Cal State honors professor starting three-year American Indian project

CSU San Marcos Professor Kristen Diekman was one of the recipients of the university system's annual Wang Family Excellence Awards.
CSU San Marcos Professor Kristen Diekman was one of the recipients of the university system's annual Wang Family Excellence Awards.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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A California State University San Marcos professor launching a project aimed at empowering Native American students through digital media received top honors from the university system this week for her work getting student voices heard. 

CSU trustees honored professor Kristine Diekman this week with one of five Outstanding Faculty Awards.

Trustees noted Diekman’s 30 years of work producing films and videos that push for social change.

“A lot of people do not have access to be able to have their stories and their voices heard,” Diekman said.

She seeks to empower people by using digital media as tools for social change. One of the most satisfying projects, she said, was “A Way Out," which helped a young man leave a violent gang.

Her newest effort, the American Indian Digital Media and Culture Project, is a three-year collaborative project with Joely Proudfit, her university's Director of Native American Academic Strategic Planning. The project's goal is to build a bridge between students on campus - Native American and non-Native American - and the tribes near the north San Diego County campus through video and digital projects.

Games, apps, videos, photos will be the tools to explore American Indian culture. She hopes to enlist tribal members to talk to students on campus about how to approach American Indians when asking them to document their lives and research their culture.

Diekman said the project will help her university’s Native American students better connect with their heritage.

“But also I think it will help the general student population to become more sensitive to the needs of the American Indian students on campus,” she said.

One possible project could be an app to teach American Indian languages.

Some activists hope similar projects sprout at other campuses.

“We haven’t really made it a point as a community to involve [American Indian students], and to reassure them and to help guide them,” said Patricia Lopez, a member of the L.A. City/County Native American Indian Commission.

According to the 2010 Census, more Native Americans live in California than in any other state. But they’re still far less represented in colleges and universities than they are in the rest of the state: Native American students are less than one half of one percent of students in the entire Cal State system.