The University of Wyoming’s new president, Laurie Nichols, recently met with tribal leaders to talk about recruiting more Native American students to the school. In her previous position as provost at South Dakota State University, Nichols says welcoming Native students was a big priority, and she’d like to do the same at UW.
She says both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone business councils explained that their tribal populations are growing, and that means a lot more young people will be reaching college age in the coming years.
"You really need to look at the diversity within the state, and, to the extent it can, the University should be a mirror image of that," she says. "And so that was my comment back was, as you grow, we should then also be seeing some of that growth and we want to be."
The population of Wyoming is 2.5% Native American, but currently less than 1% of the University population is Native. Some tribal members told Nichols the University hasn’t made Native students welcome. They cited last summer’s incident at the university bookstore where several Native high school students touring the campus were falsely accused of shoplifting when they entered carrying UW recruitment bags.
Northern Arapaho councilman Norman Willow pointed out that former UW. President Dick McGinity never apologized for the error. Nichols says that prompted her to apologize herself.
"By giving these students these packs of materials or information and gave it to them before they walked into the bookstore," she says, "How unfortunate, you know, there were just so many errors like that. So but the bottom line is I am sorry it happened and I do apologize. And, as I said earlier, we need to do better."
Nichols says she hopes to make visiting the reservation at least an annual event. She also discussed providing more recruitment on the reservation, hiring more retention officers and building an American Indian Center on campus where students can retain a sense of culture in their student life.