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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Land in Land-grant: Unearthing Indigenous Dispossession in the Founding of the University of California

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The Morrill Act of 1862 established agricultural and mechanical arts colleges by granting public lands to states to promote the liberal and practical education of U.S. citizens of average means. The resulting land-grant university movement brought liberal ideals to (white, male, Christian) Americans by reducing geographic and class barriers to education, while also serving settler colonial interests via redistribution of Indigenous lands and institutionalization of agricultural knowledge production that has entrenched white supremacy. In this paper, I draw on recent scholarship by Lee and Ahtone (2020) to look at the question of land itself in relation to the Indigenous communities who were dispossessed, with a focus on the University of California. I explore the possibilities and limitations of data on the University of California’s specific land dispossessions, and how they might serve existing efforts by California Indian communities to rematriate land, obtain reparations from the state, and decolonize the university.

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