La Crosse, Wis. (WXOW) – University of Wisconsin officials said they are going to start crafting a new policy governing discussions with Wisconsin’s Native American tribes because the enrollment rate for Native Americans is less than one percent.
As of the year 2019, UW La Crosse reports having 12 undergraduate and three graduate students who identify as Native American. There are 10,569 students enrolled; this number leaves the percentage of Native Americans well below one percent. Joe Gow, the Chancellor for UW La Crosse, said this number is not growing, and it is something the school is eager to change.
Connor Bouchard, a Native American student at UW La Crosse, said the biggest issue isn’t necessarily recruiting Native American students to higher-education, but retaining Native American students already in college.
“A lot of us are first-generation students. Our parents didn’t get to go college, so we are still learning what college is like, and just kind of that process, so the most significant thing is getting resources to get to college and be successful,” said Bouchard.
Bouchard said if universities implemented Native American history courses and Native American faculty, people of Native American nations would feel more of a sense of belonging and community.
“To leave that community, and come to a university like ours, it is a big change, and so I’m sure the Native communities want to make sure there is a good support, and that the student would be welcomed, and we are certainly eager to do that,” said Gow.
The Associated Press reports there are a dozen Native American nations located within Wisconsin. As of 2017, the most recent data on the UW System website shows there are 628 American Indian students were enrolled at system institutions. They made up 0.4 percent of the system’s total enrollment.
Tracy Littlejohn, the Co-Advisor for the Native American Student Association on UW La Crosse’s campus said she too sees the need for change.
“Because when you are going from a community on to a campus that is primarily white, it can be very daunting,” said Littlejohn
Littlejohn said she wants to part of the conversation when it comes to providing the resources for students to ensure their success.
“It is a lot more likely that they are going to stay on campus, and feel like they matter on campus and finish and graduate,” said Littlejohn.
“If we want to be part of here, we have to see ourselves here too, we have to see ourselves be a part of that,” said Bouchard.
Gow said Native American people are an essential part of the population and certainly they need to be recognized at Universities and included in the telling of history.
Gow said he is happy the system is leading the way to start having the conversation about Native Americans and higher education.