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American Indian center program aims to integrate students

By La Monica Everett-Haynes
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 27, 2000
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Even though the UA Native American Student Affairs Center has faced criticism in the past for offering English classes limited to Native American students, the director of the center said segregation is not the goal.

The program has encountered opposition from administrators, news reporters and students questioning whether the center is an advocate of segregation, even though it is structured to improve retention and graduation rates among its students, said Bruce Meyers, director of NASA.

"We get this question all the time - it's people in our own backyard, from our own students to administrators and faculty - they are people who don't understand or don't want to understand ... because stereotypes and bigotry," Meyers said, adding that it is not the majority but the occasional representative from each group.

Meyers said the center has received enough negative feedback about the program to make a disturbance. Some people who don't understand the purpose of the program have made claims of bias against NASA, Meyers said.

"The real tragedy is when Native American students don't want to use the services because they have internalized racism against themselves ... and they believe the center is for deficient students," he said.

In a report issued at the end of last semester, only 63 percent of the 113 American Indian freshmen who entered the University of Arizona in 1998 returned for a second year.

NASA has worked in collaboration with the English department to provide for the American Indian Student Achievement program.

According to a 1997 survey conducted by the center, about 103 incoming freshmen from more than 50 tribes participated in the program, Meyers said.

AISA - which Meyers called a bridge into the university culture - consists of two remedial English courses taught specifically for Native Indian students with intentions similar to UA's Courses in Common.

"I didn't hear about the Native (English) class until after two class meetings in the regular English course but (during those meetings) I felt so out of place - I didn't feel like a source of enthusiasm," said Brooke Dayzle, environmental science sophomore.

"It's rare that you see a Native American professor and lots of students coming off the reservations when all they were ever around were Native American students. So when they come here, it's a big cultural shock to them," she said.

"When I came, I was in a period of transition, then I enrolled in the Native American course and I felt more comfortable because there were Native American students and the material that was being taught was Native American material focusing on the culture," Dayzle said.

There is a narrow difference between the work responsibility in the Native Indian English courses and mainstream English courses, said Larry Evers, head of the Department of English.

"The expectations and the standards are the same in the English Department ... the difference is the Native American section provides a bridge experience from reservation or Indian community settings into the university community setting," Evers said.

"The course is one part in the coordinative effort to improve recruitment and retention rates among Native American students in the critical first year (because) we lost about 30 percent of all first-year students and the Native American percentage is even higher than that," he said.

The English courses are strictly optional to Native Indian students, however it is encouraged considering the low percentage of graduation rates among American Indians, Evers said.

Everest Wyaco, animal science freshman, said he did not take the course because he felt comfortable enough to take mainstream English courses, although he hoped to see more Native Indian students.

"I took college preparatory courses in high school and I pretty much got Cs and Bs in my English courses, but when I got here, I barely got a C," said Wyaco, who contended he still felt confident about mainstream English courses.

"I had a lot of good ideas, but I had to work on organizing them and putting them onto paper (and) right now I feel more confident being in English 101 even though there were mostly Anglos in the English 100 course and just two Native Americans," he said.

Wyaco added that although he felt confident, he would have felt more comfortable and happier if there were more Native Indians in his English courses.

"Since I moved down from the reservation, I am more spontaneous and willing to meet a lot of people, but as long as there is more Native Americans I feel more comfortable," he said.

Dayzle, who took both courses, said being with American Indian students helped her become comfortable around different groups, since she was surrounded by various tribal ethnicities.

"The courses helped me to where I felt comfortable speaking out and forcing my opinions and I felt if I could do it," Dayzle said.

"Seeing an instructor who is Native American inspires students because the instructor, herself, is a Native American," Dayzle said. "Talking to other students who are in my class felt the same way ... there was an understanding that they felt inspired by a teacher who was also Native American."

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