Center hopes to recruit more Indigenous students
Correction Monday, November 29, 2021 – This story has been updated with the following corrections:
1) The number of Indigenous students has been updated with the number of Indigenous students enrolled in the Native Scholars and Transition program rather than the demographics of the university, which currently shows that there are 73 students natives to Sac State. According to Mejia, 188 indigenous students are enrolled in the program.
2) “Nineteen faculty and staff” has been updated to “19 faculty” in reference to Native faculty members employed by Sacramento State.
‘3) More information has been added regarding the specific resources the center offers to provide context on the center’s outreach initiatives.
When Jose Mejia, senior manager of the educational opportunities program, arrived in Sacramento State in 2018, he said the university was not recruiting or retaining Native American students. When he took office, he wanted to write grants and provide more outreach opportunities for Indigenous students.
This led to the creation of the Native Scholars and Transition Program, which helps advise and retain Indigenous students. The Native Scholars and Transition Program plans to launch a Native American Student Center on the first floor of Lassen Hall in the fall of 2022.
The center was created for Indigenous students to give them a sense of identity and representation on campus where Indigenous students are the smallest ethnic group. According to Mejia, 188 students are enrolled in the scholarship program.
The center will also open outreach and scholarship efforts for Indigenous students. This will include access to scholarships, jobs, internship opportunities, peer mentorship, and faculty mentorship for Indigenous students interested in pursuing a master’s degree.
“Those kinds of things are why we really want to be able to showcase and provide our Indigenous student center in addition to individual academic retention and meetings with counselors,” Mejia said.
For indigenous students like María Elena Pulido-Sepulveda, who is of Caxcan and Otomí descent, being represented is a necessity. She said she can think of only one experience in her K-12 upbringing where she felt represented.
“I think it’s necessary for a four-year institution to have representation for its disproportionately represented students, and that includes Indigenous students,” she said.
Right now, the center is in the early stages of hiring a retention counselor who plans events for students on campus, according to Mejia.
“I think once we have a Native Center on campus, the goal behind that would also be to hire more Native American faculty. [and] staff,” Mejia said. “I think one of the main factors that will help increase the number of retentions among admitted students. You must have a teaching staff that resembles the students they serve.
Currently, there are 19 indigenous teachers employed at Sac State according to university demographics.
I think it is necessary for a four-year institution to have representation for its disproportionately represented students, and that includes Indigenous students,”
— Maria Elena Pulido-Sepulveda
Amanda Croteau, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and student assistant for the Native Scholars Program, said faculty and staff have been trying for years to have a Native student center on campus.
It has only been in the past four years that the Aboriginal student body has begun to speak and write emails and letters to President Robert Nelsen.
“It really sparked the need because… nothing gets done unless the student body talks about it,” she said. “So although faculty and staff have been fighting for over 20 years for a center, it wasn’t until the student body really started talking that we really started the process.”
According to Mejia, funding for the Indigenous Student Center comes primarily from student affairs. There was money set aside in the student affairs budget for equipment, renovating the center or space, and then hiring a coordinator for the position.
The Indigenous student center will be reminiscent of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center where students can have open spaces for cultural events, Croteau said.
Pulido-Sepulveda is also a Native Scholars Program student assistant and said the center will have a computer lab and a lending textbook library. But since there is no “manual for building centres”, the creation of the Aboriginal Student Center is inspired by other cultural resource centres, she says.
“We take ideas we’ve seen in other centers and see how we can make them work for our students as well,” Pulido-Sepulveda said.
Croteau and Pulido-Sepulveda are thrilled with the opening of the Aboriginal Center. Croteau said she believes the establishment of the center will increase the number of Indigenous students attending Sac State.
“I think it’s exciting that we finally have a space for ourselves to work out and practice our practices and wear our badges,” Croteau said. “I can really be myself and see other students really be themselves too.”