Cornell University: Reporters discuss history of “land grab” universities in press freedom lecture


In “Land Grab Universities,” the 2022 Daniel W. Kops Freedom of the Press Lecture, journalist Tristan Ahtone, a member of the Kiowa tribe, and historian Robert Lee will talk about how Indigenous land expropriated by the 1862 Morrill Act is the foundation of the land-grant university system.

The lecture, which will expand on their 2020 investigative reporting in High Country News, will take place Sept. 13 at 5:15 p.m. in the Wing Lecture Room, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. A ticket is required to attend in person, one ticket per request. The lecture will also be livestreamed by eCornell.

“The American Studies program is honored to host Tristan Ahtone and Robert Lee as the Kops Freedom of the Press lecturers,” said Shirley Samuels, director of the American Studies Program and professor of literatures in English in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Their investigation into the origins of American land grant universities continues to spark self-examination and action at land grant institutions. By inviting them to Cornell, we welcome a serious discussion of the history of relations between Indigenous communities and settlers, and between land and higher education.”

Ahtone and Lee co-authored the March 30, 2020 investigation “Land-grab universities” in High Country News, piecing together how the United States used nearly 11 million acres of Indigenous territory taken from almost 250 tribes, bands and communities to launch the land grant university system in 1862. The act redistributed an area larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, Ahone and Lee reported.

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