Getting to Know Dr. Denise Askin

By Roberge, Nicole | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 2, 2006 | Go to article overview

Getting to Know Dr. Denise Askin


Roberge, Nicole, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


American Indian literature classes are not plentiful at U.S. colleges and universities, to say the least. But Dr. Denise T. Askin, an English professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., is devoted to the subject and is trying to keep it alive in her fall semester class, "Native American Voices." Although she isn't American Indian, Askin has been teaching the class for three years.

"Many of the Native American writers we study stress the importance of story to the survival of the people," she says. "The story and storyteller keep all that is sacred and meaningful alive for the people. I ask the students to think about the role of story in their own lives and culture and to think about what is lost when the storytellers are silenced. It is a powerful lesson in the endurance of the human spirit."

The 40 students in Askin's class will read the work of American Indian writers and explore the variety of ways the writers interpret the theme of loss in American Indian culture. Askin is also examining the rise of American Indian casinos, medicinal issues among American Indians and the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In 2005, 2.9 million people identified themselves as American Indian or Alaskan Native.

Two former students in Askin's class were so moved by the plight of American Indians that they volunteered to work on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a reservation the size of Rhode Island but with few government services. The severe poverty and alcoholism came as a shock to the students, Askin says. After graduation, the students plan on returning to the reservation to work and help the tribe. Askin believes that the problems on the reservation stem not from the people, but from a lack of resources. …

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