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Navigating Change: Pacific Islanders, Race, Sport, and Pipelines to Higher Education  

Keali'I Kukahiko

Tagata Pasifika (Pacific People) is a transnational affiliation whose collective colonial experiences provide island nations of Oceania a means for contestation over local discourses of power and race. Employing the principle of Tagata Pasifika within higher education necessitates recognition of how postsecondary institutions are significant sites of conflict that engender the collective resistance among Pasifika communities for the following reasons: (a) to close the educational opportunity gap between Pasifika communities and spheres of influence—positions of power that dictate policies, social circumstances, and human living conditions; (b) to affirm Pasifika participation in the knowledge production process by developing ontological self-efficacy and decolonizing spaces in higher education that erase and marginalize Pasifika ontologies; and (c) to engage action research as opportunities that enact various forms of sovereignty, such as the ability to participate in cultural practices as authentic and legitimate ways of knowing and being or recognizing Pasifika intellectual participation as a process of action, or inaction, informed by cultural and experiential values. A salient college access point for Pasifika communities is the phenomena of college athletics because Pasifika college football players are 56 times more likely to matriculate to the National Football League. However, low graduation rates—only 11% of Pasifika college football players graduated from the Football Championship Series college division in 2015—have made this “untraditional” pathway an extractive pipeline that provides the National Collegiate Athletic Association membership institutions with athletic labor. Although college athletes continue to have the conditions of their admissions leveraged against them to prevent student resistance/activism, student-athletes have an unprecedented potential for influence in the “post-COVID” landscape of college athletics.