Congresswoman Sharice Davids shared with students some ways that she’s overcome self-doubt, what advice she’d give her younger self, her hopes for the future and more during a visit to Haskell Indian Nations University Friday.
Davids’ visit was part of a TRiO Speaker Series. TRiO is a federal student service program designed to support the academic achievement of disadvantaged students.
The speaker series is intended to empower and encourage resilience in Haskell students by bringing in Haskell alumni “who have gone out and done some amazing things,” TRiO Director Miosha “Yosh” Wagoner said.
This event was hosted during the middle of the semester, when students are starting to have self-doubt to help motivate and encourage them.
“What I feel like are everyday, common experiences are the things that folks like to highlight about why it’s so uncommon that someone like me to be in Congress,” said Davids, a Democrat who represents Kansas’ 3rd District in Congress.
“It’s not uncommon to be raised by single parents. It’s not uncommon to be the first person in your family to go to college. It is uncommon to see people with that journey in Congress.”
Seven TRiO emerging leaders each asked Davids a question.
Micaela Chavez (Navajo), a senior in business administration said life after Haskell can seem pretty intimidating and asked Davids how she chose Cornell Law School.
Davids described her chance encounters which led her to the opportunity to apply for Cornell. She doubted her ability to be accepted, and her mentor told her that she couldn’t guarantee that she would get into the program — but that if she didn’t apply, she could guarantee that she wouldn’t.
Davids said that her journey to Cornell taught her that she should “be open to taking not just risks, but taking on challenges.”
Troy Begay (Navajo), a freshman in Haskell’s community health program asked Davids what mental obstacle she had to overcome as a student at Haskell.
Davids said that, growing up as an “Army brat,” she was often the only Native person in her schools or communities she lived in. In coming to Haskell, “it was really nice to be a little less out of place” and that “getting that experience, the chance to be around other Indigenous young people pursuing college education was empowering.”
Denmi Whiteman (Oglala Lakota, Southern Cheyenne), a senior in Indigenous and American Indian Studies who plans to go to law school after graduation asked Davids if she’s ever had to deal with imposter syndrome, and how she dealt with it.
Davids told a story about when she first started law school. She stayed with a friend for two weeks because she was nervous to commit to a lease. When she talked to other new law students, she noticed that they also felt uncomfortable so she decided to help them feel welcome and, in doing so, she began to feel more comfortable as well.
She also told a story about arriving to a meeting early and not knowing where to sit — at the table, or in the chairs against the wall. Then she realized that no one else knew that she felt uncomfortable there, so she sat at the table and spread her things out in front of her, claiming her space.
A junior in Indigenous and American Indian Studies asked Davids if she was able to see her 21-year-old self as a student again, what advice she would give.
Davids noted three points: what success means and looks different for everybody; she doesn’t think we “embrace the differences of what will make us thrive enough”; and if you’re learning, you’re doing well. You get to decide that success.
Skyler Labahe (Hopi, Navajo), who plans to enter the Indigenous and American Indian Studies program after graduating with an associate of arts in community health, asked Davids about internship opportunities.
Davids recommended the Udall Foundation’s Native American Congressional Internship, various LGBTQ+ organizations and internships with her office, and she mentioned that there are internships on the executive side as well.
Randi Andrlik (Ogala Lakota), a junior in environmental science, asked Davids what she does to deal with the daily clash of her culture and Western culture.
The audience reacted with an intimate understanding of this question.
Davids said that she has a group of friends she can call to let off steam after insensitive interactions. She can call them and say, “so-and-so said X to me and that hurt” and she doesn’t have to explain why it hurt because they understand. She said it can help when her friends get angry on her behalf.
Summerdawn Klain (Navajo), junior in Indigenous and American Indian Studies, asked Davids, “What is your vision for our Indigenous youth and their future endeavors?”
“My hope is that mainstream society will learn, not just from the struggle and challenges that Indian Country deals with, but also from all of the beauty and success that Indian Country has […] and what it means to heal; what it means to take recognition of and grow when things have gone really wrong,” Davids said.
“To me, what the future looks like is a country that takes some of the really beautiful parts of the resilience of Indigenous people and embraces that and learns so that we can all grow as a country,” she continued. “It’s not that I’m saying I want other people coming into Native communities. It’s that I want people to be listening to what Native communities are saying and doing.”
She said she thinks that can have a really positive impact on the entire country — “and you guys are on the cutting edge of that.
“I don’t know what it actually is going to look like — that’s for you guys to decide. But I feel pretty hopeful about it,” Davids said.
Students presented Davids with a blanket and necklace after the talk.
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Molly Adams (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a Haskell alum with a passion for photojournalism. She strives to create authentic images that portray the true lives of Lawrence community members.
She can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com, and her public work can be found on her website. Check out more of her work for the Times here.