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Administrative Turnover Strands Native Students

8 mins read

Members of the Native American Student Association have reported experiencing organizational challenges as a result of the recent administrative turnover. Over the summer, eight high-level administrative positions were vacated. These include the departures of previous Director of the Intercultural Center, Amer Ahmed, and Associate Dean of Inclusion, Diversity, and Community Development, Lili Rodriguez. The members of NASA had been working directly with these administrators on several community initiatives and have seen seen their progress frustrated as a result of the administrators departure.

According to the 2010 Census, Native Americans constitute 1.7% of the U.S. population. Native American students form an even smaller minority on campus. An article written for the Daily Gazette last year claimed that there were only four Native students on campus, which would account for 0.26% of the total student body.

NASA members have worked hard to address this under-representation. Last year, during Native Heritage Month, NASA held a panel on Native Representation in Higher Education. As a result of this panel, the members of NASA began meeting regularly with Roberto Rivas, assistant dean of admissions and director of multicultural recruitment, for the remainder of the year, in addition to working with Dean Rodriguez. Rivas and Rodriguez both left their positions in June.

It is clear that the efforts of NASA and the Multicultural Recruitment staff have been essential in reaching out to prospective Native students. As current NASA members pointed out, the college is already attempting to attract Native prospective students through several methods, including participating in College Horizons, a pre-college program designed to help Native students succeed in college.

Windsor Jordan Jr. ’07, the current Co-Director of Multicultural Recruitment, praised the program. “I attended this summer’s programming at Stanford and found it transformational,” Jordan said. “This program gives admissions fficers from all over the country a chance to mentor Native students directly, but also a chance for Native students to get to know great colleges while also getting essay prep help, college list making help, and build relationships with other Native students.”

NASA members also pointed to the proactive approaches of past admissions staff, such as Wes Willison, who would intentionally visit high schools with high percentages of Native students. Additionally, the admissions office has a group of student Multicultural Recruitment Interns. This year, that group includes a NASA member, who will assist with outreach to Native students

Admissions staff also noticed an increased recruitment of Native students during this year. Jordan Jr. recounted, “For our single Discover Swarthmore program in 2014 that brought 132 students to campus, we hosted three students who identified as Native American, Native Hawaiian, or multiracial that includes one of these. This year, we are hosting two Discover Swarthmore programs, and expect to bring nearly 200 students to campus. We anticipate as many as 27 students attending one of the two programs who identify as Native American, Native Hawaiian, or multiracial that includes one of these.”

NASA members have noted the presence of a fair number of Native prospective students at DiscoSwat and Ride the Tide events. However, they do not believe that a lack of campus visits from Native students can account for the under-representation in terms of matriculation numbers. Instead, they say, many Native students who visit during these events actually decide not to attend the college.

NASA members pointed to the lack of an established Native community at Swarthmore as a factor which they believe has been responsible for turning away prospective Native students.

“Native students need to feel like there is a space for them,” explained NASA member Julia Wakeford ’18. “Out here we’re not going to hear our languages … My ceremonial dances aren’t here.”

The members of NASA revealed that this absence of an established community is in many ways connected to the issue of administrative turnover. Although they were thankful for the regular student-faculty communication system established by Amer Ahmed in the IC, his departure this past June has left them without administrative support.

Davis Logan ‘17 described this issue, saying “We can count on the individuals, we just can’t count on those services being there year to year.” As a result, all of NASA’s current programming, including all Native Heritage Month events, are the direct result of student action.

Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center Mohammed Lotif both acknowledged the difficulty posed by this change and praised the efforts of the students. “To be sure, transition and change is always difficult. Nevertheless, the IC office continues to build upon existing support structures, while uncovering new ways to better support the students and organizations within the IC Collective, including groups such as NASA,” Lotif said. “The student-staff that make up the IC Team have been invaluable in this process. They are the reason that the IC has been able to support such an expansive and ever-expanding collective, and to do so with mindfulness, multi-partiality, and care.”

Lotif also underscored the presence of administrators who had taken on Ahmed’s previous responsibilities. “The interim IC Director, Dean Lewis, who’s also the BCC Director and Dean of the Junior class,  and myself, are deeply committed to ensuring that recent staffing changes do not adversely affect the experiences of the many student organizations that comprise the larger IC Collective,” Lotif said.  The members of NASA affirmed that Lotif and Lewis were working hard to help and support all of the IC groups, including NASA.

However, both of these administrators are reportedly burdened with a wide variety of responsibilities. Wakeford explained, “turnover might be easier to handle if there was a regular person in the administration or faculty for Natives”.

One of the key issues that the members of NASA identified was the lack of specific institutional support, giving examples such as the absence of Native administrators or faculty, and the only course about Native issues being a Lenape linguistics course. Daniel Orr ‘16 identified the need for “long-lasting structures of support that can sustain a community.”

A possible key structure of support described by the members of NASA is an appointed “Advisor for Native Students,” among the faculty or administration, as exists in some other schools. Such a dedicated position would serve as a fixed point from which to build a community.

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