by Sam Stevens (MCC Advisor)
Mesa, AZ - On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, MCC's ISO club and the AII presented another guest speaker series and introduced American Indian faculty members Mona Scott (Sociology) and Arlene Old Elk (Navajo Language/Navajo Government) to students attending the weekly club meeting. Sharing a pizza lunch with an audience of approximately 35 students and other staff members, these two passionate women shared their personal stories and offered valuable advice along with personal insight about education, decision-making, respect, and their importance as students progress through school and higher education.
Mona's talk to students began with a brief and personal introduction that identified her Navajo clans and where she was raised. As the child of two races and cultural backgrounds who grew up in Winslow and Birdsprings, AZ as well as the concrete jungles of Los Angeles, her experience growing up was quite different than most students in attendance. With her mother she lived on or near the Navajo reservation for a majority of her young life, but when she got older she became interested in moving to an urban environment and went to live in LA with her father, graduating from high school there and eventually attending USC where she majored in Sociology.
It was while at USC that she began to realize the opportunity to become a college professor, drawing inspiration from her first female university instructor. A brown-skinned Indian woman from Bangladesh in the midst of an all-white and male dominated university system was very intriguing to her and she felt empowered to continue her pursuit of higher education with a solid role model now instructing her. At the time she also assisted her father in helping her grandmother whose battle with cancer led her to appreciate family even more. During this time she also began working for the local urban American Indian center, serving those families in need of social assistance. After her grandmother's passing she moved to Phoenix to be nearer her own mother and family members who had moved from Winslow and there began working on completing a master's degree in Sociology from ASU.
Upon completion of her graduate degree she joined the Peace Corp and lived in Jamaica for a few months. Although her assignment there was cut short due to unforeseen circumstances regarding the type of job available to her, she enjoyed her time working out, going to the beach, and making friends with the locals. However, after a period of time she felt she could do more at home so returned to Phoenix where she began working with Kevin Johnson's organization which offered developmental and educational opportunities for students and promoting community participation and personal development. She encouraged those in attendance to become aware that higher education exists within a 'White' framework and that it is okay to remain culturally competent within the structure of academia by sharing elements of one's background and upbringing to clarify and supplement their college experience. To conclude, she answered several questions from students and expressed her gratefulness to be able to share some of herself with those in attendance. Mona Scott is a unique and wonderfully motivated instructor whose passion for educating and empowering students keeps her enthusiastic and excited and she encourages students to take any of the classes she offers: AIS141 - Sovereign Indian Nations, SOC140 - Racial and Ethnic Minorities, SOC130 - Human Sexuality, and SOC101- Introduction to Sociology.
Arlene also introduced herself to everyone by her Navajo clans and talked with students about her background and being raised by a loving family in Forest Lake, AZ where she was taught to value her culture, heritage, and traditions. She recalled being sent to a boarding school at the age of five where her hair was cut short, her traditional Navajo clothes and moccasins were taken from her, and she was forbidden to speak her language or she would be punished. Although she struggled to learn the new English language, having been raised speaking only Navajo growing up, she never forgot her paternal grandmother's admonition to never forget who she was.
She recalled a very touching but humorous story that occurred while attending school off the reservation in Snowflake, AZ where students were answering 'present' to the teacher calling the morning roll. As she had been accustomed to answering 'here' during her younger years she was not aware that 'present' could be used as well. As the day passed and class came to a close students were dismissed and she looked around questioningly, thoroughly confused and saddened that she had not received a present from the teacher and she began to cry. One kind student asked her what was the matter and she said that she did not received her present from the teacher. She laughingly explained that after learning the word 'present' could have different meanings she then understood why she did not receive a gift for answering that morning.
She also shared pictures of her family, including her mother, her children, and grandchildren, one of whom is raising a pet goat that she combs and brushes everyday. Her mother is her foundation and Arlene attributes her life's experiences to the traditional teachings of both her mother and father who exemplified perfection to her as parents. She explained that even though they did not have university degrees their knowledge about life and living right surpassed anything that can be taught from a book and for that she is very grateful. Her message was filled with powerful and emotional moments while she encouraged everyone in attendance to remember their own identities while working to improve their futures and knowledge. Holding degrees in Elementary Education from ASU and a master’s degree in Bilingual Multicultural Education and Counseling from NAU, she is now a retired AZ state educator who loves teaching Navajo language and government at MCC, CGCC, and SMCC. She is living proof that she has not forgotten her identity as a strong Navajo woman who still possesses a strong attachment and love towards her family, culture, and language.
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