- Faces of CMN
At the College of Menominee Nation, we are proud and honored to have people from numerous walks of life brighten our halls. With Faces of CMN, the Institutional Advancement department speaks with staff, faculty, alumni, and students to learn more about them, their lives, and how they help shape the College's legacy.
Could you please give us your basic information: name, title, and a brief descriptor of what you do at CMN?
My name is Vicki Besaw, and I’m a faculty member at CMN, primarily teaching in the Humanities department, but also assuming the role of Coordinator for the
Integrated Studies in Sustainability Bachelor’s degree. Right now, I’m sort of dividing my time between teaching and trying to complete a revision for the ISS program, to get that up and running.
How long have you been with the College?
I’ve been with the College for over seventeen years.
It’s been a while! <Laugh>
Are you an alumnus of CMN, and if not, how did you find your way here?
I’m not an alumnus! I’m actually enrolled in the Lac Courtes Oreilles tribe in Wisconsin. Up there, I met my future and former husband, who is Menominee. This is where we ended up, to raise our children.
What about the College appeals to you?
I always wanted to be in education. I knew that I wanted to teach Native students, so I started off in the K-12 system at the Menominee tribal school and district high school. After that, I knew I wanted to teach adults, so I got my Master’s degree and then I applied at CMN.
We talk a lot about taking care of the students, that they can take care of us, and I find that - relative to other places I’ve worked - the idea of trying to foster that familial relationship feels a little more ingrained here. Can you share a brief anecdote about a time that made you feel like part of the CMN family?
I don’t know if I could name one particular time. Over the years, there’s always been a really strong feeling of…as a faculty member, I’ve always felt well taken care of, by the administration. With the students, I really just think there’s a closeness that you wouldn’t find at a larger institution. We establish a relationship with our students that even extend beyond classes and programs, out into the real world. I think that’s really what makes that communal/family atmosphere, the ability that we have to form those one-on-one connections with students. That’s always been really important to me, and I hear students talk about that all the time.
Is that the thing that keeps you invested in the CMN legacy?
It’s definitely a big part of it, but I’d say there are two things that keep me invested. One of those are those moments when you know you’ve really supported and helped a student, and then you see them grow and flourish. You know they’re out there in the community, making a difference, and to me that’s really important. As a Native person myself, it’s really important to me to support other Native people in wanting to go to school. You see that in them, that they’re here for growth, to support their family, they’re here for a better life. In those moments when you know you’ve been able to help them, those are extremely rewarding, because you do have those other times when it is very stressful. I think there’s this perception that educators get the summers off, and these longer holidays, that it’s a cushy job…but by the end of the school year, you are drained. It’s emotionally and physically draining, you don’t get to have the downtime. It isn’t like you get to take a day off when you’re feeling off, you’re working anyway, working beyond Monday through Friday, 8 to 4:30, working Sunday evenings, and late into the night…that can be really stressful. But knowing that you’re really making a difference, those can be small moments but they really sorta sustain and carry you, when you know you’ve helped someone.
The other side of it is, as a Native person experiencing…the trauma, the historical trauma, the generational trauma that exists in our community…I’ve lived that. One of the things that I’ve noticed in my students, going through the years, was how prevalent this was in their lives, and how silent they were about it. I knew that was something I really wanted to know more about, because we’re uniquely positioned as a tribal college to support our students’ healing and growth. So I went back to get my Doctoral degree in 2018, simply for that reason. That’s something very, very important to me that I want to continue working at, my impetus for the remainder of my career and what I really want to focus on.
I think that’s really noble. I can’t speak to that sort of hardship, and can - at best - empathize, but learning as much as I have about these sorts of hard issues over the last couple of years, it’s clear to me that…though it’s a cornerstone of the College’s history, it’s not something that they necessarily view as…for lack of a better word, a burden? It’s something that we acknowledge but are moving on and learning from, to grow and build and take back what was taken away from us.
Where do you think CMN goes from here? The 30th Anniversary is ongoing, but what do you think the aspirational “next step” is for the College, or for your programs in particular?
I think one of our strengths is the community atmosphere we’ve created here, but I’ve seen a shift in the past few years where we’re really focusing on the idea of meaningfully infusing Indigenous ways of being and knowing into our curriculums. I shouldn’t say just the curriculum, but institutionally. We’ve had that to some degree, but I think the faculty in particular is really making an effort beyond the superficial level. Sometimes that’s hard to avoid, but we’re really working towards that. I think we’re becoming more and more student-focused, addressing the things that our students need most. That goes beyond academic learning, the idea of becoming a space where students can confront and deal with experienced trauma, the legacy of historical trauma…that’s really vital for our College, and I think we’re emphasizing that more, just becoming more attuned to what our students need and how we can give that to them while giving them the academic skills they need to go and work in the world and take care of their families.
I feel like in the past few years, we’ve kinda pushed - as a society - more of a focus on mental health, even if it feels a little commodified. I think it helps. I hope it helps, knowing that you’re not alone. It goes a long way.
To cap this off, is there anything you can share as a message of hope and goodwill to the community and students at large?
Sometimes, we can become so focused on - and I’m guilty of this, too! - the deficits we’ve experienced, the difficulties we face. Over the years, I’ve seen such strength, such talent in our students, and I…I think just having conversations and giving students an opportunity to express that is so important. We just have so much talent in our communities, in all areas - not just academic, but in the arts. Those are things we need to celebrate, and celebrate ourselves. It isn’t an Indigenous value to celebrate yourself in that way, so sometimes we don’t recognize our own accomplishments, and I’d like to see us do more of that. There’s so much there, it’s so inspiring.
I’m teaching a Creative Writing class right now, and the things that they’re producing, even in short in-class writing, blows me away. They’re phenomenal. Our community has so much of that, and we need to acknowledge that.
That’s all I’ve got for today. Thank you so much for your time.