Informed optimism is the best phrase I can come up with to describe Tohono O’odham Community College outside of Sells. Unsurprisingly, TOCC has a small campus set in the middle of desert landscape across from a seeping mountainside. Surprisingly (at least to me), the facilities were well kept, newish, and most importantly, expanding. The faculty we spoke with all eagerly mentioned the new amphitheater under construction, along with plans to expand dorm facilities and make them more accommodating to their increasing and increasingly wide spread student body. On top of all this, the school even boasted a competitive basketball team, which has sent several players to division one schools, according to the faculty.
In terms of my topic of interest, O’odham language, the college seemed to place a high importance in the revival and survival of O’odham. In addition to language programs the partner with the local high schools, the college also offer classes in the O’odham language free to the Tohono O’odham people. The language fulfills language requirements both at the college and at many four-year universities, making this an attractive offer to prospective students of the language. At least at the college, a vested interest in reinvigorating the Tohono O’odham language exists.
All this is not to say that challenges don’t exist. At least for the O’odham language, most students come in with little to no experience before teaching. This implies that the language either isn’t being spoken among the wider O’odham population and/or that there’s little to no intergenerational communication with or about the language with the youth. Furthermore, studies on the prevalence of the language are outdated, with none being undertaken in at least the last ten years. Finding teachers also presents a challenge, as many O’odham speakers just don’t feel comfortable enough to teach. Despite these rode blocks, the O’odham language, and the TOCC, both are in good shape for growth if they continue their current trajectories.