Critical Reflection

Throughout the course, there have been a number of assignments that have resonated with me and made an impact on my journey of multicultural learning and social justice.  First off, I thought that the racial academic autobiography was a great exercise.  I had never really considered aspects of racial diversity (or lack thereof) in my education before.  I think that whiteness was all that I really knew growing up, so it didn’t seem out of the ordinary to me.  It wasn’t until this exercise forced me to really step back and examine my experiences that I realized I had little to no racial diversity within students, faculty, or staff at almost all levels of my education.  This really showed me why I needed to pay more attention to these issues.

The theories group assignments were also very impactful for me in this course.  After learning about the theories, it was great to get some practice actually applying the theories to real life scenarios and responding to them at individual, group, and institutional levels.  The only criticism that I had about the assignments is that I think they became somewhat repetitive doing them 4 times.  I felt that many of the scenarios were very similar and could have been responded to in very similar ways.  I think that doing the exercise once or twice would have been enough.

Lastly, the current issue paper assignment really resonated with me.  As I mentioned above, I didn’t realize the lack of black faculty members in my academic career until I was actually forced to take a step back and look at it.  Because of that, I decided to research the retention of black faculty in higher education.  This was really eye opening for me.  I discovered how underrepresented black faculty is, how they are mistreated, as well as what barriers are set up against them in higher education.

Racial Climate

I think that racial climate in American Universities is a very important topic right now.  Although race has been an issue in higher education throughout history, I would argue that racial climate is as important now as ever.  A major issue regarding race in higher education is that universities are slowly becoming less and less diverse.  In fact, I recently read a study that showed a decline in diversity among American colleges within the last twenty years.  This is obviously an issue because it shows that we are regressing as a nation in terms of race relations.  One issue contributing to the decline in diversity is that courts ruled that race cannot be considered in one’s application for admission.  Universities must clearly be able to articulate their reasoning for seeking diversity, and it can only be considered if diversity cannot be met through race neutral methods.

I think another issue that has contributed to the decline in racial diversity is the overwhelming cost of attending college today.  I just read an article this week titled “State Universities Are Being Resegregated”.  The article discusses how race is being considered in admissions less today, fewer people of color are enrolled in college today than they were 20 years ago, and a decrease in state funding has led colleges to recruit more students who do not require financial aid.  The decrease in funding and increase in cost has made it almost impossible for low income individuals and underprivileged students to have the opportunity to attend college.  I believe that unless these issues get resolved, the overwhelmingly white racial climate will not improve.

I believe another factor affecting the racial climate in higher education today has a lot to do with the political issues currently taking place in our country.  Everyone is aware of President Trump’s policies regarding immigration, deportation, and building a wall on our southern border.  These controversial topics have created turmoil, not only in our country, but in the higher education communities as well.  I think that students of color, and Latino/a students in particular feel unwelcomed and under attack in higher education today.  Because of these controversial views and feelings, I think that there is a certain degree of racial division taking place in higher education.  Until we can resolve our differences and create a culture that makes students feel welcomed both at the university level and as a country, I do not believe we will be able to move forward.

Finally, I think a major difference impacting the racial climate of our universities today is that it seems as if diverse groups and students of color are uniting and standing up against oppression and marginalization more often.  A perfect example is the Black Lives Matter movement.  Black people came together to fight for their rights and to fight against the injustices that have occurred against them.

An experience that always sticks with me in regards to racial climate occurred was when I was fresh out of college and began my coaching career at my alma mater.  It was either my first or second season coaching when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in an NFL game to promote awareness of the injustices against black people within the United States.  This of course caused a nationwide controversy.  Although we did not have many student athletes of color on our football team in North Dakota, the ones that were there felt the impact of Kaepernicks’s actions.  During one of our games, a group of black players locked arms during national anthem and a news reporter took a picture of it and wrote an article in our local newspaper.

As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir in the small conservative white town of Dickinson, North Dakota.  There was a mixed response from the public, but many people were angry and making hateful comments towards the student athletes and their actions.  I will never forget the pressure that our head coach was under regarding the situation.  However, he stood by the black players and supported them through the whole process.  This meant so much to the players and I think it really helped the race relations and unity not only within our team, but in at the university as a whole.

