A political organization or a social organization

Phoebe Racine | Blackfeet | 2010-2014

Phoebe was recruited to Dartmouth from a California public high school through the Dartmouth Fly-in program, which she heard about through an email. And the only reason she ever saw that was because she was bored at her summer office job and decided to check her email. And she didn’t know how to use email yet, so she missed the email to apply, sent in her application late, and then missed the email saying she was accepted. Dartmouth admissions had to call her school to track her down. Her freshman year, one of her professors got so fed up with her class not knowing how to use their emails, he dedicated class time to mentoring them in email etiquette.

Phoebe was the only Native student at her high school. Their school mascot was a chief. So she was attracted to Dartmouth’s Native community – she wanted to be around other Native kids. She also thought nowhere else would help her transform the way Dartmouth would – that she would be a different person leaving Dartmouth than she was going in. Dartmouth was vastly different from her home – an opposite coast, an alien culture. And she knew it would be a challenge.

Her freshman year, Phoebe was involved with the powwow committee. She received the Emerging Leader Award from the NAP at the end of the year which left her thinking, Oh, these people are kind of nice. And her sophomore year, she took part in the peer advising program, which had been around for one year at that point. She and one other girl each took on twenty freshman Native students.

“That felt really good,” Phoebe said. “I got to meet people. I had an excuse to eat lunch with people. I’m already a nurturing person. That role taught me how to be professional, how to be organized, and how to use Google Drive for the first time.”

Molly Springer, the then-NAP director, trained Phoebe as a peer mentor. She offered attention and resources. Molly was good at applying for and receiving grants, so the program always had funding. Phoebe felt close with Molly, felt as if someone were caring for her at this home away from home. Her junior year, things began to unravel. Molly left suddenly, and students were not allowed to contact her.

 “Even though she was imperfect, she supported me to such a degree that it was odd to suddenly have her be someone who I wasn’t allowed to talk to,” Phoebe said. “I had heard from other students that she could be a little flippant. She wasn’t universally liked. When someone’s in power, they’re going to be criticized.”

 When Molly left, Kappealani came in. The students liked her, she was a young, vibrant woman who had once participated in bikini competitions. Cool and energetic, warm and understanding. She left quickly after her start date. Phoebe doesn’t know why she left – she imagines the role must have been stressful. And she went on to an impressive role at Yale, so the NADs were alone for a while – which sucked. A lot of NAP programming fell through, despite OPAL’s best effort to pick up the slack. Phoebe stepped into the role of Peer Advising Director, which added work and pressure to her life for only nine dollars an hour. And she was a student without the support that she needed.

 On top of the unrest within the NAP, the Native community entered into a tumultuous period. Some students, Phoebe remembered, wanted NADs to be more political. One NAD student went on Bored at Baker – a site where Dartmouth students could view and post anonymous messages – and posted racist comments aimed at Native students. His hope was that his comments would inspire Native students to talk about important issues – rally together.

“The NAP was a wild place for a while,” Phoebe said. “People need a safe space to go, and NAD felt like that to some people. Making it political seemed dangerous, especially when the rest of campus would get mad at them for that.”

By her senior year, Phoebe was NAD president. And before she left Dartmouth, Phoebe’s big job was to draft up a constitution for NAD – something that could help to stitch the community back together after a period of unrest. For example, one student had made a spectacle on campus advocating for Native rights. For that, all of the Native students got heat from some of their classmates – even Native students who weren’t involved with NAD.

“It caused a big rift,” Phoebe said. “And it became a really big question for us about whether we are a political organization or a social organization. All the while we did not have a working constitution. So NAD students were using the lack of a NAD constitution to get away with some really bad behavior. A constitution would have given us some guidelines and rules to go by. We kinda needed to come together and agree on things, but people were using the lack of that to represent NAD in certain ways.”

Now, Phoebe studies Marine seafood systems in Long Island. (She studied aqua agriculture at Dartmouth). Seaweed, she said, is cool because it soaks up nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, all while being delicious. In her research, she wants to find out if seaweed can be used to soak up excess nitrogen.

“Long island sound has a big problem with nitrogen. If you grow seaweed there purposefully you can potentially remove excess nitrogen,” Phoebe said. “I think you can use it in really gentle ways.”