Escaping discrimination, Indigenous transfer student finds a home at ASU

Randall "RJ" Morin strives to inspire and support his friends and peers at his new university

From having his windows smashed, eggs thrown and obscenities etched into his car to dancing in a pow wow put on by his school, one Indigenous student has seen a drastic change in his life since transferring to ASU.

Randall "RJ" Morin, a senior studying music education and the 2018-2019 Mr. Indian ASU, said that where he came from was a lot less welcoming than where he is now.

Morin transferred to ASU from the University of North Dakota, where he said his Indigenous roots made him the target of a lot of racism and hate.

“At UND, I faced a lot of negativity,” he said. “I was always looking over my shoulder.”

Morin said that he always thought in the back of his mind that he’d like to come to ASU, but his transfer here was decided by fate.

“I took three darts and I threw them at a map,” he said. “One landed in Orlando, Florida so I toured UCF. One landed here in Phoenix, so I toured ASU. And the last one was in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico … so I toured both colleges, and ASU is a better fit. I just felt very much at home here.”

Morin said as soon as he started school at ASU, he had no trouble making friends and finding a home away from home at the University.

The Native community here on campus is just another big family," he said. "There’s so many of us that are willing to get tacos or have a movie night or do homework in Hayden library at 2 in the morning."

Morin said his main goal both currently and when he started at ASU was to “make a difference in someone’s life.”

After transferring to ASU, he began working with native youth not only through ASU but in neighboring communities, stressing the importance of getting a higher education and sharing his personal story.

“It shows them that no matter what situation you’re in, you can fight and find a way to get out of it and make a change for the better in your life,” Morin said. 


Morin said that in one of his classes, students participated in a privilege walk exercise and that, at the end of the exercise, he was further back in the room than all his classmates. 

“I looked at the people around me and the next person is four steps up … statistics say that I should not have even graduated high school, but I graduated with honors … I came to college with more than 20 credits … The fact that I’m now in the same shoes that these other privileged ones are just shows how far hard work can go,” he said.

He said having struggled with his mental health, he wants to be able to help people who may be struggling with those same issues 'to give them that voice, option and ear so they know someone is there and willing to help out and point them in the right direction.'”

Kyla Silas, the 2018-2019 Ms. Indian ASU and a sophomore studying family and human development, said she has formed a close relationship with Morin since they ran for the pageant together and that he is always there for her or anyone who needs help.

“If he knows he can help, he’ll help in the best way he can, and he’s always asking me, ‘Do you need help? How are you? Did you eat today?’ But that’s RJ all the way around," she said. "That’s just his personality.”

Silas said Morin has adopted a big brother role in her life and she can always count on him to bring her up when she’s feeling down.

In addition to all he does for others, she said his determination for success is inspiring.

“He came to ASU with all this courage and strength, and he’s really killing it out here because that’s RJ. He’s not built to fail,” Silas said.

Sahmie Joshevama, a management intern at the Office of University Affairs, said despite all that Morin does, he is an easygoing person who has outstanding leadership qualities.

“He’s very kind, very giving and very selfless,” she said.

Joshevama said the discrimination Morin endured at NDU has helped him to become a more understanding and welcoming person.

“It helps him to be more aware and welcome everybody around him just because he knows what it feels like to be in that position,” she said.

She said Morin is a great person to spend time with, and that students often come to talk to him and seek advice from him and that he is always there with open arms.

Joshevama said she admires how proud of his Native roots he is and that he is always trying to teach students about his culture and work it into the conversation that he is an Indigenous student.

Morin said his Indigenous identity and experience are formative elements of his character.

"If I didn't have where I came from or my teachings or my traditional stories and my family behind me, I don't think I'd be where I am today," Morin said. 


Reach the reporter at japere38@asu.edu or follow @jsphprzz on Twitter.

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