R I S the number five, two, and D is my primary, um, outreach there and people have to ask me, what does the 52nd mean? It's just a street I used to live on whenever I was living in Phoenix.

Daphné Vanessa (48:02): Oh, that's super creative. I was like 52nd president.

Shamil Rodriguez (48:09): I was like, longitude latitude, like, where are we going?

Daphné Vanessa (48:14): Okay. Creative, creative. We like, we like, um, awesome. And what do you have as the next opportunity of engagement where our audience can engage with you? Do you have an event coming up or do you prefer social media? Where's the next time that's somebody who's interested in this conversation can engage with you directly?

Dr. Chris Nelson (48:35): I think just online is probably something that's within the immediate next few months. Um, as I mentioned earlier, I am going to be pulling together my tenure documents. So that's kind of, I've tried to clear my summer to be focused on that. Um, I do attend, um, Ash on a regular basis. So we did, um, submit an application or a, um, proposal. So if those get accepted, then people can definitely see me there. Um, other than that, um, ARA will probably be the next thing as well for that following year. So nice.

Daphné Vanessa (49:10): So we'll link everything that you just mentioned in the show notes, and we really appreciate your time, Dr. Chris Nelson, who graced us with presence today. Thank you very much for sharing your expertise going in deep with us. And Shamil do you have any parting words of love and affection? Oh,

Shamil Rodriguez (49:31): Well I'm a fan. So it was not much more to say than that, Chris, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. And I really do appreciate you sharing your, your personal story, right? Because oftentimes people will see you or hear you at this point in your life and then just say, wow, that's so far from where I am right now. And I think you, I thank you for sharing the realities of what it takes to become who you are now, because everyone out there, if you're struggling right now, just know that you can turn it into an opportunity because like Dr. Nelson had mentioned today, you don't want to let anything go to waste. And even those lows that you currently have, you can turn it into something that you probably can build upon later on in the future. So, Chris, thank you so much for coming on and sharing that with us today.

Dr. Chris Nelson (50:18): Well, again, thank you for the opportunity. Um, Daphne and Shamil, I really appreciate it. So I just want to say hello and thank you

Shamil Rodriguez (50:29): For more information on today's episode, visit the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 32. That's the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 32.

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