Dr. Leslie Locklear: An Advocate for Indigenous Representation in Education


She obtained her doctoral degree 2017 at UNCG. PN Photo/Lakota Craft

By: Lakota Craft, Reporter

Dr. Leslie Locklear has dedicated her time at UNCP to creating deeper connections between the Lumbee community, Indigenous and nonnative students and faculty of the university.

As a member of the Lumbee Tribe and the Hoke County community, Locklear uses her personal understanding of the community, her love for her fellow tribal members, and her passion for education to drive her need to show others that Indigenous students can and will be represented in the classroom and that they can have careers where they are that representation for others.

Locklear attended and worked at UNC Chapel Hill and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Locklear often found herself as part of the minority group at both institutions. The common expectation that she would be placed among minority students and faculty shaped Locklear’s perception of what she was going to experience if she accepted a job offer at UNC Pembroke.

When she came to UNCP she found that the number of American Indian staff was much higher than that of American Indian faculty members.

“Students would tell me, you’re the first native professor I have had out here,” Locklear said.

For Locklear, the barriers that native students face are apparent, and since many faculty members do not understand and recognize parts of their student’s indigenous background, cultural barriers continue to grow. During her time at UNC Pembroke, Locklear has often found herself speaking to other non-native faculty members about cultural events such as Lumbee Homecoming, only to quickly realize that many faculty do not know about said events.

Yet, Locklear recognizes that this is only certain members of the university who are disengaged with the community rather than the entirety of the faculty; she attributes much of their lack of understanding to their nine-month contracts and lack of presence during the summer when most of the cultural events take place.

One of the ways that Locklear is trying to improve the disconnect between non-native faculty, the surrounding native community and Indigenous students is by serving as the First American Teacher Education project coordinator. FATE is a program for pre-service educators who are going to serve in American Indian communities. In addition to this program is a similar program called FAEL: First Americans Educational Leadership program which is for pre-service masters of school administrations and participants who are also going to serve in American Indian communities.

While these are forgivable loan programs, they are also programs that support the research that students have increased academic achievement when they have administrators and teachers that look like them and who they can relate to. As a young student in Hoke County schools, Locklear did not have a teacher who looked like her and represented her culture until she was in the 12th grade. When working with university students in combination with the aforementioned programs, she understands the value in representation and the direct correlation between university preparation and community connections.

“Dr. Leslie Locklear is an invaluable member of our School of Education family. In January 2021, she accepted the challenge to lead educator preparation student success initiatives. She ensures that our students have essential information, understand important benchmarks, and know they are always welcome,” said Dr. Loury Floyd.

Locklear is currently teaching Freshman Seminar Multi-Cultural and Social Justice Counseling in the Graduate Counseling Program. In addition to her current position, her background in diversity equity and inclusion and her passion for being culturally responsive, she continues to fight for underrepresented students.

Locklear has devoted her time at UNC Pembroke to ensuring that there are not as many barriers for minority students. This includes financial, academic and social barriers. Though Locklear did not work a full-time job during college, she is aware that many students are commuter students that have fulltime jobs. Rather than viewing these students as just students, Locklear makes it her goal to view each student as a whole person rather than an academic student.

While serving as the advisor for the Native American Student Association, Locklear has been able to build relationships with students through teaching, advising, and simply talking with students on a one-on-one basis.

“Dr. Locklear is a remarkable professional, colleague, and friend. She leads with passion and innovation that exudes from within. Her knowledge, energy and passion are unmatched. She truly possesses the qualities of a ‘charismatic teacher, mentor, leader, counselor, etc.’ Who not only touches individuals’ minds, but also their spirit. I, for one, can attest that I am a better person and professional because of Dr. Locklear’s influence. Such influence that is truly a rare privilege and should be prized and nurtured,” said Lamorris Smith, a colleague.

While students are her main passion, Locklear also spends a lot of her time working with teacher retention. In North Carolina, the salary and pay for teachers is extremely low which makes it difficult for Locklear to recruit someone even if they have the skills and the talent to become a successful teacher. Locklear cannot change teacher’s salaries, though she has advocated for the state to bring back masters pay which would provide teachers with additional benefits, for the state to simply regain respect and understand the value of the education profession.

To those who continue to pursue a career in the education field, Locklear was quick to point out that they must have a “servant-heart,” and a heart for leadership as well as basic management skills. They must be able to adapt to different or unexpected situations, and realize that other teachers, younger or older, may have different ways to do things and that not each way is as effective as others.

She encourages any new teacher or experienced teacher to get involved with students in any way that they can, whether it is leading workshops or advising student organizations, Locklear firmly believes that doing your job duties is not enough. Instead, teachers and professors alike should take pleasure and pride in the portion of their job that falls under “other duties as assigned,” because that is when you learn the most about students and are able to connect with them on a deeper level.

During her time at UNC Pembroke, Locklear has become more cognizant of the problems that the Lumbee community face, as well as, what type of problems that her native students face. By working with the North Carolina Native American Youth Organization, Locklear has been able to identify the gaps between College and Career Prep and retaining students their first year of college. Her time at the university has shown her that while much progress has been made, there is much more that needs to take place.

“I did not make the connections there – at UNC Greensboro and Chapel Hill – that I had made here, in a shorter amount of time,” said Locklear.

Locklear is trying to aid progress by continuing the advancement of the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion, increase student’s level of comfortability and safety in higher education, and to increase the overall representation for minority students. Each of these goals are rooted in students and their success in and beyond the classroom.

Going forward, Locklear is excited to see her students graduate and accomplished their own goals they have as a student at UNC Pembroke, and to make sure that students can express themselves, their whole person, on campus without fear of being looked at differently and without fear of not being understood by a faculty that cannot culturally understand them.

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