Tribal leaders got their first look Friday at a Native American dormitory wing slated to open this fall at the University of Oregon.
The indigenous-focused housing is the latest in a series of initiatives conceived by the school’s Native American Advisory Council. Tribal and university leaders formalized that advisory group Friday with a public signing of an agreement.
Natives are among the least represented minority population in higher education, said Jason Younker, an associate vice president and adviser to the president on sovereignty and government-to-government relations. About 150 University of Oregon students identify as Native American. A survey last year found that about half of those are enrolled in federally recognized tribes.
“Historically, people literally moved us out of the way, so we come from communities and reservations that have very few opportunities to access higher education,” said Younker, a member of the Coquille Nation. “When students get to universities, they are usually the only one from their community. They find that there are very few Natives on campus.”
The University of Oregon began collaborating with Oregon’s tribes two decades ago to make the campus a place where Native students succeed.
In 1998, university leaders created the “residency by Aboriginal rights program,” granting in-state tuition to members of all tribes with historic relationships to the territory that was Oregon, regardless of where they live now.
The school began flying the flags of Oregon’s nine tribes outside the student union. As of 2014, students can minor in Native American studies.
And in 2005, the tribes helped create and pay for the Many Nations Longhouse, a community center traditional to some Oregon tribes. Students from different tribes meet there regularly to study or eat potluck dinners, Younker said.
Klamath tribe Chairman Don Gentry said those changes have made the University of Oregon a place where his two grandchildren are thriving.
“Our Native students are so family- and community-oriented,” Gentry said. “Often when they go away to college, they miss that close family network. The university has recognized the importance of the longhouse to provide a place for students to meet and socialize. It’s been very positive.”
The Native residential community will open this fall in a new dorm next to the longhouse. Native American students and anyone focusing on indigenous studies can live in the community. Students who live there will take classes on acclimating and surviving on campus, Younker said. They’ll also meet regularly with peer and faculty mentors.
The university has similar residential collectives for musical scholars, business majors and students of African descent. Students in those communities have posted higher grade point averages and retention rates.
“For Native Americans,” Younker said, this “will be another fantastic opportunity for them to find other Natives on campus and will contribute significantly in easing the transition of our students to a university environment.”
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