The University of Oregon on Monday announced a new initiative to support Indigenous students that will cover all tuition and provide additional resources for Indigenous students in Oregon.
The Home Flight Scholars program is available immediately to eligible currently enrolled undergraduate students, approximately 150-175 self-identified Native American and Alaskan Indian residents of Oregon. The program will also create a new academic advisor position and provide professional development for Indigenous students.
Indigenous students have the highest college dropout rate of any other race or ethnicity due to financial hardship, academic difficulty and lack of cultural ties, according to Kirby Brown, associate professor and director of the new Native American studies program. and natives.
Brown said the majority of Indigenous students who leave school drop out in their first year, and 90% of them drop out in the first term.
The Home Flight Scholars program aims to change this trend.
“We know very well who is on campus and why we are supporting them through their education because it makes a difference going forward,” said Jason Younker, assistant vice president and adviser to the president on sovereignty and the government. Government relations. “They are our future stewards, they will return to the tribes and they will be allies of the OU, they will be our future leaders.”
Younker, who is also a chief of the Coquille Indian tribe, said he knows the difficulty of being a young native just starting out in college. He remembers his father dropping him off at college saying, “Forget everything you know about being native because it won’t do you any good here.”
Younker dropped out in his second year.
The Home Flight Scholars program also offers early arrival on campus for Indigenous students, allowing them time to get used to campus three days before the rest of the student body moves in.
“If I could have arrived three days earlier and lived in the dorms and spotted my classes and found Safeway and a cafe, I think it would have been a lot happier,” Younker said. “I wouldn’t have been so nervous when 25,000 other students came to campus where I felt very, very lost. I didn’t know how to navigate and no one looked like me.”
Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration
The announcement of the Home Flight Scholars program came on Indigenous Peoples Day, which was appreciated by student Megan Van Pelt, a member of the Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and co-director of the Union of UO Native American students.
“Today is about the visibility and celebrations of Indigenous peoples,” said Van Pelt, a junior at UO. “I’ll call my friends and say, ‘Hey, there’s a new program and it’s going to support you’ because I know a lot of Indigenous students who aren’t supported by the Tribal Student Grant.”
Van Pelt said the aspect of the program she is most looking forward to is the addition of an academic advisor position for Indigenous students. Currently, Norma Trefren is the Senior Aboriginal Student Advisor. Although the speakers at Monday’s announcement agreed that she’s doing an incredible job, she can’t do it all on her own.
Aboriginal students need additional support. Many students come from reservations or communities very different from the UO.
“I come from a community where everyone looks like me,” Van Pelt said. “When I come to the different community where I’m a minority, and I just don’t feel as welcome or heard as well, I think that was another problematic issue for PWI (predominantly white institution). There’s so many components that go into being an Indigenous student at the University of Oregon and many institutions: financial barriers, family commitments, your culture, your identity, the list can go on and on.”
Since then, she has been able to connect with other Indigenous students, staff and faculty at the university. But Van Pelt said she felt more welcome as an Indigenous person thanks to the program.
She said she looks forward to an increase in Indigenous student enrollment which will hopefully come from the additional support.
“I feel so much better to step into this space where I can see other native people even though we come from different backgrounds or different regions,” Van Pelt said. “It’s just the responsive community that makes me feel more grounded.”
Van Pelt, other members of the Native American Student Union and other OU officials also gathered at EMU on Monday afternoon to raise the flags of the nine federally recognized tribal nations in the ‘Oregon.
Younker said OU was the only university to give such a show of recognition.
Ongoing Funding Commitment
UO leaders expect the Home Flight Scholars program to continue indefinitely, but it is not yet assured. According to Acting OU President Patrick Phillips, the state must approve funding for the program each year.
“Our program is built on the belief that the state will continue to show commitment to our Indigenous students, and I anticipate that will be true,” Phillips said. “Every conversation I’ve had with the state legislature, as well as the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, (I’ve heard) that this was funding priority # 1.”
The Home Flight Scholars also work in conjunction with the Oregon Tribal Student Grant, a grant intended to cover the average cost of attendance. However, the Oregon Tribal Student Grant only covers those enrolled in one of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribal nations. It does not cover tuition for people who live in Oregon and are enrolled in tribes outside of Oregon.
“The bottom line is that all Native students who are residents of Oregon and who are registered citizens of federally recognized tribes will have their tuition covered by either the State of Oregon for the existing program , or directly through the University of Oregon,” Phillips said. “This is hopefully a strong illustration of our commitment to this important community.
“I’m actually very honored to be standing in this space on this day, Indigenous Peoples Day, to be able to launch this program.”