WXXI Top Stories
Fri August 20, 2010
University of Rochester is Reaching Out to Native American Students
By Peter Iglinski
Rochester, NY – The University of Rochester is a diverse campus. But officials there think they can do a better job recruiting and accommodating Native American students.
WXXI's Peter Iglinski reports on a new initiative at the university.
If you find a group of ten students at the University of Rochester, it's unlikely any of them would be Native American. Out of a population of nearly ten-thousand, only 27 students last year were Native American--less than one out of thirty. That's a figure the university is working to change.
Earlier this week, the university held a summit on Native American Education that brought together some 50 administrators, students, faculty and Native American leaders. Jonathan Burdick is Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.
"Well, I'd certainly be happy to see more Native American voices on campus. [Because if] you're sitting in an economics classroom, it's nice that people bring different perspectives to the table."
Burdick says the university has done some outreach in western New York and discovered the depth of the connections wasn't as great as school officials wanted. He says the U of R is trying to build bridges, as well as increase opportunities within native communities. While increased diversity brings benefits to the classroom experience, Burdick also says it's time to take the conversations that are occurring among native peoples and extend them "to a broader canvas."
"The University of Rochester is in a good position to help that be true. We attract more than 90 percent of our students from elsewhere. And one of the richest things they can learn while they're here is to learn about the native peoples who are here and to learn about the background and history that has informed so much of American life and culture, and often in ways that are not well known."
In order to attracting Native American students and keep them at the university it's important to provide a good experience for them. Peter Jemison manages the Ganondagan Native American historic site in Victor. He says it's important for universities to recruit more than one student so they can identify with other students on campus.
"It's not to create a segregated situation, but it's just that you have to acknowledge that they've had a different set of experiences, and for them to adjust to campus life they have to be able to find other people that they can relate to."
UR acknowledges that some other colleges are doing a better job at accommodating native students. One of them is RIT, which has a larger Native American population. Jeffrey Burnette is the faculty associate for RIT's Future Stewards Program, which promotes the success of Native American students. He says the school has a number of organizations for native students--things like the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Native American Student Association. He says a better experience for native students means a better education.
"So much of our wages are determined by the level of education that we have. And, so, if we can increase the level of education for Native American students we can end up increasing the level of wages for those populations."
The benefits will likely extend beyond the classroom and the individual student. Peter Jemison hopes that Native American students will make contributions to their communities after graduating.
"Well, the ultimate thing is, in each of our communities today there are issues where we need someone who can manage, for example, the infrastructure that we have built. At the Seneca Nation we have a lot of different kinds of facilities that someone has to manage. And in order for them to manage those, they need to get some type of an education that gives them a background in that kind of experience."
For example, Jemison says native communities need people to manage water towers, health clinics, and casinos.
The University of Rochester held this week's summit to build bridges and to learn. Now the university will work to improve its outreach efforts and to make its campus more inviting to native students.