Tristin Sam (SFS’23), president of Georgetown University’s Native American Student Council (NASC), is working to raise awareness of Indigenous issues and ways the university could increase support of its Native student community. Sam grew up in the Navajo Nation; he also identifies as Hopi and is a registered member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation.
One of NASC’s primary goals, Sam says, is to ensure Georgetown’s Indigenous students have a strong sense of community and belonging. Among its activities, NASC educates Native students about available resources, leads outreach to non-Native students, and collaborates with campus organizations to create “more inclusive spaces for Indigenous students and visitors.”
The efforts come as U.S. colleges and universities work to narrow achievement gaps that have widened for underrepresented college students over the last decade. Native Americans have the lowest rate of college enrollment and graduation of any other demographic in the U.S, according to The Hechinger Report. Findings from The Postsecondary Policy Institute reveal that only 19 percent of Native Americans ages 18 to 24 are enrolled in college and universities, compared to 41 percent of the overall U.S. population. College Horizons, a non-profit dedicated to increasing college admissions of Indigenous students, indicates that just 5 percent of Indigenous high school graduates proceed directly to college.
Increasing representation and recognition
Hoping to create a more supportive campus environment, NASC has called on Georgetown–located on the original land of the Piscataway Indians, known now as Washington, D.C.–to increase the visibility, participation, and inclusion of Indigenous people on campus.
“Invisibility,” according to the American Indian College Fund, perpetuates the “college access and completion crisis among Native American students. …When a student is invisible, his or her academic and social needs are not met.” Left unaddressed, Native American invisibility on college campuses can cause students to feel alienated and isolated, and can prevent Indigenous prospective students from seeing college as a place they belong.
For activists like Sam and the members of the NASC, Georgetown—and SFS specifically—has an important role in supporting Indigenous voices and visibility. “One of the first steps on this process is education and the quelling of ignorance and avoidance of these issues,” Sam explains. “The SFS has a beautiful opportunity to aid in this beginning step,” he adds, noting that deeper engagement with Indigenous issues would prepare all students to think more critically and honestly about U.S. history and human rights policy.
Sam and the NASC have petitioned Georgetown to increase Indigenous visibility through a series of proposed recommendations, including:
- Expanding outreach to prospective Indigenous students in partnership with College Horizons
- Hiring a Program Coordinator for Native American/Indigenous Pacific Islander Students and additional faculty and staff identifying as Native American Indian, Alaska Native, and Indigenous Pacific Islander
- Creating a Native studies major and/or minor
- Including the history, culture, and sovereignty of Native American/Indigenous Pacific Islanders as part of university’s core curriculum