Monsters and Weapons: Navajo Students’ College Access and Transition Stories
Amanda Tachine

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



American Indian College Fund

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
The 2014 United States White House reported that, “Native youth and Native education are in a state of emergency” by detailing the history and current state of Native education: Native youth are the least likely to graduate from high school, enter into college, and attain a college degree when compared to other racial/ethnic populations (United States Executive Office of the President, 2014, p. 19). The report is significant because broader society and higher education researchers frequently historicize Native peoples, relegate us to a footnote under an “asterisk” justifying our exclusion from studies because of low numbers, or completely ignore us, prompting scholars to move from the language of “underrepresented” to “invisible” (Brayboy, 2004). Thus, Native student experiences are often nonexistent within educational conversations. Indigenous education scholars call upon researchers to “move beyond the asterisk” by seeking ways to include Native students in higher education research (Shotton, Lowe, & Waterman, 2013).This research centers attention on the factors shaping Native, specifically Navajo, students’ entrance into and transition during their first year in college. An Indigenous methodology, grounded in a Navajo/Diné, perspective is used to understand the barriers students face and the strengths used to overcome them. Through the assertion of the Navajo traditional oral story of the Twin Warriors, this study will focus on the strength-based interconnected worldview, referred to as “weapons,” where culture and ways of knowing (such as spirituality and generational teachings) helped Navajo students to overcome the “monsters,” referred as the contextual barriers (such as financial hardship) that inhibit their college transition journey. A goal of this study is to extend the critical strand of research on college access and transition among Native students. Viewing students’ stories from a strength-based lens and context-specific approach can transform conversations of college access and transition by illuminating a more inclusive pathway that opens opportunities to diversify college campuses and enhance equity in higher education.
About Amanda Tachine
Amanda R. Tachine is Navajo from Ganado, Arizona. She is Náneesht’ézhí Táchii’nii (Zuni Red Running into Water clan) born for Tl’izilani (Many Goats clan). Her maternal grandfather’s clan is Tábaahí (Water’s Edge) and her paternal grandfather’s clan is Ashiihi (Salt). She is a Research and Evaluation Associate at American Indian College Fund as well as a Visiting Researcher/Scholar at Arizona State University’s Center for Indian Education. She weaves conceptual and theoretical threads that examine college access & transition, sense of belonging, and qualitative methodology – consistently through an Indigenous ways of knowing lens. Specifically, she focuses attention on Indigenous students’ experiences and the systems and structures that inhibits and supports educational opportunities for them. Her work has been published in the Journal of Higher Education and the International Review of Qualitative Research. Amanda was recognized by President Barack Obama with the White House Champions of Change: Young Women Empowering Communities award for her instrumental work in creating University of Arizona’s Native (SOAR) Student Outreach for Access and Resiliency, a multi-generation mentoring program to increase college access among Native youth and families. In addition, her dissertation titled, Monsters and Weapons: Navajo students’ stories on their journeys to college was awarded the 2016 American Educational Research Association Division J Dissertation of the Year as well as received Honorable Mention recognition from the International Congress Qualitative Inquiry Dissertation Award. She has published thought pieces in the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera and The Hill through her role as a Public Voices Op-Ed Fellow where she advances ideas regarding discriminatory actions, educational policies, and inspirational movements.

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