3 out of 4 Indigenous ASU students in the study had “personal experience” with missing and murdered indigenous peoples

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3 out of 4 Indigenous ASU students in the study had “personal experience” with missing and murdered indigenous peoples

May 3, 2023

Three out of four Arizona State University students surveyed had a “personal experience” with missing and murdered indigenous peoples, or MMIP, that happened to them or to themselves, a friend, family or community member, a new ASU study reports.

The research team, led by Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Kate Fox and Clinical Assistant Professor Christopher Sharp of the School of Social Work, surveyed 93 local ASU students, interviewed 16 local ASU students, and interviewed 41 faculty and staff who work closely with with indigenous students. The project was supported by a grant from ASU’s Women and Philanthropy.

Image from the “Have You Seen Me?” collection by Isiah Hogue (Navajo). Used with permission.

According to the report, ASU enrolled 3,504 Indigenous students as of January 2023.

The results of the study show:

  • 94% of students interviewed said they were familiar with MMIP.
  • 82% said they had experienced “at least one form of interpersonal victimization.”
  • 75% said they had a “personal experience” of MMIP, meaning “it happened to them (or a) friend/family/community member”.
  • 66% say they know a family or household member has experienced some form of interpersonal violence.
  • 22% said they used campus services in response to their victimization.

A summary of the report’s findings, along with recommendations for supporting Indigenous students and others who have had such experiences, can be found in this infographic.

MMIP is the successor name to the original concerns raised about murdered and missing women and girls, or MMIWG. In 2019, Arizona became the third state to pass legislation designed to reduce the incidence of MMIWG.

The law created a 23-person study committee that worked with Fox and the ASU Research on Violent Victimization (ROVV) lab in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The committee and the lab analyzed data showing that the number of murders of indigenous women had risen steadily over the previous four decades, according to the report.

This week, the ROVV laboratory published the report with the results of the new study, entitled “Disappearing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples: Perspectives of Indigenous Students and the Faculty and Staff Who Serve Them.”

The report’s introduction calls the study the first known to examine Indigenous students’ collective experiences of violence and victimisation, their resilience and whether the university is responding effectively to their needs.

“Our results clearly show a very high lifetime experience of victimization,” Fox said, “so this is not a signal of victimization just during these students’ college years.”

While noting the university’s “concerted efforts to welcome and provide support for Indigenous students”, the report said little was known about such devastating experiences before this study.

Recommendations include training, programs, services

The researchers recommended that the ASU community, students and student organizations, and university leadership foster “an environment of acceptance and belonging for all students affected by interpersonal violence and Indigenous students affected by MMIP.” They also recommended training, programs and services to support affected students and help educate the community about the issue.

On March 7, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs signed an executive order creating the MMIP task force. Among other duties, the governor directed the task force to work with state, federal and tribal agencies to address the study committee’s recommendations made in 2020. Hobbs also directed the task force to collect data and review policies and practices, which have an impact on violence against Indigenous peoples.

“So many students have experienced so many forms of victimization”

Fox said she and her team assumed Indigenous students would know about MMIP, and they did.

“What was painfully obvious from our data set was that so many students experienced so many forms of victimization. Now, more than ever, universities, including ASU, are prioritizing inclusion, equity and justice,” Fox said. “These data show that this is a population that is not only understudied and often overlooked, but is a deserving population that the university should do more to understand and serve.”

One of the study’s student researchers, Katonya Begay (Dine or Navajo), who will receive a master’s degree in social work in May, said the study was a wake-up call for her as a social worker, showing that some people “are coming to universities , miles away from home, experiencing the trauma that comes with MMIP.”

Begay recommended that the university community prioritize continued advocacy for Indigenous students.

“We need to ask how we at ASU should support students in dealing with the MMIP crisis,” she said.

Begai said researchers have historically visited local communities to conduct surveys, but often did not connect with the people they contacted. During interviews, she said she was reminded to consider the impact of the MMIP issue on students. Fox said the ROVV Lab team actively partners with local communities in a collaborative and trauma-informed way and ensures that their research benefits them.

“This is a necessity and should be a priority”

As a local social worker, Begay said she wants to provide her community with more mental health services.

“This is a necessity and should be a priority not only for ASU but for our communities,” she said. “Bridging the gap in addressing the mental health of those affected by MMIP—unresolved grief, anxiety, depression, PTSD—are prevalent in our community.”

ASU will acknowledge the issue with its first-ever Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Recognition and Advocacy Day, 3:00 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 4, in La Sala Ballroom at the University Center on West Campus. The event is co-sponsored by the ROVV Lab, the ASU American Indian Social Work Association and the ASU Undergraduate Student Government.

Fox said advocates and community members will be at the Arizona Capitol from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 5, National MMIP Recognition Day, to remember those who have lost their lives. Vendors and information tables will be available.

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the School of Social Work are part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

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