Family, Community, & Tribal Influence on Native American Student Success Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/bg257h40g

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  • The history of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIAN) in education is filled with conflict and painful memories for many. Indian boarding schools that lasted through the early 1900s were used as a tool for forced assimilation of AIAN people. With the disturbing motto of “Kill the Indian, save the man” as guidance, these schools stripped AIAN children of their language, culture, and dignity. Today, AIAN students attend and graduate from college at far lower rates than the national average. Of the AIAN students that do receive a high school diploma, only about one-third will enroll in college, compared to nearly two-thirds of their non-Native peers. Only 37% of AIAN college students complete a bachelor’s degree within 6 years, compared to the 56% in the general population. Prior research has identified supports promoting AIAN higher education success: family support, giving back to community motivations, university resources, on-campus social supports, college preparation courses, financial support, and maintaining cultural ties. Prior research has also identified barriers to higher education success: family, inadequate financial support, lack of academic preparation, and cultural barriers. With the conflict-filled history of AIAN education, AIAN education disparities, and the dearth of AIAN college success research in mind the aims of this study are to 1. identify how family, community, and Tribe influence student success for AIAN students, and 2. begin a dialogue around student experiences and success to promote a sense community within the AIAN population at Oregon State University (OSU). Together these aims identify the needs of the AIAN population at OSU and begin the process of addressing those needs to promote student success. AIAN students enrolled at OSU, 18 years of age or older were invited to participate in a focus group around their higher education experiences. Participants were asked to share on the topics of family, community and Tribe and its influence on their higher education experience. Through four focus groups comprised of self-identifying AIAN students (N=16), this qualitative study found family as support and barrier, Tribe as support and barrier, Native identity, culture clash, OSU resources, and OSU-Tribal connections to be predominant themes relating to student success. Financial support, Tribal unfairness, paradoxical cultural pressure, AIAN advising, and blood quantum were found to be supporting themes. Family and Tribe were found to provide supports, but also act as barriers to AIAN student success while community was found to be neither a support nor a barrier. Students described finding family-like supports away from their family by creating a sense of family through their friends while at college. Students identified other individuals outside of their family and Tribe that were valuable supports. Students identified conflict in the historical context of the education system and Native identity that may play a role in AIAN student success. Students rejected the roots of the higher education system for several reasons, but especially because its original purpose was to provide White men the credentials to run the government, which is the same government that oppressed our ancestors and utilized the education system as a tool for deculturation and assimilation. Students described their primary motivation to succeed in college as being able to return to their Tribe and give back to their Tribal community, despite this devaluation of higher education. Participants provided suggestions for OSU and the 9 Tribes of Oregon to consider in providing better supports to AIAN students. The primary suggestion was to improve communication and collaboration between OSU and the local Tribes of Oregon. Suggestions included hiring an AIAN academic advisor, promoting culturally knowledgeable services at Counseling and Psychological Services, and several suggestions for AIAN community events. The participant-identified issues of Native identity, culture clash, blood quantum, and paradoxical cultural pressures; how these issues relate to success in higher education for these students, is discussed. The results of this study add to the sparse literature on AIAN college success, reinforcing the importance of family and Tribe and underlining the complexity of AIAN issues in higher education. Further research should look into Participatory Action Research to promote change through research. The active dissemination of these results to OSU, the Tribes of Oregon, and identified supports is absolutely essential in promoting higher education success for American Indian/Alaska Native students at Oregon State University.
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