Editorial: American Indian classes help build UA community
The thought of a class restricted only to students of one race is enough to set off sirens.
So an adverse reaction to the American Indian Student Achievement program is understandable.
The program - formed by Native American Student Affairs and the University of Arizona English department - provides a set of classes available only to American Indians to help with the adjustment to college life.
Bruce Meyers, director of the student resource center, said the program has made a number of people in the community feel uneasy based on the appearance of segregation.
While these classes separate people based on race, the program serves a greater good by catering to a crucial and often-ignored group of UA students.
American Indian students often relocate to the university from a unique world of tight communities and an isolated culture into a world where they make up only 2.2 percent of the population (according to UA Decision and Planning Support statistics).
The American Indian-restrictive classes provide a link from the first lifestyle to the next, allowing a culture with specific challenges to excel in higher education.
A recent report shows that American Indian retention and graduation rates are the lowest among college undergraduates.
The study, released last semester by the UA, showed retention rates have failed to improve during the last 10 years.
Jeff Cordova, hydrology freshman, emphasized the specific obstacles that face students coming from the reservation.
"On the reservation it's like a close-knit family - everybody knows everybody," he said. "University life is big so you're basically like another number, just another person."
American Indian students are being offered a secluded class not based on race or segregation, but a legitimate set of common circumstances shared by members of a culture placed on reservation.
In Arizona more than other states, it is crucial for this culture to have the opportunity to succeed in college. The U.S. Census Bureau's 1998 statistics list Arizona as having the third-highest American Indian population in the country.
It just doesn't make sense that people with such an important role in Arizona and U.S. identity should attend college and then fail because of ensuing alienation.
And though it may be counterintuitive, the Native American Student Affairs Center is working to end that alienation with education aimed solely at American Indians.
The fact that the classes are restricted to American Indians is not harmful, because they are used as a bridge to the community. Of course, if an entire degree program followed the trend, the UA might become a hodgepodge of segregated curriculum and student demographics.
But a limited and optional set of such classes can help close the gap by educating students about cultural identity and communication.
Brooke Dayzle, environmental science sophomore, said the program made her more comfortable with other groups.
"The courses helped me to where I felt comfortable speaking out and forcing my opinions," she said.
Native American Student Affairs officials are not segregating their students.
Instead, this program prepares students to experience new ideas and share their own with confidence and success.