This hyper-sexualization translates to the everyday experiences of Native women on the UW-Madison campus today, according to Skenandore.
“Native women are expected to fit in this sexual box, in a headdress and with dream catchers everywhere,” Skenandore said. “It really stems from appropriation, honestly, because people appropriate our culture and sexualize themselves while wearing things that traditionally indigenous people would wear.”
While the UW-Madison campus sits on Ho-Chunk land, indigenous students can’t always feel safe here, Skenandore said.
Walking down State Street, she often receives unwarranted and racist attention from men, asking “what are you?” It’s a question Skenandore says stems from their desire to categorize and exoticize non-white women. Then, she says, when men find out she’s Native, they take the exotiziation to a different level.
“If I were to try to educate them in that situation or reject them fully, there’s no saying that they won’t become violent, so for my own safety I have to feed into what they’re saying, at least a little bit,” Skenandore said. “I can’t talk away from that situation … and in doing so those men think what they are doing is okay, but there’s no way for me to express that.”
This education is a large part of what Johnson does as a violence prevention manager with UHS.
“One of our prevention strategies is men’s engagement … certainly not all people who perpetrate sexual assault or sexual harassment are men, but about 95 percent of perpetrators are,”Johnson said.
Following the climate survey results, the UHS team worked to educate themselves on how to specifically support the Native women on UW’s campus. Through trainings with the former UW-Madison American Indian Campus and Community Liaison and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, the team worked to understand the experiences of Native women on campus, as well as learn about Native culture.
“You’re not ready to talk about this intersection of this issue before you even know the 101 information about history and culture,” Johnson said.
In the year following the release of the campus climate survey, Johnson said, she made an effort to participate in cultural events in the Native community and inform students about the resources available through UHS.
“Even though there are 43,000 students and 63 native students, our job is to prevent violence before first-time incidents,” Johnson said. “Being connected with communities who are most at risk is part of preventing violence.
In the months following the survey release, the university also planned a healing circle for Native American survivors of both sexual violence and racism at the Dejope fire circle. A Ho-Chunk elder facilitated the ceremony, but the event was interrupted by two white students yelling stereotypical Native American “war-cries.”
“Everybody in our circle was really shocked, but the elder he just kept going, you know he didn’t pay it any attention,” Nelis said. “It was shameful, it really was … we were angry, we were sad.”
While the perpetrators of the incident were forced to apologize and punished for their actions, both Skenandore and Nelis don’t feel the university has done enough to support Native American women on campus.
Nelis wishes the university did more to incorporate Native cultural practices when addressing issues of sexual violence against native women. These practices include sweat lodges and other traditional healing ceremonies.
For Skenandore, the limited spaces meant to support women on the UW campus focus primarily on the experiences of white women and leave out Native voices — which is problematic on a campus that lies on Ho-Chunk land.
“[The administration] doesn’t help us at all. We don’t have any real guidance or resources and I think that when I do reach out it really depends on who I am reaching out to whether or not they are responsive or receptive,” Skenandore said. “I think the things that they do for their women, they do for white women.”
Meredith McGlone, UW-Madison’s director of communications, stated that the university is continuously working to ensure the voices of all students are heard.
“After the 2015 AAU survey highlighted the special needs of certain groups of students, including Native women, we responded with additional efforts targeted to those groups,” McGlone said in a statement.
Despite the marginalization of Native women, Skenandore is grateful for the opportunity to study at UW-Madison and hopes to use her privilege to elevate the voices of others who may not feel heard.
“We focus too much on our oppression and not enough on our privilege and we sit here feeling sorry for ourselves … yes I’m a woman, but I’m able bodied, I'm light-skinned, I live in an apartment right now, I’m going to school, I’m privileged in all these ways,” Skenandore said. “We need to advocate for folks who don’t have a voice.”