Native American enrollments are down at colleges in Nevada, a trend according to students and faculty reflects an unwelcoming community that has not made a commitment to recruit more familiar faces to campus.
Data from the seven schools in the Nevada System of Higher Education shows a decline from fall 2017 to spring 2021. Fall 2021 figures were not available.
Schools include UNLV; University of Nevada, Reno; College of Southern Nevada; Nevada State College; Truckee Meadows Community College; Grand Bassin Community College; and the College of Western Nevada. Schools reported a drop of between 6.58%, at the UNLV, and 34.83%, at the CSN, during this period.
The largest population and the largest drop were recorded at the CSN, where of the 29,248 students enrolled this spring, 116 were Aboriginal. In 2017, the CSN enrolled 178 Indigenous students. The smallest population was reported to Nevada State College, with 18 out of 7,060 – 0.25% – students identifying as native.
Ryan Boone, an UNLV student from the Walker River Paiute tribe, said he was the victim of racism and micro-attacks on campus from students and faculty. Boone said there was no effort to recruit other tribal students and no support from the university to help tribal students succeed.
“The institution has made no real effort to promote the success of Aboriginal students unless it is faced with a deep push from the Aboriginal community,” Boone wrote to the Review-Journal. “When we don’t see ourselves in academia, whether through our peers or the administrator, it’s harder to believe the things we can accomplish. “
In a statement, the UNLV said the pandemic has halted many recruitment efforts, which the university hopes to resume this year.
“Our registration and admissions office has an aggressive recruitment plan that involves partnering with local, regional and tribal organizations,” the statement said. “Many in-person recruiting activities where we have reached these potential students in the past have been limited due to travel and in-person event restrictions.”
Native Americans make up 1.7% of Nevadans, according to 2020 census data. At UNLV, UNR, CSN, and Nevada State College, Native students made up less than 0.5% of the student body. in spring. Of the 86,390 students enrolled in the seven schools, 0.6 percent identified as Native American.
Professors cite mistrust
The enrollment count only represents self-identified natives and may be skewed, said Addie Rolnick, professor at UNLV, San Manuel Band professor at UNLV Boyd Law School and director of the Indian program. Nations Gaming and Governance. She warned that some students might apply as natives for a scholarship, while others might dodge their heritage to avoid unwanted attention.
Rolnick said many students are drawn to colleges run by out-of-state tribes, or colleges in Arizona and New Mexico that are massively recruiting native students.
“For native students, I think a question is whether the school is going to try to get this population,” she said. “Is the problem that they graduate at lower rates and don’t go to college?” Or don’t they go to school here? “
Myrton Running Wolf, researcher and assistant professor of race and media at UNR, said parents and students he spoke to expressed distrust of the university, especially after assimilation state-sponsored forced labor in the 20th century in nearby schools for tribal children.
“A lot of tribesmen are wondering, ‘Why should we go through Stewart Indian School and have amnesia about what happened? “He said, referring to the 130-year-old school in Carson City. “More than a handful, a pretty healthy amount, said our concern is that colleges are now taking on the same role that residential schools have historically taken on.”
Running Wolf has been involved in administrative discussions about the potential return of the tribal remains the university has preserved as artifacts.
“We have more Native Americans dead on our campus than we have in these last two freshman classes combined,” he said. “When you start to value people as objects and possessions more than you actually value them as people, then you have a real problem.”
UNR spokesperson Scott Walquist confirmed that the university is consulting with the Nevada Intertribal Council on how to properly return cultural artifacts to local tribes.
“We pledge to return these articles with respect and humility for the harm we have caused,” he wrote to the Review-Journal.
Mercedes Krause, president of the UNLV Native American Alumni Group and member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, said her three children were involved in the UNLV’s childhood. Now, two go to UNLV and one is taking courses at the CSN. In first grade, one of her daughters was president of the UNLV Native American Student Association.
Krause said she hopes the university will sponsor events where students can learn more about Indigenous culture. The UNLV last sanctioned a powwow on campus in 2018, Krause said. She is hoping for more structural support from the university and said she is working closely with the recruiting team to target awareness.
Rolnick hoped to see the university recruit where Indigenous students are more prevalent, such as local tribes and high schools with more Indigenous students. She said indigenous faculty members are also small.
“There is a legitimate suspicion when Indigenous students attend non-Indigenous institutions, especially given the way the United States has used education against Indigenous people,” she said. “To counter this, schools have to work very hard to show Indigenous students that they want them there. It is important to examine what institutions are doing to support and retain students.
The UNLV said in a statement that it is partnering with the Paiute tribal offices in Utah and Arizona and is coordinating with the Intertribal Council in hopes of recruiting students. The university said it is planning several events in November in honor of Native American Heritage Month.
Walquist said UNR is hiring an Indigenous Community Relations Director this year to help recruit and retain Indigenous students.
“The University’s Prospective Students Office visits schools with a large indigenous population every year,” he wrote. “These visits build relationships and pathways to the University. The University invites and encourages members of Indigenous communities to visit the campus and gain a better understanding of how the University works.