When I was an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, there were very few Native students I could to turn to for advice, and there are still so many things I wish I’d known during those college years. So, when I was asked to speak at the inaugural Native American Student Recognition Ceremony (an event celebrating the accomplishments of the graduating class of Native students from Santa Clara University) last spring, I jumped at the chance. I knew I wanted to cover all the bases, so I put out a call for advice from my Facebook friends, crowdsourcing their inspiring ideas about higher education and life after college. I was impressed by the response I received; there was so much heartfelt wisdom my community wanted to share. My speech went over well with the class of 2016, and now I want to continue to share this wonderful advice. Here are some of the highlights.
“For those of you who’ve spent your entire life living in a Native community where you were considered ‘the majority,’ it might be a culture shock when you first move away and suddenly become the minority. I had people tell me that I was only accepted to my school because I brought ‘diversity’ — do not let that mindset take over. As a Native student, you have an opportunity to educate others about who you are and where you’re from. Just remind yourself of what you bring to the table and then share that with anyone who doubts you.”
– Cecily Blackwater, Student at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Public Health College
“There will be plenty of spaces where your narrative is not included — but that doesn’t mean it’s not needed! Yes, the American curriculum is very Eurocentric. And yes, sometimes your professors and peers won’t be able to relate to you. Don’t let that stop you. I've had many people thank me for showing them a perspective they hadn’t previously been exposed to. The world needs to hear our voices.”
– Calina Lawrence, Artist and Activist, Seattle WA, and member of the Suquamish Tribe
“As long as you are in alignment with your spirit, you will not go wrong. Have a practice in the morning – something traditional, if you can, and if not, you could try something simple like drinking water, praying, stretching; anything that works for you. Something that allows you to check in with your ancestors, the earth, and your spirit so you know you’re on the right track. To those who have intersecting identities – queer, two-spirit, female, poor, disabled - it can get overwhelming. But practice faith. You are where you are on purpose. Know yourself and remain true to you.”
– Mia Ritter-Whittle, fellow at Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Stanford University & head mentor and program facilitator at Native Mentorship in Public Health
“Whenever I hit a rough patch in college, I thought I had to figure it all out on my own. I was so wrong! Today, I make sure to tell students that there are tons of services on campuses that are available to them, most of which are free. Asking for help can sometimes be difficult, especially from people of another background or culture, but it’s necessary and certainly productive. Someone once told me, ‘Support comes in all colors.’”
– Jarrid Whitney, Executive Director of Admissions & Financial Aid at California Institute of Technology and member of the Six Nations Cayuga
"I was the only civilian Native at the first college I went to, and not having anyone I could relate to made me feel so alone. But not having someone to depend on also pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me a lot. You can't depend on someone else to make you feel important – you have to find that in yourself."
– Doris Brown, Virginia Tech student and member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation of Long Island
Speak up in your classes. I attended a university with very few American Indian students, and Native issues were rarely mentioned in my classes. It was always really important for me, especially in my political science classes, to stand up and say, ‘Hey wait, what about tribal governments?’ Sometimes bringing up a subject you feel is overlooked might be uncomfortable. Use the opportunity to educate others and engage them in conversation. Only when you speak up will social change begin.
– Whitney Sawney, Communications Associate at National Congress of American Indians