Every month, we highlight a graduating student engaged with one of the administered programs of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, exploring their work and experience at IU. Caleb King is a senior majoring in Neuroscience. Caleb has served as president for the Board of Aeons, on the IU Cabinet for Student Leaders for Vice Provost and Dean O’Guinn, and is also the president of the Native American Student Association. Recently, he discussed his time in college, what he’s learned, and what role the First Nations Educational & Cultural Center (FNECC) played in these four years.
What was your first introduction to the FNECC?
If you ask almost any Native student what they were looking for when they came to IU, it’ll inevitably have to do with finding a Native community and something that they can connect to from back home. That story is not any different from my own. I came to IU and wanted to find a Native community I could connect with, give back to, engage with. I ended up finding Nicki Belle after going through the entire student involvement fair during my freshman year. I had like 17 bags, signed up for 30 listservs, and I didn’t want to do like 95% of it. But I thought if there were no Native things to do here, then I’ll just join a comedy club or something! [Laughs] Which I love going to, not very good at doing.
I finally saw the First Nations Education and Cultural Center table. Nicky Belle was there, and we got to talking about my past, his past, our engagement with the Native community, and our connections to them. That was kind of my first introduction to the Native community at IU. It was him reeling me in and telling me to come hang out, eat, talk, make a community. It felt very native, to me, to do so.
What goals did you keep in mind then, and what goals do you have now?
We made it clear in our constitution that this organization is to engage the Native community, and it’s for people who want to grow closer to their culture with other indigenous people. The goal of the organization is to make space for native people, and I think we’ve successfully done that through game nights, dinners, speaking events, with small things that make a community. When we think back on our families, I don’t think we only consider the huge get-togethers we had. Maybe it comes up in conversation, but we think about the small interactions we had to create relationships that built long-lasting impressions. My goal as president has been to try to develop small opportunities for connection that will last and transcend our time at IU. I hope we’ve been achieving that.
What does the FNECC mean to you?
It means family and creates a home base. Without the FNECC, we wouldn’t have had a foundation to form the Native American Student Association, and it definitely wouldn’t have been as communally-oriented as it is.
What are some events you’ve helped coordinate in the past?
We’ve done some small things like collaborating with Nicky to bring in speakers. A lot of people in the Native American Student Association have spoken during the Wednesday speaker series. In the past, we’ve had Frybread Taco sales, which was really fun, game nights, and stuff like that.
We have also gone into classrooms and taught about wellness, about indigenous excellence, how our autonomy as nations has helped to increase our capacity in healthcare settings effectively, and improve our capacities in teaching. My most significant focus inside of the organization when talking to other people is Native excellence. I refuse any longer to talk about the health disparities; we’re all very aware of them. But what people aren’t aware of is the excellence and capacities within indigenous nations that need highlighting. That’s our focus now.
What has been your biggest accomplishment with the Native American Student Association?
I’d say our most significant thing is Indigenous People’s Day, brought about two years ago. It’s a great initiative connected to the Native American Student Association and the work we did to bring it about. I’m really happy to have graduated with that happening.
Formalized on IU’s campus last year, Indigenous People’s Day occurs the second Monday in October. In 2018, the Office of the Mayor officially proclaimed the date, but it wasn’t until 2019 when Nicky Belle, myself, and a few other students also helped to write the city legislation that the resolution officially passed. Now, I’m assisting with the finances for next year. I’ll be gone, but it’d be great to bring in speakers or have a parade or something.
You recently went to the Nike Native American Footprint Summit. What was that like?
It was an amazing experience. I’ll be going to Deloitte to do government and public services consulting. As an indigenous person, I was always told we had to give back to the community, nonprofits, things of that nature and I’ve generally agreed with that, not that working in corporate was an option.
When I went to this conference, I saw a general manager inside of Nike, in marketing, and he was leveraging corporate resources to give back to our community. He created the N7 line of Nike shoes, which are designed by indigenous people, and that’s something you can purchase. Then he created an N7 Fund from those shoes to give back to communities, to help increase their self-efficacy and health improvement. I met a senior vice president from Wells Fargo, who was indigenous and works on gaming financing. I met a senior executive from Bank of America, and I was with CEOs, executives, and business leaders.
I was with a lot of people who were in corporate and found ways to give back to the community while doing that. It was eye-opening for me, and I’m even more excited to do what I was going to do after graduating. It also helped me think about hiring indigenous talent to penetrate communities.
Most of us are first-generation, myself included, 75% of the room was first-generation, and they’re all CEOs and vice presidents now, which was hugely inspiring to me. There’s always excellence inside of those communities, but they don’t have the networks to be able to navigate the collegiate and post-secondary settings that we’ve been lucky enough to achieve. Secondly, I realized that we couldn’t just point out the negatives inside of an institution. My goal at IU has been to improve the system for those who come after you.
What was your path into the business world?
I’ve been dabbling in business since I was a freshman. I went to an Out For Undergrad Business Conference, which is an LGBTQ+ business conference based in New York during my freshman year, and then my sophomore year again. The whole time I was pre-med, and I said, this is interesting. I enjoy business, science, and medicine. I wondered if there was an intersection of these three interests.
It was in the pursuit of healthcare that I found Deloitte. I became a Udall scholar in Native American Health Care last year and attended the conference in Tucson, Arizona, and afterward, I was on the listserv and saw an email that said that Deloitte was hiring for government and public services consulting. I thought that the government was a high capacity way of giving back to the community, but I didn’t even tell any of my friends that I was applying because I thought there was no way I would get it. I had a lot of other plans, but now I'm ready to go for that career path and see where it takes me.
I want to work wherever I can make the most impact in my community while still being fulfilled by my job functions. Maybe in 10 years, I'll decide to go to med school or get a Ph.D. or master’s degree. I found a way that I can contribute to my community that excites me. I can also make a path for people who come from a similar background and might also be interested in corporate. I don’t think I’m closed off to any opportunity right now. I need to refine my skills and get a better understanding of what my community needs to equip myself better to make a career decision.
What was your biggest learning moment at IU?
Interacting with a lot of different people, I realized that we could leverage our differences well. Before I came here, I never really noticed socioeconomic differences in other people or having a cultural or non-cultural connection to your ancestry. I think I gained an appreciation that all of us have a groundwork that we get to build on. If we didn’t have these diverse experiences, I think we’d live in a very homogenous society and have homogenous decision-making. The less homogenous we can make a group of decision-makers, the more effective that group of decision-makers will be. That's one of the biggest lessons from IU.
Looking back on your four years, what are the accomplishments that you’re most proud of?
There are four things that I’ll always look back on. The first is becoming a Cox scholar. I was first-gen and was able to come to school without having to pay, which I wouldn’t probably be in college if I hadn’t done that. I get to set a precedent for my family that college is an option, which is something that we can all do. Someone who’s not first-gen might not understand the gravity of that, but I’ve now elevated the economic status of my entire family and given them more power in society.
The second was bringing Indigenous People’s Day to IU. My grandma always tells me that every decision we make should have a seven-generation impact. We should be thinking seven generations ahead for how we can make the world better for them.
Another was serving on the Board of Aeons. It was incredible to work on a project that I cared about and made lifelong connections. I was able to influence the university, at least peripherally, and hear more about how a large system works.
What I’m most proud of leaving here are the connections that I’ve made, from exec leadership like vice provosts to Terry who swipes cards at the Well’s Cafe. I am glad I can look back on these solid connections and moving forward, I know I can lean on them if I need to. I hope they know that they can lean on me if they need to, as well. Relationships are what make the groundwork for fulfillment, and I feel very fulfilled leaving IU.