Honors Students Level Up Their Knowledge as Museum Curators

November 14, 2022

Wendi Sierra, Ph.D., associate professor of game studies, bridges her personal identity as an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin with her course “Video Games and Representation” — where students explore Native American representation in video games. Specifically, they learn about tropes, cultural inaccuracies, stereotypes and myths commonly used to portray Native Americans in video games.  

Keara Lee ’24 is a supply chain management major and former student of Sierra’s “Video Games and Representation” class. Before the course, she had little knowledge of video games or their representation but was excited to take a course on a niche topic that would only be offered in the Honors College.  

“The course was eye-opening because the stereotypes are subtle but are how you have learned to perceive the Native American community,” expressed Lee. “I gained an awareness and started noticing [these tropes] beyond the class and had a new perspective on the topic. Our exhibit is a great representation of how valuable Honors courses are and how you can give special attention to certain, niche topics.” 

Sierra contacted the National Video Game Museum in Frisco, Texas about creating an exhibit. She said, “it was a way to showcase the work in the classroom and make it visible outside the classroom.” Students submitted proposals for different exhibit sections, and six proposals were chosen. They broke into groups to develop the section contents. The John V. Roach Honors College provides innovation funding to faculty to develop experiential learning opportunities in their course curriculum. Innovation funding allowed the class to travel and visit the museum, access research materials and purchase artifacts to make their exhibit a reality. 

“I absolutely loved this experience because it made the material come to life for students in a way that just doing textual analysis didn’t,” said Sierra. “As we started talking about the specific artifacts and sections for the exhibit, that was when the class shifted from me leading the students to the students taking on a leadership role, and that’s always an exciting flip when that happens in the class.” 

In Lee’s group exhibit section, they decided the best way to display their knowledge in a 30-year timeline of video games featuring Native American characters. The group’s goal was to show that in the 30-year timespan, the representation of Native Americans in video games remained stagnant. They found that two tropes were continually used: the “noble” and “ignoble” savage. The trope of the “noble savage” is when characters are meant to represent Native Americans but solely benefit white, hero characters. The “ignoble savage” trope is Native American characters portrayed as brutal savages that hunt and kill.  

“The most challenging part of creating the exhibit was putting on our ‘news reporter’ hat to present the information without inserting our own opinion, yet draw attention to nuances that people might not otherwise notice,” stated Lee. “Then, allow the museum visitors to draw their own conclusions based on the facts presented.” 

As a student, Lee’s biggest takeaways were “that being educated and made aware of issues are the best ways to make improvements and progress” and that “the Honors College is great and offers so much value to your growth, honestly as just a person and also academically.” 

The students’ exhibition is currently open at the National Video Game Museum. The Honors College hopes to host an opening celebration to view the students’ work in spring 2023. 

John V. Roach Honors College
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John V. Roach Honors College
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