When Rainey Jones returned to Navajo when the COVID-19 pandemic began, she — and many other Native people — struggled to get enough Wi-Fi to do schoolwork.
“(American Indian Student Support Services) provided a hot spot because I was living in another country at the time and my services weren’t very good,” Jones, Navajo member, Alpha Pi Omega dean of sats and senior media production major said. “It was especially helpful for me because I went to online classes every day.”
Indigenous students have previously called on ASU to provide more support to them and their communities following the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the university has taken some steps to address the issues, leaving ASU-led groups like AISSS and American Indian Initiatives more comfortable with the ASU administration’s support of indigenous communities.
READ MORE: Indigenous students are reaching out to ASU for continued support after the pandemic
AISSS has started a new series of listening sessions to identify areas of support needed. Classes invite Indigenous students into open conversations. So far, only one audition session has taken place and it was held at the Polytechnic Campus. AISSS intends to hold more listening sessions.
“(It’s) just to understand where our students are at, (and) just talk to them openly,” said Jim Larney, who is a member of the Oklahoma Seminoles and director of AISSS.
Jovun Benn, a member of the Navajo Nation, president of ASU’s only Native American sorority, Alpha Pi Omega, and a senior majoring in American Indian studies and biological sciences, believes Native students at ASU have been more active in making a difference for their community rather than of ASU administration.
Ben also said that the students should not be held responsible for accepting the charge, but the university administration.
Some disagree and believe that student participation has decreased.
“When I was a student, I felt like we were thriving and a lot was happening and a lot of events, a lot of things were happening. Coming out of COVID, that’s expected, but I feel like there was hesitation for some reason from the students,” said Sami Joshawama, member of the Hopi tribe and coordinator of the AII office.
Larney said the most common issue that comes up in the listening sessions is that students want to “learn more about the scholarship process.”
“I know there are a lot of Native people here who don’t have access to these (tribal) scholarships,” Ben said. “Many of us are first-generation students. Many of us come straight from the reservation.’
Tribal scholarships are processed differently than other scholarships. Larney said that because there are 574 federally recognized tribes, the timelines and additional requirements are different for each.
“AISSS wants to be the liaison between the student financial aid and the tribe,” Larney said.
In 2016, AISSS hosted a Tribal Financial Aid Summit that brought together tribal education departments at ASU to meet with AISSS and discuss the financial aid process. Larney said he is working to bring the Tribal Financial Aid Summit back to the university.
Larney said he is working to bring the Tribal Financial Aid Summit back to the university.
One area that AISSS can improve is in spreading awareness of student services.
“(At) the interview weekend, students will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about that, I didn’t know about that service, I didn’t know I had access to it,’ and that’s one of our goals (is ) to raise student awareness,” Larney said.
The AII Office conducts its own activities to promote higher education in Indigenous communities.
“The main activities we do is the Tribal Nation Tour, which involves ASU students visiting tribal communities to speak with and encourage K through 12 students in tribal communities while teaching them about the higher education process,” said Yoshevamaa.
Still, Ben believes ASU can do more, especially compared to the University of Arizona, which offers free tuition to Arizona students.
“We don’t get our scholarships directly from ASU. It’s just from our own tribes, our communities, but I think it could be more accessible,” Ben said.
AISSS has a website that lists scholarships available to American Indian students.
“Every semester here at ASU, my financial aid gets lost somewhere. I lose my check every semester. So that was a challenge,” said Bailey LaCompte, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a graduate student studying Native American studies.
LaCompte says she knows many other students who are also facing the same problem.
This is especially true for Native students because there is only one person who provides tribal scholarships. Is this discrimination? I think so. Why is this a person doing tribal scholarships? Why can’t we be like everyone else?’ LaCompte said.
Access to technology
A 2020 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that American Indians and Alaska Natives are the racial and ethnic minorities at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19. In addition, Native Americans are more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than any other race, due to risk factors such as American Indians having the highest rates of underlying medical conditions compared to other Americans, and many living in multigenerational homes.
“So when COVID came around, I know we were able to get funding from the Gates Foundation. And during that time, we were able to create hotspots as well as Surface Pro to be able to hand out to students,” Larney said.
LaCompte disagreed about the usefulness of the hotspot, saying, “It was slow. It’s only 10 megabytes.”
“When I came here, it was amazing to see that we already have a space like this (Discovery Hall) here at ASU. So along with our space and natural physical space, having local staff on hand to work with our students, we also have letterpress printers, computer labs,” Larney said.
The Hall of Discovery also houses the offices of AISSS and AII.
“(In Discovery Hall) we have big-screen TVs that you can connect your laptop to via Bluetooth for hybrid meetings, and that’s really important because during COVID it wasn’t always convenient for people to come in person,” Ms. Von Garcia, part of the Tohono O’odham Nation, is vice president of Alpha Pi Omega and a senior film major.
LaCompte disagrees. She mentions that Discovery Hall is one of the oldest buildings on campus and that the asbestos building should not be permanently renovated, but rather rebuilt.
“They (faculty and staff) can’t talk,” LaCompte said.
Ben said, “Another thing we wanted to change was the name Discovery Hall, because it’s kind of ironic that it’s Discovery Hall, but all of our American Indian Studies classes are held here.”
Joshawama acknowledges the delay in renaming Discovery Hall and said, “I know it’s been in the works, but every year management changes delay it (the name change).”
“And if it’s something that keeps growing, like a problem or a need, eventually it gets to the right people,” Joshawama said.
“We call our student workers Seciwa Assistants. And we hire students. We have suitable teaching assistants on each campus and they also help our students. Kind of almost in a peer mentor role, and that aspect,” Larney said.
“As some of our students told me during the auditions, they (Seciwa assistants) create a cousin atmosphere,” Larney said.
Ben expressed her concern that the American Indian Studies class was understaffed and that her class had the same faculty rotation.
“I feel like our programs are very small and they need to find the funds to hire other people,” LaCompte said. “It’s hard to get perspective when you have the same teachers over and over again.”
Yoshevamaa, also a 2015 graduate of ASU, felt that student participation has dropped significantly since COVID-19. This affects student leadership, which means “teachers step in to create and do more.”
“We try to do everything we can to help,” Yoshevamaa said.
In general, LaCompte said she believes not enough indigenous teachers are being hired, resulting in them being overworked.
“They really don’t have time to talk to students one-on-one,” LaCompte said.
Edited by Jasmine Kabira, David Rodish, Sophia Balasubramanian and Grace Coppertight.
Like The State Press on Facebook and subscribe @statepress on Twitter.
Gray FanPublic reporter
Sherry Phan is a journalism student who hopes to educate audiences about underrepresented communities. She previously worked as a producer at Summery Productions.
Continue to support student journalism and to donate State press today.