Racial Academic Autobiography

When I think about race throughout my educational experiences, I mostly think of the lack of race and diversity that I experienced throughout my schooling.  As I’ve touched on before, I grew up in a small town in Montana in which there was not much diversity to begin with.  The population was overwhelmingly white catholic people, and the majority of them had lived within the town or state of Montana their whole lives.  As one can imagine, this lack of racial diversity directly carried over to my experience in school.

From preschool through third grade I attended St. Mary’s catholic school.  Although my memories from this time in my life are not quite as clear, I cannot recall a single teacher, administrator, custodian, or student that was not white.  I don’t remember really learning about people of different races either during my early schooling.  However, at this young age, this seemed normal to me.  The types of people that I saw every day in town were the same ones that I saw at school.  I switched to the public school system in fourth grade and attended Washington Elementary School for the remainder of my elementary education.  Again, I cannot recall any individuals of color during my time at Washington Elementary either.

From sixth grade through eighth grade, I attended Sleeping Giant Middle School.  Again, I cannot recall much racial diversity during this period of my education.  There were no faculty members of any race other than white.  I do however, remember one student named Maurice that was mixed race – black and white.  Maurice was a year younger than me, so I never really got the chance to interact with him much.  I was involved in some of the same sports as him such as basketball and football, so I did get to interact with Maurice during this time.  It was a pretty impartial relationship in that we got along just fine, weren’t really close friends that hung out outside of school and sports, and we weren’t enemies either.  I kept the same relationship with Maurice throughout high school.

Once I got to Park High school, my experience was very much the same.  Again, there were no faculty members of any race other than white.  Even all of the foreign language teachers were white.  As one could imagine, the student population stayed pretty consistent as well.  There might have been a few students of different races, but none that I can recall right now.  During my senior year, a new student moved to Livingston and started attending Park High.  His name was Anthony Ramirez and he was a year younger than me.  His family moved from Las Vegas.  He was a Black, Latino, and Filipino mixed race individual.


Anthony and I connected through sports and became very close friends.  I learned a lot from him in regards to his upbringing, background, and culture that he experienced growing up in Las Vegas.  As one can imagine, it was quite a culture shock for Anthony moving from Las Vegas to small town Montana.  On the same note it was quite the shock to me to learn about some of the experiences that Anthony had been through growing up such as gangs, shootings, and fights because these things never happened in the small town that I knew.  I like to think that I helped with the transition for him and he helped me gain knowledge and understanding of the world outside of Livingston, Montana.

After high school, I attended college at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota.  Although the community itself was lacking in racial diversity, the student population was surprisingly fairly diverse.  Most of the diversity can be credited to athletics as well as international exchange programs.  Outside of those two areas, the normal student population was mostly made up of local white students.  Most of the close relationships that I developed with people of other races came from my teammates on the football team.  Although the majority of our team was white, we also had Black, Latino, and Polynesian players, all of whom came from within the U.S.  Even though there was diversity amongst our players, the coaching staff for the football team was completely white.  Because of this, I think that players of color often felt like the coaches didn’t understand them.  In hindsight, they were probably right. Here is a photo of my college football team when I was playing.  As you can see, majority white.


I have thought long and hard about it, and I cannot recall a single non-white professor, coach, or faculty member that I encountered throughout my time at Dickinson State.  It is shocking to reflect back on it now, however, I never thought anything of it at the time.  There were many Chinese students at Dickinson State because of an International Exchange Program, the rack team had a lot of students from the Bahamas and Jamaica, and there were some players from Brazil on the volleyball team.  Although these were the cultures and races that I remember best and interacted with the most, there were many others represented at Dickinson State University. There was an area on campus at Dickinson State (pictured below) that had a flag from each country in which there was a current student attending school.

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There are two major experiences from my time in college that I think helped me learn a lot about race and other communities.  The first is a project that I had to complete for one of my classes that required me to interview a student from a different country.  I extensively interviewed a volleyball player from Brazil about her family life, culture, and experiences growing up.  I learned a lot from this exercise, and it also squashed any assumptions or preconceived notions that I had about her or people from Brazil.  This required me to step out of my comfort zone and I probably would have never done something like that if it weren’t required.  The next experience that was a major learning experience for me was attending a series that Dickinson State called “Global Tables”.  These occurred every Wednesday in the school library for a while and consisted of students from different countries sharing about their home country.  The Global Tables also had a moderator to ask questions and take questions from the audience.  This was a fascinating experience for me as I was able to learn firsthand about many different countries and cultures.

