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Student Spotlight: Neely Bardwell

September 30, 2022 - Jesús Hernandez

Neely Bardwell (‘24) is a current third-year student at James Madison College.  

Name & Pronouns

Neely Bardwell (she/they)


Social Relations and Policy (SRP ’24), minor in Indigenous Studies


Grand Rapids, MI

What made you choose MSU, and why JMC?

To be honest, I chose MSU because they offered me more financial aid than the University of Michigan, but it was also not that far from my hometown, so I could still be close to my community back home. I chose JMC because I knew I always wanted to help people anyway I could. I initially wanted to be in politics, and, although this has since changed, I fell in love with Social Relations and Policy (SRP) and the openness and willingness to learn that the majority of the students in this program have.

What are your career goals currently?

I worked as a reporter over the summer for Native News Online, and I fell in love with the work I did there. That job allowed me to write, research and talk about the issues I care most about all while making change for my community. In the future, I have considered working within the university with Native students to help make college campuses more inclusive, inviting and safe.

What has been your favorite Madison class and why?

My favorite Madison class 100% was MC111 with Professor Fore. That class was my first experience where the history and experience of groups of color were centered and discussed. Authors of color were prioritized and treated with respect. Although this effort is only just a start, that class really raised the bar for all my Madison classes from then on.

How does your background and identity inform your student experience?

My identity as an Anishinaabe person shapes my experience 100% at this university and in life. The fact that the university is built on stolen land is isolating for me and many other Native students. We have to consistently fight for the right to be here.

All of my choices as to where I went to college, what career path I’m on, what degree I’m getting, etc. has all been heavily influenced by my identity. Everything I do is not to better me right away, but to benefit the future generations of Natives down the line. The work I’m doing here with NAISO: fighting for space on campus, working on a land acknowledgement plaque, working to increase Native staff, etc., is for the future Native students. The work I am doing currently and the work I will continue to do is all to make my ancestors proud and to help the next generations.

What does Indigenous People’s Day mean to you personally?

To me, Indigenous People’s Day is a reminder. It is a reminder of the traumas our ancestors faced and survived. It is a reminder of the continued struggles we face. It is a reminder of the work we continue to do. But most of all, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a reminder of the sheer strength and resilience of Native people. It is a reminder of the wisdom and strength I carry because of those before me.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is in of itself a protest. It is a protest against the celebration of Columbus Day, of the colonial structure and the institutions that support it. Remember, respect existence or expect resistance.