I’ve spent the last several days at #AERA2013 (the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference). This conference covers the continuum of educational topics, from early childhood to workplace learning. I have attended a number of interesting sessions that have provoked me to reflect and connect others’ research to my own.
Yesterday I was in a session titled, “What You Say and How You Say It: The Role of Language in Student Success,” and listened to Steven Aragon and his colleagues present a paper titled “You’re talking White! Native American Students’ Use of Linguistic Capital to Bridge Two Cultures.” This qualitative study of nine Native American students at a large public research university in the American Southwest examined how students changed their language depending on the context. The female students in the study shared how they had to be careful about the language they used to talk about their university experience when they were with their family and home community. They felt they had to carefully balance their Native identity with their desire to attend college and were mindful about not coming across as “better as” for having pursued postsecondary education.
Although the context of the study differed from the Ontario context in which I live and work, I heard some similar refrains in the findings and recommendations. One of the recommendations was for postsecondary campuses to build bridges with their local Aboriginal communities. Such work may include establishing relationships with Elders and others in the community to host events where nearby postsecondary faculty and staff can interact with community members in an effort to develop greater understanding about postsecondary education and dispel stereotypes. The latter is critical from both perspectives: dispelling stereotypes that Aboriginal communities may hold regarding postsecondary education and dispelling stereotypes that postsecondary educators may have about the value these communities have for postsecondary education.
The findings and implications from this study made me think about the important work being done on campuses in the Supporting Student Success research project. Immediately, I thought about the Aboriginal Student Links program Nipissing University (@NipissingU). The Aboriginal Student Links delivers outreach to local Aboriginal high school students within the Near North District Board of Education, the Nipissing Parry Sound Catholic District School Board and the First Nation Education Authority. The Aboriginal Student Links are current Aboriginal students enrolled at Nipissing University that provide mentorship and encouragement to Aboriginal high school students. The purpose of the mentorship relationship is to create a pipeline of Aboriginal students pursuing post-secondary education and to create a connection between Nipissing University and the Aboriginal community. Another example is the Elder as resource program at @MohawkCollege in which the Elder “offers spiritual and cultural support to Aboriginal students and the staff. The Elders are invited to provide leadership in events such as talking circles and other programs, as well as provide staff and faculty with an opportunity for more multi-cultural awareness and education.”
Clearly, there is much yet to do to increase postsecondary access and success for Aboriginal students in Ontario and for the students in the study presented at AERA. But it is important to not lose sight of the good work that is making a difference in the lives of students and their communities. I invite you to share what programs exist on your campus that brings the postsecondary community together with local Aboriginal communities. Please leave a comment and share so that we might learn from each other.