Admissions Office Reaches Out to Native American Students
Issue   |   Wed, 10/22/2014 - 02:50

The Office of Admission invited seven students identifying as Native American, Native Hawaiian or Native Alaskan to participate in the newly-created Native outreach programs as part of this past weekend ’s Diversity Open House (DIVOH).

In addition to attending other regularly scheduled DIVOH events, these seven students participated in activities designed specifically to focus on Native American scholarship and student life. Events included a tour of the Special Archives with a focus on the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Collection, an introduction to the Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies Program and a panel discussion with the Amherst Native American Student Organization.

“The numbers for Native students who graduate from college across the country are unfortunately staggeringly low,” said admissions fellow Maria Kirigin ‘14 in an email interview. “But Amherst College is currently in a position to step in and do something about it instead of being an inactive bystander and letting our own institutional history perpetuate itself.”

This outreach initiative was motivated by a conference at the White House, attended by President Biddy Martin on Jan. 26, and is the first of its kind at the College. During the conference, President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged American colleges and universities to expand their educational opportunities for minorities and low-income students.

Mandy Hart, the associate dean of admissions and coordinator of diversity outreach, stressed the importance of campus diversity.

“We at Amherst have a strong foundation in appreciating the diversity of perspectives represented within our classrooms, residence halls, dining areas, athletic fields and every other potential place of discourse found at a residential college,” Hart said. “With that in mind, we continually think about how we can broaden those perspectives and acknowledge those who are missing from the table,” including those from “Native American, Hawaiian and Alaskan communities.”

Kirigin emphasized the college’s goal of further diversifying its student body.

“In terms of our goals with this program, I’d say they stem from our commitment to making education available for everybody – no matter their geographic background, history or socioeconomic status,” Kirigin said. “This is the reason we have the Diversity Open House in the first place, but the addition of the Native Student Open House portion, more specifically, aims to increase the number of Native American students who go to and graduate from college.”

Kirigin mentioned other steps the college has taken beyond last weekend’s Native American Open House, such as the “new summer program partnership with College Horizons, a nonprofit specialized in helping Native American and native Alaskan and Hawaiian students succeed in college, as well as Archives and Special Collections’ new purchase of the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Collection, the most comprehensive collection of books by Native American Indian authors ever assembled by a private collector.”

Maile Hollinger, a member of the Native American Student Organization (NASO), which was created in 2013, participated in the panel discussion with the Native American prospective students.

“Myself and a couple of NASO members were able to discuss Native life and events with the prospective students in our panel discussion,” Hollinger said. “I mostly introduced the concept of NASO, our mission and some events we’ve done in the past (speakers on Hawaiian same-sex marriage and white colonialism, screenings with Pride and the Gender Justice Collective, discussion about the mascot, etc). We also discussed Amherst’s history with Lord Jeff and the current conversations around changing the mascot.”

Hollinger also expressed her concern with the lack of Native American presence on campus.

“I feel that Native students are mostly invisible on this campus,” Hollinger said. “NASO is a new club and the reaction I get from many students when I mention NASO is, ‘Oh, we have that?’ I hope that recruiting more Native students will result in a greater Native American presence on campus and cross-cultural collaboration and mutual education.”

Hart emphasized that the current effort to reach out to Native American applicants is a new, nuanced way of bringing minority voices to campus.

“The Office of Admission reviews every applicant in a holistic way,” Hart said. “Because we know that a benefit of the Amherst education is the wide array of students that we attract from different backgrounds including those racial/ethnic and socioeconomic factors, we do want to ensure that we open the door to students whose voices are currently not well represented. With that said, ‘opening the door’ includes conducting these special programs and making sure the students who choose to enroll at Amherst feel that this community will be welcoming and supportive.”