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Native American UArizona students claim President Robbins made insensitive comments

Posted at 5:39 PM, Nov 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-04 19:39:47-05

Native American student groups at the University of Arizona are demanding a formal apology from the school's president, following allegations of insensitive comments that were made last month.

Voices of Indigenous Concerns in Education , or VOICE, shared the letter on social media on Nov. 3.

The claims stem from a Native SOAR, or Students Outreach, Access and Resiliency class that was held outside of Old Main on Oct. 3.

Seventeen students from various tribal communities were writing letters of encouragement and support for attending UArizona, when President Robert Robbins "unexpectedly joined the class," according to the letter.

It goes on to claim that Robbins made a "failed attempt" to related to the group, by saying, "Not to pull an Elizabeth Warren," before telling the class how he completed a DNA test to try to prove his Cherokee ancestry.

The letter alleges Robbins told the group the test revealed negative results, but planned to take another test, because of his "very high cheekbones."

Students who say they witnessed Robbins comments allegedly told him the interaction "negatively impacted" Native SOAR students on Oct. 15. President Robbins reportedly apologized to the two students, and expressed interest in formally apologizing to the class, according to the letter.

But after several failed attempts to reach the president, VOICE and Native SOAR have yet to get that apology, the letter states.

November is Native American Heritage Month. On Nov. 1, UArizona shared a video on Twitter saying the school is "proud to recognize the rich history of our Native American Heritage on campus and throughout Tucson."

VOICE is asking President Robbins to formally apologize in-person to the Native SOAR students, and possibly the larger Native American community. The letter also states they would like to see changes in support for indigenous students and programs on campus.

KGUN9 has reached out to UArizona in an attempt to reach President Robbins.

Around 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the University of Arizona's Facebook page left a comment on the group's original Facebook post about the letter with a statement from Robbins:

In April, UArizona launched Campus Conversations in an effort to create change on campus and promote inclusivity. This came after a confrontation between students and Border Patrol agents on campus.

There's a Campus Conversation scheduled for Nov. 5 at noon that is full, according to the university's website.