Dr. Sherry Allison speaks, Highlander Center honored

From the presenters to the keynote speaker to the honorees, everyone at the recent presentation of Fielding’s annual Social and Ecological Justice Award seemed to agree: Education holds the key to overturning injustice.

Presented by Fielding’s Marie Fielder Center for Democracy, Leadership and Education, Friday’s event in Santa Barbara honored the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South.

Dr. Katrina Rogers

Fielding President Katrina Rogers noted that Fielding faculty and students have been visiting, and benefitting from, the Highlander Center since the university’s inception. She described Highlander as “a hearth and home for powerful ideas” and “a place of learning, and of seeing something that is new and other.”

The center’s coexecutive directors Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson and Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele accepted the award, after leading a seminar at Fielding’s National Session that day.

Ms. Henderson expressed their delight at sharing the moment with an institution that shares Highlander’s mission “to liberate our people from systems that harm us,” noting “that feels really necessary at this particular political moment in time.”

(L-R) Highlander’s Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson with Fielding’s Dr. Gerald Porter and Dr. Margo Okazawa-Rey

Fielding’s Social and Ecological Justice Award recognizes demonstrated concern for and commitment to the furtherance of social and ecological justice. Awardees exemplify the university’s vision to create a more humane, just, and sustainable world through both scholarship and practice. Past recipients include Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Fielding cofounder Dr. Marie Fielder, who was an educational pioneer and civil rights leader.

Dr. Sherry Allison and Fielding VP Dr. Orlando Taylor

Dr. Sherry Allison was the keynote speaker. President of the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and a member of the Diné Nation, Dr. Allison spoke of the egregious mistreatment of native people and their allies who were protesting the development of an oil pipeline last year at Standing Rock, which threatened their access to clean water. It was only the latest in a long timeline, she said, of the government’s “ill-suited laws and policies created on our behalf to govern our health, our homes, our lives.”

She argued that educational access is the remedy. “We need lawyers, engineers, IT people, PR people,” Dr. Allison said. “Education is key to the progress and survival of our native people. For us, the fight isn’t over.”

Noting that Fielding has graduated numerous Navajo doctorates through our OURS and Educational Leadership for Change programs, Provost Gerald Porter concluded the event with an echo of the evening’s theme: “Education,” he said, “is perhaps the most powerful tood still available to fight injustice.”

(L-R) Fielding faculty Drs. Steve Schapiro, Okazawa-Rey, Patrice Rosenthal and Melchor Hall