Weave “Ways of Knowing” into Your Basket

November 28, 2023

Weave “Ways of Knowing” into Your Basket

Reflections on Global Challenges, by Anika Neumeyer

Audience question: How do you navigate opposing epistemologies about truths in this world, such as scientific knowledge versus spiritual knowledge? i.e. how do you engage in conversations with people who seem determined to disagree?

Polly Olsen: “I show up.”

photo of all "Ways of Knowing" speakers at the event
Polly Olsen, Katie Davis, Samantha-Lynn Martinez, Tony Lucero and Stephanie Smallwood enjoying the great vibes on Nov. 9, 2023

Each year, University of Washington Honors students share their concerns about the future and the world around them. Their responses set the tone for an interdisciplinary conversation — a Global Challenges event. Arranged around the topic “Ways of Knowing,” speakers this year spoke candidly on a range of questions, from the University’s place in Western culture to the stakes and impact of generative AI. In a fast-paced and often heartwarming conversation, they each shared ideas on how we can (and why we should) integrate different ways of understanding the world, ideas, and one another. 

I started at the UW this fall and it’s been so exciting to connect with others in the Honors community. As my first big academic event of college, Global Challenges was quite possibly the best event I could have attended. Not only was I interested in what the speakers had to say about their own experiences, but watching them bounce off of each other and build upon their partners’ thoughts was thrilling. From Tony Lucero’s humor to Polly Olsen’s storytelling to Katie Davis’s observations, all driven by Samantha’s perceptive connections, there was not one moment I felt bored during this conversation. As a student, I was especially interested to hear their thoughts on AI — both its impacts on and place, if there is one, within the university. I think it is important for students to consider the open-minded perspective about AI that Katie Davis advocated for, while also considering Polly Olsen’s warning of asking where the knowledge is coming from and resisting if it is being used without consent.

Access the video recording of the full event and/or download the transcript: https://youtu.be/p8OubvErCmw?si=Ihw2x527lB9gtbTh


Student volunteers at the event met afterwards to discuss our favorite moments from the conversation. One thing that we liked was how Tony Lucero talked about interdisciplinary thinking. Probably especially useful for new students to understand. As we shared and debated the top choices, it became clear that most of what we wanted to remember was reflected in one moment from the event. It takes place near the end, where the speakers summarize their “takeaways,” punctuated by a powerful story from Polly Olsen that left a lasting impression on the crowd, myself included. We managed to capture this microcosm of the larger conversation into a short six minute clip: https://youtu.be/KG-03flVvrI

Something that really stuck with me in particular came from Polly but was reinforced by all of the speakers. Essentially, if you want to keep learning and growing and to stay engaged with people who disagree — keep showing up. And, to stay healthy and be able to navigate all the things that seem too hard to figure out, unplug from devices and connect with nature and the living world around you…especially with your elders. Make eye contact. Say “hello.”

Recommended reading/listening/watching

Since all of us still do love to read, listen to podcasts, etc., we are lucky that Tony Lucero was especially prolific in his ideas of what we could all do to continue learning about Indigenous ways of knowing. Here are a few of his top suggestions:

Marisa Duarte’s book: Network Sovereignty; and studying with UW iSchool’s Miranda Belarde-Lewis, Sandy Littletree, or Clarita Lefthand-Begay 

Podcasts: The Red Nation and All My Relations 

TV Shows: Reservation Dogs 

Read this book by Wayne Yang: A Third University Is Possible

And tune into Kyle Whyte’s perspective on how American Indians have already lived through more than one apocalypse.

A bit more on this year’s speakers

The speakers came from diverse backgrounds and captivated the audience with their stories, insights, and humor. They pushed the audience to dive deeper into examining their unique ways of knowing and consider how their perspectives might benefit from this interdisciplinary conversation. 

Polly Olsen is a Yakama tribal member, former executive director of the Association of American Indian Physicians and winner of the UW’s Distinguished Staff Award. Now director of DEI & Decolonization and tribal liaison at Burke Museum of Natural History, Olsen contributes multiple forms of wisdom and helps to bridge communities through educational opportunities, institutions and agencies.

Tony Lucero teaches Honors’ seminar “The Idea of the University – Ways of Learning, Exploring and Knowing.” Seated in the Comparative History of Ideas and Jackson School of International Studies, Dr. Lucero’s scholarship draws from many ways of knowing, with a focus on Indigenous politics, social movements, Latin American politics and borderlands.

Katie Davis brings perspectives from her K-12 teaching background into her research, curriculum and advocacy at the UW’s iSchool and College of Education. Davis investigates the impact of digital technologies on young people’s learning, development, and well-being, and co-designs positive technology experiences for youth and their families. Her work bridges the fields of human development, human-computer interaction, and the learning sciences.

This conversation was moderated by Samantha-Lynn Martinez, a junior biology major, artist, nature activist, and peer educator in Interdisciplinary Honors who brought passion and a student-oriented curiosity to our event. Check out her website to learn more about her full range of talents: https://www.samanthalynnmartinez.com/.