Penn State’s University Park Undergraduate Association has been busy this semester, with UPUA President Zachary McKay having expressed a “genuine want to help people” even before winning the organization’s presidential election in April.
On Nov. 4, UPUA passed resolutions that seemingly reflect McKay and Vice President Lexy Pathickal’s voiced desire to address injustices at Penn State while promoting and understanding the university’s diverse community.
Two of the resolutions passed during that meeting focused on advocacy for Penn State’s Indigenous population.
The first resolution called for recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day, promoted a week of advocacy for Native American students (which started on Nov. 9) and sponsored a speaker series.
The second resolution declared UPUA’s support for the university to issue a land acknowledgement statement. As a land grant university, Penn State sits on and profited from thousands of acres of Native American land.
These are undoubtedly positive movements — but perhaps what is most important is UPUA’s coordination with Indigenous students themselves on these initiatives. UPUA worked closely with Penn State’s Indigenous Peoples’ Student Association to bring these resolutions to fruition.
IPSA is doing important work on Penn State’s campus, representing and advocating for Penn State's Indigenous student population — a population that is considerably small, with less than 30 students.
As a predominantly white institution, Penn State only stands to improve if more diverse voices are heard and promoted.
It’s important that UPUA is advocating for the voices of Indigenous students, not by speaking over them, but by listening and working alongside them. Hopefully, UPUA’s partnership with IPSA will only be the start — both for UPUA and for the broader Penn State community.
The importance and rights of Indigenous people should not be confined to November, which is National Native American Heritage Month. It is our hope that UPUA commits to serving this group of often overlooked students, creating an example for Penn State itself.
Additionally, it is our hope that other students and student groups use their voices to promote marginalized students on campus, including Indigenous students.
For example, at UPUA’s Nov. 4 meeting, IPSA President Tim Benally said IPSA has asked Penn State's football team to wear red during its Nov. 21 game to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women.
UPUA’s resolutions are a big step in the right direction — but imagine how impactful it would be if Penn State’s student-athletes, some of the most influential people on campus, used their voices to advocate for Indigenous people.
Ultimately, though UPUA’s resolutions might not change the university overnight, these efforts are a good start in recognizing, understanding and uplifting the voices of Indigenous students at Penn State.
Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Grace Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.