University News

U. aims to recruit Native American students, faculty

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2012

In its annual report released last November, the Diversity Advisory Board announced that it will seek to recruit more Native American students, faculty and staff. The report noted that the board has not actively worked to increase this group’s presence on campus in the past.

Currently, Elizabeth Hoover MA’03 PhD’10, visiting assistant professor of ethnic studies and American studies, is the only Native American faculty member at Brown and will be the first full-time Native professor in nearly a decade. Lina Fruzzetti, chair of the advisory board and professor of anthropology, said she sees a problem with this statistic, and the student population does not fare any better.

“This is not enough obviously,” Fruzzetti said. “We need to really increase the numbers.”

Faculty diversity

Fruzzetti, who is also interim provost and director of institutional diversity, said she immediately noticed the lack of Native American faculty when she assumed the position.  

Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin said that in recent years the administration has attempted to hire more Native American faculty, but the searches rarely succeed because of the small pool of qualified candidates and the high demand for those professors.

“It’s simply a difficult market,” McLaughlin said.

Robert Lee, chair and associate professor of American Civilization, said his department also has “a real commitment to having as many voices represented at the University.”

But other more secure options available to strong candidates make recruiting them difficult, he said.

“There are already well-established Native American studies programs in other universities, and one of the issues is getting someone that’s courageous enough to really be committed to create a community here,” Lee said.

Fruzzetti said hiring Hoover represents a big step toward building this community. She said she hopes the University continues to search for more Native American hires in order to foster the greater Native community.

“We need to be focused on a momentum that’s ongoing and really build on that,” she said.

A small student population

Last year, the University had 26 undergraduate students who self-identified as Native American, making up .43 percent of the total undergraduate population, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.

The Native American community is the only minority student population not to increase in size over the last 10 years, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

Hoover said the experiences of current Native American students at Brown depend on their background.

“I know it’s different for some students who come from much more homogenous communities like in the Southwest or some of the Navajo,” she said. “Whereas for other people like myself, when you come from a mixed community, it’s not as shocking.”

Loyola Rankin ‘11.5 said coming from a reservation made attending Brown a little difficult, but the student group Natives at Brown helped her find a community. Together with Kim Kummer ’11, Rankin brought guest speakers and artists to campus to discuss Native American issues along with continuing Hoover’s tradition of the yearly powwow, an event that has become “a landmark” in the local Native community, she said.

But outside of Natives at Brown, both Rankin and Kummer have struggled with being part of such a small population among the greater undergraduate community.

“Brown’s big thing is diversity, but people really don’t understand what it means to be Native,” Kummer said. “But as far as welcoming and being part of the student body, I think Brown is really accepting.”

Rankin said she has taken classes where she was not able to discuss Native American issues in depth because of her professors’ lack of knowledge in that department.

“It’s been very taxing that you have to go through a history lesson with your own professor,” she said.

Upping recruitment

The University participates in a variety of programs dedicated to attracting Native American applicants as well as underrepresented students to Brown and other peer institutions, said Elizabeth Hart, associate director of the Office of Admission and director of minority recruitment.

The College Horizons program, which partners with 50 colleges and universities across the country, is dedicated to recruiting Native American students to their campuses, according to its  website. Hart said the University sends two representatives to the College Horizons summer program, where they provide mentoring and assistance in the application process.

But the University does not provide on-campus visiting programs or other Brown-specific programs to potential Native American applicants, Hart said.

Dartmouth, which boasts a nearly 4 percent Native American undergraduate population, has run a robust reservation visitation program for a number of years, said Phil Gover, senior assistant director of admissions and the coordinator of Native American recruitment at Dartmouth. Gover and other admission officers travel to states with a high Native American population in order to recruit applicants.

Dartmouth also runs a Native Fly-in Program each year that brings 50 Native American students to the college for four days, where they participate in workshops on the application process and college life, Gover said.

“It’s a mini-Native Dartmouth experience,” he said.

Hart said one of the biggest challenges in recruiting Native students is the lack of a strong educational system in some regions with large Native populations. Some parents also hesitate to send their children so far away from home due to the risk of losing culture and community, she said. Rival peer institutions also pose a challenge to recruitment.

“One of the real benefits Dartmouth has had is its history,” Hart said. “It has had the reputation of being the only Ivy League that was recruiting Native American students. They have a long history and a very large infrastructure. I’m envious of that.”

Fruzzetti said hiring more Native  faculty would do well to attract more Native students.

“If we want to attract Native American students, we should have one or two representatives here,” she said. “Having a community would encourage undergraduate and graduate students to come because they have mentors and people to talk to.”

“It’s good for people to see people who they want to be,” Hoover said.

Hoover said she has talked with administrators about potential strategies. Having current undergraduates discuss Brown with potential applicants would also go a long way, she said, adding that Natives at Brown is putting together literature about both the student
group and the University’s Native community in general to send to applicants through current undergraduate students.

Future steps

No matter the strategy, Fruzzetti said she believes the University needs to be persistent in its recruitment process.

“The thing is to take that initiative and really pursue it,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, and you have to have your mind and heart in it and follow it through. None of these issues are easy, but that doesn’t mean we give up and do nothing.”

McLaughlin said he finds it important to try and develop a stronger Native community but is wary of the difficulty ahead.

“Getting that community started, taking that first step, is always in some ways the hardest step, and it’s a lot of work,” Lee said.

But Rankin said she believes the current students are the key to securing the next generation of Native undergraduate students.

“We need to go back to our communities,” Rankin said. “It really depends on us.”

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