Native American representation is everything. Being able to attend a college and seeing others who are like you is a dream. More importantly, as a young Native American woman, I wanted to see female professors and staff who looked like me and who could understand where I was coming from as a student. When I chose my university, I didn’t know it would be one of the best decisions I could have ever made. My university is the most diverse school in our state’s university system and was founded by Native Americans for the purpose of educating Native Americans teachers. Even though this is something I am proud of, across the country there is a lack of Native American representation both inside and outside of classrooms at the elementary, secondary and college level.
During my schooling from kindergarten to twelfth grade, I cannot remember having more than nine Native American female teachers. I had mostly female teachers up until I got to high school. More male teachers showed up during my high school years. My least favorite part of my own educational experience was that the majority of my teachers were Caucasian. A lot of my Caucasian teachers mainly helped Caucasian students and the rest of us were left struggling and never succeeded unless we were smart enough to figure it out on our own.
I just happened to be one of those who could figure it out on my own. My mom was the only parent raising my sister and me. Since she worked two jobs as we were growing up, she didn’t have time to help us with homework. I worked harder on my own and pushed myself knowing the teacher wasn’t going to help me. In high school I felt really lost and alone because there were not a lot of Native American teachers in my particular high school. The school was a majority Caucasian high school. I remember one teacher, maybe middle aged, who used to talk about how her own mother was always home and cleaning or cooking when she got home from school as a child. She shared that she had to go home and cook for her kids after school. I knew she could not relate to me. What was she going to say? Stay for tutoring?
I never got close to any teachers except for three in high school, one was my band director who I was with almost every school moment (an African American man), one was my business teacher (a Native American woman) and my senior English teacher (a Caucasian man).
I think it’s important to have Native American representation not only in the classroom, but all over campus, from administration offices, recreation departments, to the cafeteria. When I walked through campus, as an elementary, middle school and high school student and saw others who looked just like me, it had a big impact on my day. For any student, finding someone like them can have lasting effects and create a real sense of belonging.
I have a friend who goes to another institution who says her professors always speak of how we, as Native Americans, are barely mentioned in history classes. It seems like we do not exist to teachers and textbook publishers. My friend feels as if she does not fit in sometimes which causes her to feel lost. She looks out into this big sea of people who surround her, yet never sees anyone like her. I know the feeling. It’s sad that she feels separated.
Being at my own university has made me realize how important it is to have the representation of Native American staff and professors. I know that I can walk through campus any time of the day and see students, professors and staff who look like me and who can relate to me. As a matter of fact, I probably see more Native American folks than any other race or ethnicity on campus. I know if I ever need any help or feel troubled, I can go to most of them. The staff I work with at school never let me go hungry and can always tell when something is wrong, they are genuinely concerned. The same goes for my professors. If I ever miss a class session or assignment deadline, they always reach out to make sure students are okay or that we did not forget a deadline.
Seeing the way I am treated as a student now versus how I was treated in high school is two totally different experiences. I am grateful for the caring Native American professors and staff here at my university. The fact that they are here and I am represented is one of the things I love most about my college experience.
Logan Locklear is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. She is dual major student (Criminal Justice and Sociology). As a student, Logan also works as a brave ambassador for the university and is actively involved in the Native American Student Organization on campus.