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Overall, my racial academic autobiography is still developing.  My experiences with race came a little later in life than it might have for most people.  In the last ten years, I have been fortunate to live a few different places that have enhanced my knowledge and experiences dealing with race.  Working with football teams has also been a great experience.  We have players of multiple races and backgrounds from all over the country, and I have been blessed to interact with them all.

Family History

I have tried to do some digging on my family history over the years, and unfortunately there seems to be a lot of holes that no one seems to know about.  Both my parents come from pretty broken families.  Each of their parents were divorced and remarried when they were kids, so there is a lot of family to try and keep track of.  I remember doing school projects on my heritage when I was younger and while many kids could say they were “half ____ and half ____”, my parents used to always tell me I was “Heinz 57… a little bit of everything”.

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Lets start with my mom’s side:

Mother’s Family

As far back as the legend goes, my mom’s father’s side of the family ended up in Colorado but no one knows where they came from.  They eventually made their way to Ryan Park, Wyoming where my great grandfather got involved in the logging industry.  My great grandmother fled Norway with her four kids and went to Wyoming as the cook at the same logging camp.  This is how my great grandparents met and got settled in Wyoming.

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My mom’s mother’s side of the family came to the US from Germany and settled in Buffalo, New York and worked at a glass factory before getting involved in World War I.  Eventually they settled in Wyoming as well where my grandparents met.  My great grandfather lost his leg in the war, and my mom tells storied about him when she was young.  He loved to cook, and her favorite memories were watching him maneuver around the kitchen on his one leg.  She said he would swing his hip up onto the counter to balance and go to work.  He would hop from counter to counter like he never lost a beat.

Eventually, my mom’s parents met in Wyoming at a young age, got married, and had four children (my mom being the youngest) before they got divorced.  My mom grew up in a broken home in Saratoga, Wyoming where she was mostly raised by her siblings.


Father’s Family

Again, there are some missing pieces on this side of the family.  Lets start with my dad’s father’s family… Both of my great grandparents grew up around Livingston, MT (where I was born and raised).  There families made their way to Montana and homesteaded up in the mountains.  My great grandmother’s family came from Germany, but I’m not sure about my great grandfather’s family.  My great grandfather was one of 14 children that was raised in a one room house in the mountains of Montana.  I was able to go see the remains of the house at one point a few years back, and it is amazing to imagine how they all survived, especially with the harsh winters in Montana.  My great grandparents met in Livingston where they got married, and owned a rock shop for many years selling agates, quartz, and other specialty rocks found in the river beds in Montana.  My grandfather was born In Livingston as well as my father.  Although this is not the original, this is similar to what my great grandparent’s homestead looked like when I got to see it.

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There is hardly anything known about my dad’s mother’s side of the family and where they came from, but she was born in Billings, Montana.  I am not sure how my grandparents met, but they got married, had two sons, and went through a messy divorce when my dad was young.  My dad lived mostly with his mother and was raised in about nine different towns throughout Montana and Wyoming before eventually settling in Saratoga, Wyoming when he got to high school.

My parents met in high school in Saratoga and got married when my mom was 19 and my dad was 21.  My dad worked in a coal mine outside of town for a few years.  Eventually the mine shut down and they moved to Livingston, Montana where my two sisters and I were born and raised.  My parents still live there today.  Here is a picture of Downtown Livingston:

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When I think about how my family history shapes who I am, there are a few things that come to mind.  First off, I think location plays a big part.  My whole family has basically come from either Montana or Wyoming, arguably two of the most rural states in America.  With that said, I have gained a great appreciation for nature and the outdoors.  I love to camp, hike, fish, and hunt.  I grew up in a small town and have always appreciated the small town values that came along with it.  To this day, I am courteous and friendly, and I still smile and say hello to people whether I know them or not.  On the negative side in regards to location, there was little to no diversity growing up.  Most people in my community were catholic white people.  It wasn’t till I got to college and since I have moved around for jobs that I have experienced diverse populations.  My family history is full of blue collar, middle class people, and that has really instilled the value of hard work to me.  Lastly, my parents both came from very broken homes, and that made them never want that for their family.  I am thankful that I grew up with a great family life and know what it looks like.  Here is a photo of my family at my sister’s graduation last month:

Image may contain: Robert Payne, Kristi Payne, Arynn Payne, Monica Payne and Ryan Payne, people smiling, people standing