Indiana University administrators are working to find a new space and director for a support group for American Indian students weeks after student leaders accused IU of not supporting the group.
In early August, members of The First Nations Educational & Cultural Center said the group’s governing board was dissolving due to inadequate treatment by the university.
But school administrators are now working to secure a new space, a director and additional staff for First Nations. The group held an open house Friday that drew about 70 students.
Lillian Casillas, director of IU’s La Casa, the campus’ Latino cultural center, has agreed to serve as First Nation’s interim director for up to a year.
“It would have been the most ideal to have somebody from the beginning,” Casillas said.
She plans to hire two work-study students to staff the center so it can be open longer hours. Currently, it’s open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m.
First Nations will move from two dorm rooms in Eigenmann Hall to a more accessible location in Weatherly Hall at Ashton Center when the space is ready, said Charles Sykes, executive director of IU’s African American Arts Institute and Multicultural Initiatives.
He’s unsure how many dorm rooms the center will claim for its use.
“My assumption is we’ll have a little bit more space,” Sykes said.
Administrators have vowed to “continue efforts to appoint a permanent director” for First Nations. Sykes said he submitted this year a budget proposal for a new director, to no avail.
La Casa and IU’s Asian Culture Center both have full-time directors.
Law student and First Nations board member Rebecca Riall said administrators had viewed the group as a “burden.” She said First Nations had no “financial or personnel authority” and needed a director.
“They’re always telling us it’s because of our numbers,” Riall said of the university’s explanation of why the center has no director or building of its own.
She counters that the number of American Indian students won’t go up until services are enhanced, and that the group reaches out to the community as a whole, not just students.
Riall and other members of First Nations want IU to bump up its recruitment efforts and attract more Native American faculty and students to campus.
IU should be visiting reservations and educating high school students on the possibilities out there, said undergraduate Nathen Steininger, a First Nations member.
On the reservations, Steininger said, “You talk about college, but it’s not really a reality.”
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