Heard on Campus: Charlene Teters of the Institute of American Indian Arts

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — "The impact of these things [derogatory stereotypes] get in our way. They get in the way of our work. Because when you dehumanize a people, it makes us vulnerable to acts of racism and hate. Every day we have the opportunity to walk the path of the heart. If you're looking for inspiration, look to your heroes, and sheroes. You must be the person who will be fully accountable. You must be the person who will groom new leadership. You must be the person who will sacrifice to do that. Because if not you, then who?"

— Charlene Teters, academic dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), guest speaker at the Penn State Forum held April 24 at the Penn Stater Conference Center on the University Park campus.

Teters is a citizen of the Spokane Nation and well known internationally for her work as an artist, writer, educator and activist. In her lecture, titled "If Not You, Then Who?" she shared her experiences of being a child listening to her grandmother's teaching stories, speaking out in college against institutionalized racism and discovering mentors who used their power to lift her up and help her find her voice.

"We know our colleges and universities are microcosms of the larger community, and those of us who work in these universities, we have quite a bit of responsibility to make sure that we create good citizens," said Teters. "That's what my job is as an academic dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts. ... Educational institutions should be places where all people's identities are respected."

Teter's work examines the social presumptions and portrayals of American Indian people in pop culture and media. She rose to national prominence as a graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she led protests against the degrading depictions of American Indian caricatures used as sports teams' mascots and was the subject of an award-winning documentary, "In Whose Honor," by Jay Rosenstein. In 1997, Peter Jennings, anchor for ABC World News Tonight, honored her as “Person of the Week,” and in 2002, she received a New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Among her many accomplishments, Teters established the Racial Justice Office at the National Congress of American Indians, and is a founding board member of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media.

She earned an associate of fine arts in painting from IAIA in 1986, a bachelor of fine arts from the College of Santa Fe in 1988, and a master of fine arts from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIHC) in 1994. In addition, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Mitchell College, New London, Connecticut. She returned to IAIA in 1992 as director of alumni relations and student retention, and later was appointed as a full-time faculty member in the Studio Arts Department where she was promoted to the rank of associate professor in 2013. In 2000, she was appointed as the interim dean of the academic division.

The Penn State Forum Speaker Series is open to the public. Tickets are $21 and include a buffet lunch. Tickets may be purchased through the Penn State id+ Office, 20 HUB-Robeson Center. For questions, call 814-865-7590 or email idcard@psu.edu. For more information, visit sites.psu.edu/forum.

Last Updated April 25, 2018