When Rainie Jones moved back to the Navajo Nation as the COVID-19 pandemic took off, she — and many others in the Indigenous community — struggled to get adequate Wi-Fi to do her schoolwork.
"(American Indian Students Support Services) provided a hotspot because at the time I was living in another nation and my service wasn't really good," Jones, a part of the Navajo Nation, Alpha Pi Omega's Dean of Honeycombs and a senior media production major said. "It was especially helpful for me because I was taking online classes every day."
Indigenous students had previously called on ASU to provide more support for them and their communities following the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the University has made some steps to address concerns, leaving ASU-led groups such as the AISSS and American Indian Initiatives more satisfied with ASU administration support toward Indigenous communities.
AISSS has begun a new series of listening sessions to identify necessary areas of support. The sessions invite Indigenous students to open conversations. As of now, only one listening session has taken place, and it was held at the Polytechnic campus. AISSS intends on hosting more listening sessions.
"(It's) just to get a pulse on where our students are, (and) just have an open conversation with them," said Jim Larney, who is part of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and director of AISSS.
Jowun Ben, a member of the Navajo Nation, president of ASU's only Indigenous sorority Alpha Pi Omega and a senior studying American Indian studies and biological sciences believes that Indigenous students at ASU have been more active in enacting change for their community rather than ASU administration.
Ben also said the students should not have to be responsible for enacting the charge but rather University leadership should.
Some disagree and feel that student involvement has decreased.
"When I was a student, I felt like we were thriving, and there was a lot going on and a lot of events, a lot of things going on. Coming out of COVID, that's expected but I feel like there's been the hesitation for some reason from students," Sahmie Joshevama, a member of the Hopi Tribe and coordinator for the office of AII, said.
Larney said the most common concern brought up at the Listening Sessions is students wanting "to know more about the scholarship process."
"I know that there are a lot of Indigenous people here that don't have access to those (tribal) scholarships," Ben said. "A lot of us are first-generation students. A lot of us are coming straight from the reservation."
Tribal scholarships are processed differently than other scholarships. Larney said that since there are 574 federally recognized tribes, the deadlines and supplemental requirements are different for each.
"AISSS wants to be that liaison- that mediator between student's financial aid and the tribe," Larney said.
AISSS hosted a Tribal Financial Aid Summit in 2016 that brought tribal education departments to ASU to meet with AISSS and discuss the financial aid process. Larney said he is working on bringing the Tribal Financial Aid Summit back to the University.
Larney said he is working on bringing the Tribal Financial Aid Summit back to the University.
One of the areas AISSS can improve on is sharing awareness of student services.
"(In) exit interviews, students will say 'Oh, I wasn't aware of that, I didn't know about this service, I didn't know I had access to it,' and that's one goal for us (is) to increase awareness for students," Larney said.
The Office of AII has its own events to promote higher education in Indigenous communities.
"The main events that we do are the Tribal Nations Tour which encompasses taking ASU students out to tribal communities to talk to and encourage students K through 12 in the tribal communities while educating them about the process of higher education," Joshevamaa said.
However, Ben believes that ASU can do more, especially compared to the University of Arizona which offers free tuition to Arizona's native students.
"We don't get our scholarships directly from ASU. It's just from our own tribes, our own communities, but I do think that it can be more affordable," Ben said.
AISSS has a website that hosts a list of scholarships available to American Indian students.
“Every semester here at ASU my financial aid gets lost somewhere. I lose my check every semester. So it was an issue," said Baylee LaCompte, part of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a graduate student studying American Indian Studies.
LaCompte says she knows many other students who also run into the same issue.
It happens particularly "often to Native students because there's only one person that does tribal scholarships. Is that discrimination? I think so. Why is it that one is a person dedicated to tribal scholarships? Why can't we be like everybody else?" LaCompte said.
Access to technology
A 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that American Indians and Alaska Natives are the most at-risk racial and ethnic minorities for COVID-19. Additionally, Indigenous people are more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than any other race due to risk factors such as American Indians having the highest rates of underlying health conditions compared to other Americans and many living in multi-generational homes.
"So when COVID hit I know we were able to receive funding from the Gates Foundation. And during that time frame, we were able to get hotspots and also Surface Pros to be able to give out to students," Larney said.
LaCompte disagreed with the helpfulness of the hotspot saying, “It was slow. It's only 10 megabytes."
"When I came here, it was amazing to see that we already had this space (Discovery Hall) here at ASU. So, along with our space and natural physical space, having native staff on hand to work with our students, we also have printing printers, computing labs" said Larney.
Discovery Hall is also where the offices of AISSS and AII are located.
"(At Discovery Hall) we have huge screen TVs that you're able to connect your laptop to Bluetooth to have hybrid meetings and that's a really big thing because, during COVID, people weren't always comfortable coming in person," said Miss Von Garcia, part of Tohono O'odham Nation, vice president of Alpha Pi Omega and senior film major.
LaCompte disagrees. She mentions how Discovery Hall is one of the oldest buildings on campus and that a building with asbestos should not be continually remodeled but rather rebuilt.
“They (faculty and staff) can’t really speak up," LaCompte said.
Ben said, "Another thing that we wanted to change was the name of Discovery Hall because it's kind of ironic how it's Discovery Hall but all of our American Indian studies classes are here."
Joshevama acknowledges the delay in changing the name of Discovery Hall and said, "I know that's been in the process, but leadership changes every year delay that (name change)."
"And if it's something that's that's continually rising, like an issue or a need, it eventually gets to the right people," Joshevama said.
Support from faculty/staff
"We call our student workers Seciwa assistants. And we hire students. At each campus, we have suitable assistants, and they assist with helping our students out as well. Sort of almost in the role of a peer mentor, and that aspect," Larney said.
"As I've been told by some of our students in listening sessions, they (Seciwa assistants) put up the cousin vibe," Larney said.
Ben expressed her concern that American Indian studies classes lack an abundance of faculty and that she's had the same rotation of professors for her classes.
"I feel like our programs are really small and they need to find the funds to hire other people," LaCompte said. "It's kind of hard to get a perspective if you had the same professors over and over again.”
Joshevamaa, also a 2015 graduate of ASU, felt that after COVID-19, student involvement significantly decreased. That affects student leadership, which means "faculty are stepping in to create and make more happen."
“We try to do our best to help," Joshevamaa said.
In general, LaCompte said that she believes not enough Indigenous faculty are hired, causing them to be overworked.
"They don't really have time to speak with students one on one," said LaCompte.
Edited by Jasmine Kabiri, David Rodish, Sophia Balasubramanian and Grace Copperthite.
Sherry Fan is a journalism student hoping to educate audiences on underrepresented communities. She has previously worked producer roles for the film company, Summery Productions.