Different hunting grounds: American Indian tribal college student perceptions of predominantly white institutions

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


American Indian students who have attended tribal colleges have expressed gratitude, appreciation and pride in their educational and cultural experiences at these institutions. Most of the 37 tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in the US and Canada currently offer two-year degree and certificate programs. Many American Indian students who wish to continue onto a bachelor degree program from a two-year TCU consider transferring to a predominantly white institution (PWI). This qualitative study was meant to better understand the perceptions that American Indian TCU students have of PWIs and what these students believe would be helpful for them to both transfer and succeed at a predominantly white four-year institution. A phenomenological qualitative study was chosen to better understand the perceptions of PWIs and the needs related to attendance at a PWI by American Indian TCU students. Fifteen American Indian TCU students were interviewed at six TCUs in the state of Montana. There were two research questions that were used to guide this study, the first was what are American Indian TCU student perceptions of predominantly white institutions? The second was how do American Indian TCU students believe PWIs can better assist and support American Indian students who desire to matriculate to a PWI? Although a qualitative phenomenological research approach was chosen to approach the research questions and potential answers to those questions, my research was heavily focused on appropriately utilizing Indigenous research methodology in all areas of this study. It was of paramount importance for me as an Indigenous researcher to be responsible, respectful, reciprocal and relevant in all the relationships that were both enriched and created in this research endeavor. The stories shared with me from 15 American Indian TCU students resulted in six themes emerging from their collective interviews. Those themes were 1.) family and community, 2.) acceptance and acknowledgement of cultural identity, 3.) PWI support and excitement for new opportunities, 4.) TCU love/pride, 5.) Fear and isolation and 6.) Humor and relationships. The findings for this research have significant implications for all those interested in working with and for American Indian students, specifically for PWIs and their constituents.




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