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Yale to Create Position to Oversee

Yale to Create Position to Oversee
American Indian Student Life

By Mary Annette Pember

With the help of private donations, Yale University is creating an endowment for a new assistant dean position to serve the campus’s growing American Indian student population.

Fred C. Danforth, a 1973 graduate of the university, and his wife, Carlene B. Larsson, have contributed an unspecified sum to Yale to support American Indian student life. According to sources at the university, the donation is in the neighborhood of $1 million. Danforth has been a longtime supporter of American Indian student activities and events at Yale and underwrites one scholarship each year for an American Indian student.

The new dean is expected to be in place by July 1, 2007, and will serve as director of the Native American Cultural Center.

Yale’s American Indian student population has more than doubled in the past 10 years, says assistant dean Rosalinda Garcia, who estimates the enrollment to be in excess of 70 students. Garcia currently oversees both the Hispanic and American Indian student communities.

“The Native students need to have their own dean,” she says. “Now that the student population has grown, we really need to make sure our support services can keep up and support that community.”

In addition to Garcia, Yale currently has one assistant dean for Black student and one for Asian students. The university ranks third among Ivy League institutions in the number of American Indian students on campus behind Dartmouth College and Cornell University, respectively. But Alyssa Mt. Pleasant (Tuscarora), an assistant professor of American studies and history at Yale, says the school has not kept up with the other Ivies in terms of services for American Indian students.

“Bringing on a dean for Native students is a major step in bringing Yale up to the same level of its peers,” she says.

Kathleen T. Burns (Nlakapamux), a 1999 alum who works as an archivist at the university’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, says Yale’s support for American Indian students is the result of years of effort by students, alumni and staff.

“I cried when I heard the news about the dean position,” she says.

The efforts to gain administrative support for Native students has been “sort of a torch that has been handed down through the student ranks at Yale,” Burns says. “We were told we didn’t have enough numbers
and since we had no alumni, support
was unlikely.”

Doubting that argument, students and alumni worked to create the Native American Yale Alumni network and established a relationship with the Yale Alumni Association. Those efforts, in addition to a change in the administration, helped change the tone of the conversation.

In 2005, Yale honored its first American Indian graduate, Henry Roe Cloud (Ho Chunk), who graduated in 1910.

The centennial of Cloud’s enrollment at Yale was marked with a celebration and the creation of two awards honoring his legacy. Cloud, an innovator in American Indian education, was an early director of Haskell Indian College. He was adamant that American Indians were intellectually suited to study literature, science and philosophy, and he consistently challenged the prevailing belief that American Indians could only be taught vocational skills.

Gabriela Bernadett (Tohono O’odham), current president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale, says she is happy she was on campus when the students got their dean.

“We were the last ones to get a center, the last ones to get a dean. We may be last, but we’re not forgotten,” she says. “Maybe someday we will have a Native American studies program at Yale.”

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