Learning how to better understand American Indian students’ learning styles and needs were a topic of discussion at a workshop for South Dakota State University faculty and staff Aug. 13.
More than 100 people from various areas of the university gathered in the Volstorff Ballroom for Expanding the Circle: Understanding American Indian Students and Promoting Collaboration. The goal was to learn how to better serve American Indian students attending SDState and improve relationships with South Dakota’s tribal colleges and communities.
Shana Harming is the program director of the Wokini Initiative, which offers support for qualifying American Indian students attending SDState. Like most entities, Harming said SDState needs to become more knowledgeable about American Indian culture, history and how this impacts American Indian students.
“If we are going to live near tribal communities ... and work with indigenous people here and near this land, we need to learn about their culture,” Harming said. “We will all encounter a more diverse student body and diverse country (after graduation). We need to do our due diligence to learn about the cultural diversity of our own state.”
Harming is an enrolled member of the Kul Wicasa Oyate or Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. She spoke about common myths and prejudices she has faced and believes other American Indian students may experience the same thing. She said by dispelling these myths, the campus environment could be improved by eliminating the animosity that grows from believing these falsehoods and reduce implicit bias.
“Assimilation does not work and it is extremely destructive,” Harming said on trying to get American Indians to be part of European-American culture. “What does work is self-determination. Learning about American Indian history to understand their world view and to understand is what does work.”
South Dakota has nine federally recognized tribes. There are four tribal colleges in the state.
“We [tribal colleges] work to educate and strengthen our tribal nations,” said Natalie Anderson, president of Lower Brule Community College.
Anderson presented on different learning styles of American Indian students, how using cultural examples, personal experiences and real-life examples can help students understand concepts and learn new skills. Tribal colleges also strive to sustain American Indian languages.
Nicole Lounsbery is the graduate school’s assistant dean. She organized the workshop through her U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) Higher Education Challenge grant, which focuseson providing online graduate-level opportunities for tribal college faculty. These faculty will in turn teach tribal college students and those students may attend SDState. Lounsbery said tribal colleges are different from SDState and faculty here can better prepare to teach students with this type of training.
“We definitely wanted them [SDState faculty] to learn more about Native nations in South Dakota and American Indian students,” she said. “We also wanted to provide an update on the Wokini Initiative. We wanted to get the word out about all of the progress being made.”
Lounsbery said a recording of the workshop and additional resources will also be available online.
“I think we all need to work as one to reach the goals identified in the Wokini Initiative. We all need to work for the betterment of our American Indian students.”
Through the Wokini Initiative, 15 scholarships have been awarded to incoming freshmen at $5,000 a year for up to five years. SDState is also seeing an increase in students who identify as American Indian, rising to 30 versus 10 the previous academic year. American Indian students who benefit from this initiative can also look forward to a new American Indian Student Center, where construction is set to begin this fall.