By Joseph Barrios
Arizona Daily Wildcat
J. Hill, a resident of Graham/Greenlee Residence Hall, was given a new
nickname by some of his fellow hallmates _ "Shush Yaz."
The name means "Little Bear" in Navajo.
Hill, a psychology freshman from the East Coast, said he made friends with Native Americans for the first time when he met them at the University of Arizona residence hall.
Last semester, Graham/Greenlee Hall hall began a new program for incoming Native American students which reserves a wing, known as "O'odham Ki," for them to live in.
James Van Arsdel, director of Residence Life and University Housing, said the idea for a Native American wing has been discussed for several years now, but the effort to organize it was made a year ago by Residence Life and the Native American Resource Center.
"You would probably find a group of people who would be very uncomfortable with this approach," Van Arsdel said of the wing.
He said such a wing is a controversial idea _ one that he would not support normally.
"But the feedback we get from students is positive," he said.
Van Arsdel said white students integrate into a college campus more easily than Native American students and hopes this grouping will help ease the transition.
Richard Kroc, director of Student Research Offices, said there were 605 Native American students out of more than 35,000 students, or about 1.7 percent, this school year.
Of the Native American students enrolled between 1981 and 1988, 30 percent of them had graduated in five years or were still in school, Kroc said. He said 57 percent of Anglo students enrolled at that time either graduated or were still enrolled in school.
Residence Life noticed Native American students had a low retention rate at the UA and felt nothing was being done to support them, Van Arsdel said.
Julia Mason, a Native American studies graduate student, said there are sometimes unavoidable differences for Native American students. Living in the wing prevents students from "having to explain themselves to everyone and their culture," she said.
And fellow wing dwellers seem to agree.
All 30 students who lived in the section during the fall, returned for the spring semester, said Thomas Holm, a Native American studies professor and faculty fellow in the wing.
Holm said the wing is important because it provides a support system Native American students would not otherwise have. Holm, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, acts as a kind of personal adviser for students in the hall.
"It's a place you can go back to and be comfortable," Holm said. "Nobody seems to defend the right of Indians."
Holm recalled a Sioux student who lived in a residence hall about three years ago. The student burned sagebrush in her dorm room as part of a purification ceremony, and was later accused of smoking marijuana.
"The lack of understanding is really astounding," Holm said.
And such programs have been successful at other universities.
Andrew Lisac, assistant dean of continuing students and live-in residence fellow for the Indian theme house at Stanford University, said the school has had a similar program for about six years.
About 30 Native American students along with non-Native American students live in a house on "the Row," a strip of fraternity and theme houses in the Stanford area. Lisac said reaction to the program has been positive since it began.
And he said he does not believe the wings are racist.
"It's getting very monotonous hearing that argument," he said.
"I've heard some people complaining about it because they didn't know about it," Hill said. "I guess a lot of people judge it before they know about it."
"It would have taken me longer to identify with people," said Muffi Davis, a biology freshman and a Navajo from Wind Rock in northern Arizona.
Davis said she felt living in the wing is not racist or separatist because Native American students interact with the rest of the university every day. Davis said being around other students with similar cultures helps them to ease into university life.
Holm said the program needs time before it can expand.
"This is an idea that just needs time to grow," he said. Read Next Article