American Indian College Fund spreads awareness on campus

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Less than one percent of college students in the United States are Native Americans, but SMU is trying to spread awareness of the issue in coordination with a powerful non-profit.

Representatives from the American Indian College Fund, an organization that gathers donations to sponsor scholarships for Native American students of all levels of school, came to SMU Wednesday night to gather support for their cause. Around 50 donors, SMU faculty, and members of various southwestern tribes gathered in at the Meadows Museum for the event.

“Native Americans are the most underserved population in the United States, there’s a huge need to support these scholars,” Christian Weaver, a major gifts officer for AICF and Shinnecock tribe member said. “We do this job so kids can live out their dreams.”

Attendees gathered in the Jones Great Hall of the Meadows museum, where snacks and beverages were offered under the backdrop of 1800’s oil-on-canvas paintings, and we greeted by a traditional drum ensemble, which began the festivities.

Melinda Crow gives the keynote address in a traditional Apache dress
Melinda Crow gives the keynote address in a traditional Apache dress. Photo credit: Geoffrey Short

Melinda Crow, a beneficiary of scholarships given by the AICF, gave the keynote address and walked the crowd through her education experience, one that aligns with many Native American youths.

“I was able to afford going to a tribal college because of the scholarship I received from the American Indian College Fund, and I became a first generation college student,” Crow, an Apache Tribe member said. “Because of that opportunity I was able to attend Purdue University to get my masters degree in environmental science.”

Crow has since given back, returning to her alma mater Haskell University in Indiana, which she says she enjoys because it is the only place to see kids in fifty or more tribes all learning together.

Less than 2% of SMU’s student population is Native American, but the university has reached out to the community for years. Steve Denson, a professor in the Cox School of Business since 1998 serves as the school’s director of diversity.

“We want to build a bridge between SMU and the Native American community so that they can have an opportunity to learn here, and we as a community can learn from them,” Denson said. “It’s a two way street and a great partnership.”

This event was not the only time the Native American community was on campus this semester. Just last week, a forum to discuss the North Dakota access pipeline was held featuring members representing the drilling industry and Native Americans.

Only 13 percent of Native Americans in the United States have received a college degree.

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