UArizona opens its first tribal microcampus to serve the Pascua Yaqui Tribe
The microcampus's initial curriculum will include the Indigenous Governance Program courses jointly offered by the James E. Rogers College of Law and Native Nations Institute, with plans to expand in the future. Courses will begin this fall.
A new University of Arizona microcampus will serve the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Tucson, giving tribal members what leaders called a "homecourt advantage" to complete college degrees and certificates and access university technology, research and tutoring services.
The university celebrated the grand opening of the microcampus Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the newly renovated, 5,000-square-foot space at 7400 S. Settler AveThe building, which sits just east of the tribal reservation, formerly housed the Hohokam Middle School.
"This new University of Arizona location designed to serve the Pascua Yaqui Tribe represents a significant milestone in our ongoing commitment to Native American communities – especially those whose traditional homelands include Southern Arizona," University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins said before the event. "It has been a goal of mine for years to establish a campus for every tribe in the state, and I hope this will be the first of many."
Robbins delivered his remarks via a video call. In-person attendees included Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio; members of the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council; Regent Cecilia Mata, secretary of the Arizona Board of Regents; Levi Esquerra, UArizona senior vice president for Native American advancement and tribal engagement; Marc Miller, dean of the James E. Rogers College of Law; and José Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who is also a lecturer in the College of Law and associate director of the college's Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program's Human Rights Clinical Programs.
"This is home, and now this is your home here at the microcampus, right here by our reservation where our ancestors have lived for a long time," Yucupicio said in his remarks. "Let's make this the best place to come and study."
The new microcampus is the result of a university strategic plan initiative to better serve Native American communities. It is also the latest development stemming from an agreement between the university and the tribe, signed last year, to help tribal members more easily access higher education and workforce training programs.
"That intergovernmental agreement set the foundation for more partnerships with the tribe, and that was one of the most significant steps to getting this microcampus up and running," Esquerra said. "Today is a celebration, but there's so much more coming after this. This has opened the doors wide open for more collaboration between the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the University of Arizona."
A space flexible to the tribe's needs
Leaders with the tribe's Education Department worked with university leaders to develop the initial curriculum for the microcampus according to the tribe's priorities to develop its workforce, said Robert A. Williams Jr., a Regents Professor of Law and faculty chair of IPLP who helped lead the microcampus initiative and planning process.
The UArizona will work with tribal leadership and department heads and to survey the tribe's employees, most of whom are Yaqui tribe members, about which courses they want to take. The tribe has about 19,000 enrolled members, with roughly 5,000 living on the reservation, located on the southwest side of Tucson.
"Today, we celebrate bringing this opportunity home to the reservation, so that no one has to leave if that's not what they choose to do for themselves," Serina Preciado, the tribe's education director, said during the ceremony. "We advance the narrative of what it means to be from 'the rez' today."
"I'm happy to say that at Pascua Yaqui, we have world class higher education right in our backyard," Preciado added.
To start, the microcampus will offer the College of Law's Indigenous Governance Program's Masters of Professional Studies degree and the Native Nations Institute's Continuing Education Certificate in Indigenous Governance. The college plans to offer the Bachelor of Arts in Law – one of the university's fastest-growing programs – once the first programs are up and running.
The Indigenous Governance Program allows students to pursue the Master of Professional Studies or graduate or continuing education certificates in Indigenous governance. It is a partnership between the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program and the Native Nations Institute, which helps Indigenous communities achieve their political, economic and community development goals.
Williams, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and a former chief justice for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe's Court of Appeals, will teach several of the microcampus's first courses. More programs are on the horizon, Williams said, especially those related to K-12 teaching, nursing, cybersecurity and more.
"Control over education is so critical for the survival and identity of Indigenous tribes," Williams said. The challenge, he said, often comes down to getting the education to the reservations.
"The microcampus bridges that gap," Williams added. "Because of the incredible investments we've made in distance learning and the great relationships we have with tribes, I don't think there's a more relevant set of curricula than what we have at the University of Arizona for Indigenous peoples."
The microcampus will offer a mix of online, in-person and hybrid courses, with Arizona Online providing the infrastructure for the virtual courses.
"We wanted it to be as flexible as the needs of that community need it to be to make this work," Williams added.
Courses are scheduled to begin with the 7 Week Second session of the university's current fall term. The session begins Oct. 13 and runs through Dec. 7.
Blending UArizona resources with Yaqui symbolism
The microcampus features a large classroom, outfitted with desks and chairs to accommodate up to 50 students. The classroom includes two large video monitors on portable stands and round tables more suitable for group work.
Two adjacent rooms provide quiet study or conference spaces. Another room will serve as a computer lab with eight computer stations and access to a printer and the university's Wi-Fi.
Selina Martinez, a Yaqui architect, designed the renovations for the microcampus. University and tribal branding were incorporated alongside Yaqui motifs, such as flowers that reference Sea Ania, or Flower World, which represents the beginning of life and the result of hard work in Yaqui tradition and ceremony.
A sign outside the new space reads "Huya Miisim" – Yaqui for "Wildcats."
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