ASU faculty who inspire: Bryan Brayboy

October 04, 2022 · 4 min read · By ASU Online
Bryan Brayboy, an experienced President's Professor and vice president of social advancement at Arizona State University, carries on his family’s legacy of community activism through the exploration of the roles of race and diversity in higher education. As an Indigenous person, his personal experience and teachings guide others to examine the origin of people and the truth behind current knowledge systems.

A planted seed behind a growing dream to teach

Bryan Brayboy never grew up thinking he’d be teaching others one day. He attended college to play sports and admits that early on in his education, he didn’t understand the rules and norms of higher education. As an Indigenous person and member of the Lumbee tribe, his transition to a new education system came with questions and confusion.

Brayboy’s mother, an educational activist and teacher, believed that every American Indian child should have access to higher education and that those teachers would ideally be Nativenative teachers. It was this belief, partnered with his personal confusion while attending college, that planted the seed for his growing dream to teach others about the indigenous way of life. He explained his thought process stating, “If people who aren't from this place don't understand the college going experience, becoming a faculty member can open up opportunities for others like me.”

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In this installment of Beyond the Screen, Bryan Brayboy, professor of anthropology at ASU, provides a look into his childhood, his calling to teach higher education and his passion for Native American education.

Breaking barriers for indigenous education

Teachers in tribal and indigenous communities typically only stay in their positions for eight to nine months. Brayboy wanted to break this barrier and make a change in education for these communities. After acquiring some grant money, Brayboy created a program for indigenous educators. Since 2001, Brayboy’s program has prepared almost 170 teachers, 90% of whom are still teaching while the remaining 10% serve as superintendents and principals. 

“I think that people who are from the communities and who understand the place, the students, the culture and cultural ceremonies, the parents and the families can do things a little bit differently and can be a bit more effective,” Brayboy said. “I think for us, the work was about creating the conditions for tribal and indigenous communities, and to be able to engage in the process of self education in the same ways that lots of communities do.”


An institution where failures and missteps bring learning opportunities

When Brayboy decided it was time to move from his previous job, he knew that he wanted his next job, and potentially last job, to be a place whose values resonated with his own. Fortunately, he found that at Arizona State University. With congruent values like inclusion, credible research, a fundamental responsibility for society and a strong vision of leadership, Brayboy said that choosing to work at ASU was an “easy choice.”

Brayboy admires how ASU has figured out a way to personalize an online experience. With the world and technology rapidly shifting, he recognizes that the way educators know their students and living circumstances are changing. In response, Brayboy prioritizes listening to incoming feedback and doing all that he can to implement change. He believes that this mindset is what keeps online educators innovating and being the best at what they do.

“I think it's about just continuing to move forward,” Brayboy explained. “It strikes me as a really important thing for us to make mistakes and that we don't have a fear of failure at ASU. In fact, we see failures or missteps as a place to learn.”


Exploring the relationships of knowledge systems in higher education

What do we value? What’s the meaning of traditions? What’s the origin story of certain ideas? What happens if there are multiple knowledge systems at play? These are all fundamental questions that Brayboy helps students explore in his ASU Online course, Indigenous Knowledge in Education. His teachings guide students through the important philosophical traditions for indigenous and tribal people.

Class engagement and learning material is rooted in the powerful value systems of indigenous knowledge and their correlations to the multiple knowledge systems that exist. “We focus on the power of relationships and relationality and what emanates from that,” Brayboy said. “So if we’re in relation with one another, or if I’m in relation with a place, I’m fundamentally responsible for it and to it.”


Connecting cultures and ideas online

An online education can connect the minds of an expansive group of people in an individualized and personal way. “So, many of my students will say to me, ‘I haven't met you, but I feel like I know you. I haven't met my classmates, but I feel like I know them.’,” Brayboy said.

Whether you want to pursue a degree in social transformation, such as ASU Online’s Master of Indigenous Education, or another one of our 300+ degrees and certificates, connecting with others to make societal and cultural change is one click away.

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