The Project

Apply to participate in our convenings! Applications are due February 15, 2023. Visit our application for more details.

Landback Universities emerged from conversations between Jennifer Guiliano (IUPUI), Meredith McCoy (Carleton College), and Roopika Risam (Dartmouth College) while they were working on a project on the inherent tensions between the discourses of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) and “decolonization” that are circulating at U.S. higher education institutions today.

This pilot project aims to move colleges and universities beyond performative nods towards decolonization — such as land acknowledgments — to identify and operationalize practices for decolonizing higher education. While there are myriad ways colonialism operates through our institutions, we focus on land relations because rematriation of land lies at the heart of decolonization.

In this context, Landback Universities has three objectives:

  • Explore how to facilitate conversations between faculty, administrators, staff, and students to develop strategies for meaningfully decolonizing university operations;
  • Develop and disseminate recommendations that colleges and universities can implement to return stewardship of university lands to the Native nations they have disposessed; and
  • Serve as a proof-of-concept for our larger goal of using these methods to identify strategies that promote Indigenous sovereignty throughout a diverse range of offices, operations, and units that comprise universities.

Our work is guided by four core beliefs:

  • Discourses of “decolonization” within U.S. colleges and universities fail to address the institution’s ongoing participation in Indigenous dispossession;
  • Invoking “decolonization” as a form of DEI, such as diversifying curriculum, undercuts decolonial calls for land restoration and the remaking of systems of power on campus;
  • Studying or acknowledging an institution’s “historical” relationship to Native nations is insufficient because academic institutions in the U.S. continue to participate in and benefit from their occupation of and exploitation of Indigenous homelands; and
  • “Decolonization” in higher education cannot be rhetorical institutional positioning but must include actual investments in joint stewardship of land, financial commitments to Native communities, and other forms of reparation.

Putting these beliefs into practice, Landback Universities begins a national conversation about the practices in which higher education institutions must engage to participate in decolonization. We begin with land as the pilot of a broader project to articulate a shared vision of decolonization across workers in higher education and across types of institutions (i.e., research universities, teaching universities, small liberal arts colleges, and community colleges).

The activities for the pilot to get this work under way include:

  • Host two in-person convenings, followed by collaborative asynchronous writing, to facilitate conversations between faculty, administrators, staff, and students that collectively develop strategies for decolonizing university practices for land use and stewardship;
  • Develop, disseminate, and solicit feedback on the recommendations that emerge from the convenings for how universities can return stewardship of university lands to the Native nations they have dispossessed;
  • Draft a white paper discussing the approach of convening and collaborative writing for identifying strategies for implementing practices that promote Indigenous sovereignty throughout university operations.