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Post by: Tessa Steinert Evoy, MTS 2020, Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant

HDS students have the opportunity to enroll in winter term courses throughout Harvard, often referred to as J-Term. While HDS offers its own J-Term courses like Kerry Maloney’s “Comparative Monasticisms,” Tessa sought a course in the Harvard Graduate School of Education to supplement her studies at HDS and reinvigorate her passion for activist work. 

Winter snow and twilight at Andover Hall

A snowy Andover Hall. Photo taken by HDS Office of Communications. 

I knew I was going to be in the Cambridge area this January and was wondering about opportunities, other than helping out in the Office of Admissions, that I could take advantage of at Harvard. That’s why I decided to look into the J-Term, or Winter Term as some call it, which allows students to take an intensive class for a week or two during January before the Spring semester starts. I decided this would be a good opportunity to explore courses outside the Divinity School. As someone who taught middle and high schoolers before coming to HDS, I decided to explore a few courses offered by the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE).

Two courses in particular stood out to me: “Informal Learning for Children” and “Native Americans in the 21st Century: Nation-Building I” offered jointly between HGSE and the Kennedy School. I was very interested in the “Informal Learning for Children” course, which over two weeks enabled students to collaborate with “researchers, producers, and senior executives from Sesame Workshop–and from outstanding museums, community centers, after-school programs, libraries, and summer camps–to develop concepts for a new informal learning venture.” I was able to preview both this course and “Native Americans in the 21st Century” by attending thirty-minute sessions at HGSE in November where professors introduced the courses to students. Based on these sessions, I decided to enroll in “Native Americans in the 21st Century” because I spent some time living and working on the Blackfeet reservation in Browning, Montana a few summers ago, and have not done a lot of engagement with the experience since. I was particularly interested in how this class could help me do that.

From January 15th-January 18th, my class spent six hours each day getting an intensive look into the modern problems and solutions of American tribes. The course included case studies, discussions, lectures, and a number of guest speakers who provide leadership within their tribes in different ways. We got to hear from Tesia Zientek, the Director and founder of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Department of Education and Advisor to the Potawatomi Leadership Program, Hon. Arthur “Butch” Blazer, President of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, and Daryl Baldwin of the Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki Program, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University. Additionally, the professor, Joe Kalt, and his colleagues provided countless anecdotes from their experience founding and working with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

All of these voices illuminated the diversity of indigenous experiences in the United States. Professor Kalt and our guest speakers stressed the significance of “cultural match,” a concept that challenges the idea of a one size fits all approach for facing problems in indigenous communities, even though this has been the policy in the United States for many years. What stood out about this course was its real-world potential. I found that by focusing on nation building and current issues in tribal communities, the skills we learned can also be applied to community building more broadly. In the future, I hope to take the second half of the Nation Building course because it will give me the opportunity to work on a project for an American tribe, allowing me to build on my previous experience working on the Blackfeet reservation.

Our final writing assignment focused on how my academic work at HDS connected to our week together. For this assignment, I looked at an article I had read in “Theories and Methods,” a required course for all first year MDiv and MTS students, written by Tisa Wenger on members of the Pueblo tribe utilizing the American Constitutional concept of religious freedom to protect their traditional ways of governance. I then focused on indigenous religions and how they are culturally cast in academia, which is work that I would love to continue at HDS. Ultimately, I would absolutely suggest taking full advantage of J-Term because it provides a wonderful opportunity to expand your knowledge.