Commencement 2021 Profile: Keri Bradford advocates for Native American students in higher education

Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Elena Gomez and Keri Bradford

Keri Bradford (r), with her partner Elena Gomez

Keri Bradford (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) graduated with a Ph.D. in Education. Her dissertation, “The Higher Education Experiences of Native American Students: A Qualitative Study of Historical Trauma, Identity, and Institutional Support,” focuses on the intersectional identities of Native American higher education students and how education systems can better serve them. After graduating, Bradford will continue working at UCSB and serving on the board of directors for the United American Indian Involvement organization.

GGSE: What is one takeaway from your research you want everyone to know?
Bradford: I’d like folks to examine their assumptions about Native American identities. “Identity” revealed itself as a major categorical finding in my analysis, and the Native students I interviewed reported that their Indigeneity often was questioned, invalidated, appropriated, or fetishized by others. These gross assumptions can impact Native students’ sense of belonging on campus and stunt others’ opportunities to learn from Indigenous knowledgeways.

GGSE: Tell me about your position on the board of the United American Indian Involvement. How has it influenced your research and career?
Bradford: I joined the board of directors in February 2021 as a way to give back and serve the Native community in Los Angeles, where I’ve been living since October 2019. I don't know yet how UAII might influence my research or career, but it has already enriched my life by connecting me with the Native community in my new hometown.

GGSE: How has COVID affected your work and research?
Bradford: Before COVID, I imagined that I would get to conduct my qualitative research in person, and I was worried that by switching to Zoom, the data I gathered would somehow be less dynamic. But that didn’t turn out to be true at all — the Native students I interviewed gave incredibly powerful testimonies about their expectations and experiences in higher education.

GGSE: What piece of advice would you pass on to future GGSE students?
Bradford: This advice comes out of my research and my own lived experience: I would encourage future Native and Indigenous students, in particular, to take the brave step of joining student organizations such as UCSB’s American Indian & Indigenous Student Association (AIISA), that will fully embrace and celebrate all aspects of their cultural livelihoods. The significance of the family-like relationships they can create in organizations like AIISA can’t be overstated.

GGSE: Is there anyone at the GGSE you'd like to thank?
Bradford: So many! But primarily I want to thank Professors Sharon Conley, Hsiu-Zu Ho, and Jenny Cook-Gumperz for serving on my committee and helping me through the dissertation process with such great care, encouragement, and gentle guidance.

GGSE: How are you celebrating your graduation?
Bradford: My partner, Elena, and I are going camping in Sedona in a couple of weeks! We spent the pandemic remodeling our 1955 Shasta trailer (we named her Dolly Carton!), and this will be our first time taking her out, so if you see a cute little canned ham driving down the interstate, give us a wave!