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2017-10-12 / Voices

Lakota Students Deserve Healthy Learning Environment


Last month the state sponsored Indian Education Summit was held in Pierre, SD. The highlight of the event was an entire day dedicated to youth. High school and college students candidly spoke out about the issues affecting them, both in a general assembly setting and in breakout sessions.

One breakout session featured a panel of Lakota students, each attending a SD Board of Regents University. The students expressed frustration at not being prepared for some of their college courses. Specifically, they didn’t know how to write a research paper when they entered college.

I really identified with those students because I went through the same thing in my first university level English class. It’s intimidating to sit in a classroom full of non-Indian students who are equipped with skills you were never taught. It’s also embarrassing when you realize your high school didn’t teach you the basic tools needed to compete for the top college grades. It sure doesn’t do the self-esteem of our young people any good.

If students aren’t armed with the skills they need to succeed in college, it’s really no wonder many don’t finish. The college students who spoke at the breakout session were frustrated because they weren’t taught how to write a research paper using an APA format. APA is short for the American Psychological Association.

Most of the colleges and universities in this country require students to use the APA research paper format, so that sources are properly cited. The playing field is not level when you are a reservation high school graduate working to complete university level homework.Consequently, the students were all graduates of high schools located on South Dakota Indian reservations.

A lot of higher education professionals are now searching for ways to retain Native American students. But retention rates will not improve until the students are taught basic skills while they are in high school. Making sure high school students know how to write a research paper or an essay that is properly formatted, with correct spelling and grammar, is crucial for college success.

Preparing high school students for college by insuring they have the adequate writing and study skills, is only one part of the complex issue surrounding the retention of Native American college students.

In 2012, South Dakota State University investigated a racial slur written on a restroom wall in a dormitory. Now, 5 years later, the same racial slur was written on a small white board on the door of a dorm room at a college in Sheridan, Wyoming. “Praire nigger” (with prairie misspelled in both instances) is a racial slur that should be kept out of higher education institutions.

It’s difficult to prepare Lakota students for what they might experience when they attend college off the reservation. Academic skills can be improved when parents pressure the local high school systems, along with students and their teachers, to work harder in preparation for college. There is no excuse for sending our young adults to a college without basic writing and study skills.

It takes a skilled parent to explain why non-native people treat us badly. Many of us react in anger to these incidents. Certainly, the rage can be hard to control when racial slurs are directed at our own precious child.

However, the mindset of non-Indian people is not something we can change. It’s unfortunate that many of these ignorant people are attending the same higher education institutions as our children.

We are responsible for ourselves and our family. It’s going to take a collective effort to model healthy coping skills to our children, so they’ll be prepared to deal with people inclined to commit hate crimes. Many of us are all in favor of Lakota students pursing college degrees, but we are also concerned for their safety.

Sheridan College needs to take visible action to stop these incidents from occurring on their campus.

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