Retention Program Addresses Serious Issues

May 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 14-4: Cultural Resilience, Tribal College News

Each Thursday night students at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) gather for a candlelight dinner at the Healing Circle building on their campus in Santa Fe, NM. Everyone donates food. They pass an eagle feather, and as each one holds the feather, he or she talks about how the previous week went. Sometimes they talk about homesickness or problems in a class and sometimes about much more serious topics, such as alcohol or drugs recovery.

The weekly dinner is part of a Native Circle Retention Program funded by a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (Title 3). IAIA serves young artists and scholars, many of whom are first-generation college students facing many challenges. At present, the drop-out rate for Native American college students nationwide is almost twice that of non-Indians. IAIA wants to prepare its students for the demands and rewards of college life and college-level academic work.

When the program began, IAIA surveyed the students to determine what problems it needed to address and how students typically dealt with problems on their own. Eighty students completed the health surveys last year, which included standard health questions about vitamin supplements, height and weight, and family health history as well as questions about art and vehicular safety.

While some higher education institutions might prefer not to know the extent of serious problems on their campuses, IAIA wanted to design programs to match its students. It found that 33% of the respondents had a family history of substance abuse; 48% had a family history of violence; and 28% had considered attempting suicide. A Ph.D. psychologist analyzed the results and recommended what could be done. Another survey is planned on substance abuse and violence.

With its Native Circle Retention Program, IAIA is creating initiatives to not only increase retention by 4% annually but also reduce the rate of disciplinary incidents. Its goal is to reduce drug and alcohol abuse incidents by 50%. The institute has a fulltime counselor with a specialty in substance abuse at its Healing Circle building.

The institute requires each student to take a Native Foundations for College Success class. “I try to get them to understand on an emotional level why they are here – if they don’t know what their goals are or if they are resisting, then it is hard to teach them,” according to the instructor, Diane Reyna (Taos Pueblo). She includes academic and life skills, such as art safety, sexual safety, diversity, money management, stress management, and time management. For more information, see the website <> or contact Diane Reyna at IAIA (505) 424-2300.

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