Written by Emily Kastor
The state of Montana is home to seven different Native American reservations, so having a university that is supportive and actively trying to help Natives obtain a higher education in the same state is a necessity. As such, MSU has many resources on campus to help guide Native students on their own pathway to success. One of the first things that all incoming freshman students go through is a three day long orientation, which includes a campus tour, meeting an advisor, learning more about on-campus activities and clubs and even scheduling their first semester. However, all students who self-identify as Native American have their own two day orientation prior to the university’s orientation called Native Pathways To Success. It focuses on connecting Native students not only to each other and faculty, but also to the land around the university, because much of the surrounding land was sacred to many Native ancestors.
While the Native Pathways To Success orientation is a wonderful opportunity for incoming Native freshmen to get a feel for the university and meet other Native students, actually being on campus for the first time, submerged in the general student population can be very overwhelming for someone who identifies as a minority on campus. Which is why the American Indian Alaskan Native Student Success is focused on helping students achieve academic success while still fostering cultural heritage.
The American Indian Student Center is a safe place for students to study and meet other MSU students. It’s located in Wilson Hall and provides computer access; free printing, copying, and faxing; tutoring access; academic advising and a variety of other student support. The American Indian Student Center also plays host to meetings for the American Indian Council (AIC). The AIC meets every Thursday at 5 p.m. and is always open to the public. One of their biggest focuses is on the annual pow-wow that is put on every year. The AIC’s pow-wow is one of the oldest running events on campus and this year will be the 41st annual pow-wow, taking place March 25-26 in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Even though MSU offers many different ways for Native students to get involved and receive support, that doesn’t mean that racial discrimination doesn’t exist. There are roughly only 249 students who self identify as Native American, making up only 2 percent of the student population while 85 percent of the student population self identifies as white. The fact that Native Americans are a minority isn’t the problem here though, the problem is the way some students of the majority treat students of the minority. It is a problem of ignorance and lack of empathy from the majority which is something we, as a majority, all have to collectively work to fix together because it is possible and it is necessary.
While MSU pushes more and more Natives from across the country to attend the university and gain a higher education, that doesn’t always mean that MSU is always pushing students to create safe spaces for everybody to thrive, including people who self-identify as a minority on campus. There have been many students who have voiced their concerns about campus not being all inclusive, but there are many students who are legitimately afraid to speak up about the discrimination they face on a daily basis, and that needs to change.
The thing is though, is that change cannot be institutionalized, it has to start with us: the student body. It starts with the students standing together and not letting race or ethnicity be catalysts for argument, but for learning something new from your fellow student. It starts with acceptance and the understanding that while we all might have differing opinions and viewpoints. It starts with constructive, intelligent conversations, where we listen so deeply that we are changed by what we hear.