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A Bumpy Ride As UW Works To Increase Native American Enrollment

Native American Student Summit

Historically, many say the University of Wyoming has not been a supportive place for Native American students. In 2015, the UW Bookstore falsely accused several visiting Native American high schoolers of shoplifting during a recruitment visit. And a general lack of support has caused some tribal students like UW senior Mia Holt to feel unwelcome.  


On Saturday the first ever Native American Student Summit wrapped up in hopes of solving that problem. The initiative brought over 30 Native American high school students to visit UW. Holt was a peer-mentor with the program.


“This experience is really good,” Holt said. “I wish the summer institute was here when I was in high school. It would have definitely helped me adjust to college life, and especially here at the University.”


Holt said she felt isolated and disconnected from her family and culture when she first started at UW. She said now she knows there are Native Americans on campus, but they weren’t as visible. And with a new American Indian Center opening soon on UW’s campus, Holt said now she feels more confident encouraging Native American kids to come to UW.  


As a peer-mentor, she said, “We were just kind of like role models. We come to school here. We are getting our education and we wanted to show them you can do it. We’re doing it right now, so it’s not like we are trying to push them into something that we’re not even doing.”


However, the Laramie Boomerang reported that last Thursday, some of the institute’s students walked out of a play presented by the UW Theatre Department because it depicted derogatory images of Native Americans. Reinette Tendore, one of the summit coordinators, said the incident did not overshadow efforts by UW to welcome Native American students. Tendore said she's thankful to the Native American faculty and staff, as well President Laurie Nichols and her husband Dr. Tim Nichols, for spearheading efforts to be more inclusive of Native American students.


Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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