Native American enrollment needs a boost
by Sophia Fischer
When Lawrence Baca ’73 founded the American Indian Student Association (AISA) at UC Santa Barbara in 1970, he was one of only a few American Indian students on campus.
“For the first 18 months, I was the president and the only member,” said Baca, of the Pawnee Nation. An attorney, Baca received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall award in 2012 for his work in defending civil rights, and was a recipient of the UCSB Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988.
Baca and Roy Scott Hickman, the sole Native American professor on campus at the time, traveled nationwide at Hickman’s expense, personally recruiting Native American students, Baca recalled. By the time Baca was a senior, there were four Native students and a complete slate of AISA officers. Today, nearly 50 years later, the Native increased to 259 students, representing about 1 percent of the student body and well below where the numbers should be according to Baca.
“There are 125 federally recognized Indian tribes in California, more than Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and North and South Dakota combined. Yet, the number of AISA students has never reflected the population of Native American students in California,” Baca said.
About 1.7 percent of the population of California is Native American, according to the United States Census Bureau 2016.
“Ever since I came to UCSB 20 years ago I have been puzzled by how little we serve the Native population,” said Paul Spickard, new chair of UCSB’s Committee on Admissions, Enrollment, & Relations with Schools. “Over the last 20 years we have remade our student population. It was 14 percent Asian American and fewer Latinos than that. Now we proudly have 27 percent Chicano Latino and up to 47 percent first generation. I would like us to be intentional with the Native American population, too.”
UCSB’s Native American student numbers are higher than any other campus in the UC system. Nearly 450 applications were received from incoming freshmen for fall 2017. Of those, 191 were admitted, and 52 accepted. In 2016 the numbers were slightly less: 426 applications, 178 admits, 42 enrolled.
“We have multiple staff working on various initiatives,” said Lisa Przekop, UCSB director of Admissions. “Outreach staff visit schools that enroll Native American students, we attend college fairs serving diverse students, and we do phone and email campaigns to prospective students, applicants, and admitted students. Our Diversity Guide brochures outline support services, student organizations, and community events so incoming students and parents see that UCSB is committed to making their academic journey a success.”
Part of the challenge is encouraging Native Americans to apply, according to Mike Miller, interim assistant vice chancellor for Enrollment Services and director of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. Born and raised on the Skokomish reservation in Washington state, Miller is the only one in his family to attend college.
“My family didn’t value education. It wasn’t part of our daily vocabulary,” Miller recalled. “We have to change the mentality of going to college on Indian reservations.”
Making significant change will take developing long-term relationships with tribes to build trust; sending Native American recruiters and alumni to reservations to recruit; hiring more Native faculty and staff to serve as mentors to Native students; boosting American Indian curriculum, including offering a related major and Ph.D. emphasis; and providing support services to Native students, said Keri Bradford, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Bradford has worked in Student Affairs for eight years and in April, a portion of her role was dedicated to serving as UCSB’s first-ever American Indian Student Services Coordinator. A third-year Ph.D. student in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, Bradford is researching issues of access and retention for Native American college students.
Bradford referred to “historical trauma” from the late 1800s and early 1900s when Native American children were taken from their families to live in far-away boarding schools and were forced to abandon their Native American culture and languages
“Education was used as an assimilation tactic with Native Americans. Families were torn apart so there is mistrust,” Bradford said.
As a result, Native American families may be reluctant to send their children to distant colleges not knowing if there will be community support so central to Native American life, and opportunities to practice and maintain cultural identity, Bradford added.
“We trust our own,” Bradford explained. “If you have Native faculty and staff ready to receive these students and we’re the ones working with the tribes and we follow protocol such as introducing ourselves in our Native languages first and then in English, that will go a long way in earning trust.”
“For a lot of Native kids, you’ve got to sell the mom and it’s not just showing up with brochures at a college fair,” Spickard said. “It’s getting the mom to know the kid will be safe and successful on campus. We have this incredible active community on campus now and want to leverage that.”
Bradford reassures families that their children will be supported, will find community and opportunities to practice their culture, and will return home.
“We work together, surround students, protect them, hold them up and honor them,” Bradford said. “We want families to see education as a tool that can be used to make us all stronger.”
The local Band of the Chumash Nation assists AISA by attending events including graduation ceremonies and providing a home away from home. Mia Lopez, a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, hosts AISA students in her home for social gatherings, meals and ceremonies.
“I want students to know that they have a community here that will support them and that accepts them,” Lopez said.
UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Davis and UCLA offer an American Indian studies major. UCSB offers only a minor. Inés Talamantez, a UCSB professor since 1979 and member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe’s Sun Clan, developed 10 academic courses in Native American religious traditions. A Ph.D. in religious studies with an emphasis in Native American religious traditions is also offered.
“So much has fallen on the shoulders of Inés Talamantez. She’s a national treasure,” Spickard said. “We need to spread Native American course offerings in communications, political science, physics, history department and others. A lot of areas of curriculum could be more supportive.”
Alumni involvement is also vital to student and AISA success, Baca added. He and many other Native alumni remain involved in AISA. Baca attends the group’s dinners and celebrations, mentors AISA graduates through law school and speaks at UCSB on race, American Indians and federal Indian law.
“It is important for those of us who have had success in our careers to be role models for generations who follow us,” Baca said. “Return to campus and remind Native students that we can achieve the same things as any other group in the same manner – through diligence and hard work. We are reminders to faculty and administration that American Indians with a college education contribute to society at the same level as other groups.”
Native American students and alumni share their connection.