Working to Bring More Native American Students to Tech

May 1, 2019

Texas Tech earned recognition as a Hispanic Serving Institution a couple of years ago. And now, a group on campus focused on Native American students is working to try to increase the school’s current student numbers. That, as is the case with the Hispanic designation, has the potential to bring additional grant money opportunities to the university.

Catharine Franklin, an assistant professor of history who specializes in the history of the nineteenth-century U.S. Army, with an emphasis on indigenous peoples and the American West in the post-Civil War era, advises the Raiderland Native American Students Association, known as R-NASA. Senior Kabl Wilkerson is its president and its membership numbers around 25 students.

“Kabl Wilkerson and I sat down with President Schovanec and his chief of staff a couple of weeks ago, and so we have talked to him about creating what we’ve called ‘The Raider Indigenous Initiative.’ What we would like to see is a university and student lead partnered effort to increase Native enrollment and retention. Also to bring a visible, thriving native culture back to the panhandle,” Franklin says.

The association was founded in late 2017 in order to provide Native Americans at Tech with a campus community. Franklin says the organization is open to all tribal affiliations and any non-natives interested in learning more about Native American culture.

What many Lubbock area residents don’t know is that the region sits smack in the middle of what was once the Comanche tribe’s home.

“The role of R-NASA is not just to help native students personally, it’s to bring attention to the fact that native people were here centuries ago and they’re still here. They might be less visible as a population, but their voices and interests deserve to be heard. Lubbock is in the geographical center of two states that have the most indigenous college-aged students in the United States—New Mexico and Oklahoma. At the moment, there are only 120 Native American identified students on our campus.”

Since its founding the R-NASA group’s projects have included Native American Heritage Month celebrations in November 2017 and 2018 which featured fry-bread dinners, basket weaving, public screenings of two movies, beading crafts, and a panel of Indigenous women guest speakers.

According to the U.S. Department of Education website, a Native American-serving nontribal higher education institution with 10 percent enrollment of Native Americans is eligible to receive funds. There are social obstacles for Native Americans who do attend college.

“Thanks to the presence of stereotypes that continually demean native people, native college students don’t necessarily feel welcome. Native students feel isolated—I don’t want to generalize and say that all native students on all campuses feel isolated—but given what I’ve been told by native friends and the native college students that I’ve encountered, the do feel isolated on college campuses because they have trouble connecting with one another,” she says.

2018 data from the nonprofit Postsecondary National Policy Institute indicated that only 10 percent of Native Americans attain bachelor’s degrees and only 17 percent attain associate’s degrees, making the case for a system that is more responsive to the specific needs of these students.

Franklin says from conversations with Native American friends she’s learned that that one reason Native Americans don’t attend college is financial wherewithal. Another is self-esteem.

“Another issue on top of the issue of self-esteem, is the fact that native kids within the reservation communities don’t necessarily want to leave home, they don’t want to leave their families. They have connections to their ancestors, to their family, to their land. They don’t necessarily want to, nor should they, uproot themselves to go to a vast college campus where they wind up being just a number and many people don’t know about their culture.”

Franklin is working with Wilkerson to complete a white paper on the Indigenous Initiative to submit to Schovanec. She hopes to meet with Hernandez and the university’s vice president division of diversity, equity and inclusion and its chief of diversity, Carol Sumner.