New York: Whitney Brooks grew up
with her extended family on New York's Seneca
Indian Reservation where everyone shares a strong sense of
community and family. When Whitney left home for Syracuse University, she lost that
sense of community, even though Syracuse is only
three hours from home.
While forming bonds with many
students hasn't been easy, her ties with fellow
Native American students have grown deeper.
"Having other Native students here helps a lot,
knowing we're not alone," said Brooks, a sophomore
nutrition major. "There were a lot of Natives who
went through college alone, and we have other
This year marks the
3rd anniversary of the Haudenosaunee Promise scholarship.
HPS offers full financial assistance to citizens of
the Haudenosaune nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga,
Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. There is no limit to
the number of scholarships awarded each year.
Students must be enrolled full time and maintain a
2.5 grade point average.
Syracuse University itself is located
on Onondaga territory.
Promise Scholarships have enabled
more Native American students to attend Syracuse. The 2005-2006
school year saw 46 enrolled American Indian and Alaska
undergraduate students. The next
year, undergraduate enrollment jumped to 81. Current
enrollment is 118 undergraduate AI/AN students.
Still, those 118 students are only 0.9% of the
entire undergraduate population.
Nate Rivera, Seneca, said
fitting in and relating to other students is
difficult and can make campus life challenging.
"We come here, and it's hard to fit in and relate
because people don't know what you've been through,"
said Rivera, a freshman in the College of Human
Ecology. "There's a lot of ignorance."
Community is what Native students treasure the most,
miss the most from home, and value the most while at
"When I first got here, I had a little more hope in
things like, I'll meet new people and have new
experiences," Brooks said. "But now I'm at the point
where I haven't met that many people, and it's
discouraging when you talk to people who are
different than you and just get ignored."
Native Student Program has helped heal the pain.
It's run by Regina Jones who helps Native students when they're feeling disconnected
with campus life.
"Their value systems, priorities and beliefs are
very different form the broader community," said
Jones, a member of the Oneida Nation. "I've been
trying to help them be solid in the foundation of
who they are."
Senior Shavon Thomas is an
anthropology and Native American studies major. He
calls Jones their "Native mother" away from home.
"I consider the other Native students my distant
cousins. We all know each other pretty well," said
Thomas, a member of the Mohawk Nation. "I have
created tighter bonds with the other Mohawk students
because we usually travel together."
Philip Arnold teaches courses relating to Native
Americans. He's seen how difficult it is for
students to adjust. "They come from very insulated
communities with a lot of stresses that other people
don't know about," said Arnold.
But his Native American students have also
improved other students' learning experience.
Arnold said many seem to like being able to educate others.
It's a way
to combat the ignorance.
Students understand they must accept this
educational opportunity to take back home to help
their families and communities. Rivera, however,
would choose another school were it not for the
"If I wasn't getting my education paid for, I
wouldn't be here," Rivera said. "I wouldn't put up
"A lot of people ask me, 'What are you?' and I want
to say 'A human being,'" Brooks said. "The ignorance
is a big social roadblock for us. There's so many
strong attached stereotypes. But I just focus on why
I'm here, the opportunity I have."
While the number of Native students is still small
compared to campus groups, their common bonds makes
"When we're at the Native house hanging out, it's
like an automatic sense of community with other
Native students," Brooks said. "And back home,
there's a deep appreciation for one of us that can
make it, there's a lot of support - it's a big deal
that we go here."