Katlin Roberts ’15: Making a difference for the Cherokee community

Katlin Roberts (photo by Kristen Chavez)
Katlin Roberts stands in front of the sculpture “The Gift.” (photo by Kristen Chavez)

Senior Katlin Roberts has always known that she would return home to Cherokee, N.C., after graduation from Carolina.

Roberts, a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a first-generation college student, plans to become involved in teaching and educational policy related to American Indian issues.

“I feel more spiritually at home there, because it is where my ancestors have lived for thousands of years,” she said. “And there’s the aspect of seeing how the good teachers that I had impacted my life and wanting to do that for other students.”

Roberts, who is pursuing a major in American studies with a concentration in American Indian and indigenous studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, has also found a special community here at UNC.

She has been involved in leadership positions with the Carolina Indian Circle and the American Indian sorority Alpha Pi Omega. She was a part of Unheard Voices, the American Indian a cappella group. She has taken all three levels of Cherokee language classes and has been a driving force behind the weekly Cherokee Coffee Hour, where participants immerse themselves in Cherokee language and culture. During her senior year, she worked on the formation of a Cherokee language club. She wrote the organization’s constitution.

“I’m excited to go back home, and even though it’s the end of my journey as an undergraduate here, it really sort of feels like I can always come back to Carolina and I’ll still have that community that I have right now,” said Roberts, as she gazed out over the mosaic sculpture “The Gift,” near the Student Union. The artwork is by Senora Lynch, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, and was recently rededicated by UNC’s American Indian Center.

Carolina seemed like a natural fit for Roberts’ interests, right from the beginning.

“I have a passion for indigenous activism, and [associate professor of American studies] Dr. Daniel Cobb saw that and gave me room to grow and develop intellectually,” she said. “Probably the best class I’ve taken is one I’m taking with him right now on the ‘The Long 1960s in Native America.’ It really focuses on activism in native communities.”

Cobb said that in addition to doing so much outside of the classroom, Roberts “has been a tour de force in the classroom.”

“Katlin Roberts is one of the most genuine, caring and inspiring students I have yet to meet,” Cobb said. “She is dedicated to making — and, rest assured, will make — a difference in the world, especially to the Cherokee community. She is a first-rate thinker, a community builder, and an impressive writer and eloquent speaker.”

Roberts will attend the American Indian Center’s graduation ceremony on May 7, dressed in her traditional regalia. She is excited that a number of her family members will be present.

As she reflects on her time at Carolina, Roberts said she will miss the arboretum, rushing Franklin Street after a big basketball win and her favorite study spot: the School of Information and Library Science’s library in Manning Hall.

She said one of the things that makes the University so special is its diversity.

“There’s a place for everyone to feel welcome,” Roberts said. “And for me, the faculty here have really encouraged me to embrace my heritage and identity in my academic study.”

By Kim Weaver Spurr ’88