American Indian students are underrepresented on campus, said Tim Belfield, former president of the American Indian Student Association.
CSUN has not kept accurate information about the actual number of American Indian students on campus, said Karren Baird-Olson, coordinator for AIS and professor of sociology and AIS.
Baird-Olson said the official count has varied and that about 100 American Indian students could only be on campus.
During Fall 2005, CSUN enrolled 118 Native American undergraduate students and 32 Native American graduate and credential students, said Bettina Huber, director of Institutional Research.
The total number of Native American students comprised around .5 percent of the total student population last semester.
Huber said a number of students could have declined to indicate their race, making the total count inexact.
According to the 2000 census, 76,988 Native Americans live in Los Angeles County, .8 percent of the county’s population.
Belfield believes some students could also be marking Native American on their applications simply because they were born in America.
The American Indian Studies Program, which offers an interdisciplinary minor, suffers from several problems, including a lack of funding and the inability to recruit a large number of American Indian students, Belfield said.
“Los Angeles has the largest urban Native American population in the country, but there are only about 200 Native American students on campus,” Belfield said.
Last year the American Indian Studies Program conducted a survey of 58 American Indian students at CSUN. Over half said they would have taken the American Indian Studies minor program if they had known about it, Baird-Olson said.
Belfield said one major problem with successfully recruiting American Indian students is that no specific geographic community in Los Angeles can be identified as American Indian, unlike areas such as Little Tokyo, which can be labeled as primarily Japanese. There are also no Indian reservations located in Los Angeles County.
“In general, the Native American community is dispersed throughout the county,” Belfield said.
Belfield said AISA has approached Indian reservations with casinos in the hopes of gaining financial support through donations or scholarships, but the reservations have asked that the CSUN donate funds to the program as well.
The reservations have not seen that happen, so no funds have been donated, Belfield said.
Another problem affecting recruitment is the passage of Prop. 209 in 1996, which banned any type of college or university recruitment targeting a specific ethnic group.
Belfield said the Educational Opportunity Program is no longer specifically targeting American Indians, which it used to do.
Many American Indians also face ignorance and a lack of understanding on campus about the American Indian culture, said Virginia Diego, current president of AISA.
Diego said in high school she never learned much about the real history of American Indians.
“We’re always portrayed as the bad people as savages,” Diego said. “We are the first people of the Americas.”
AISA participated in a Columbus Day protest last semester that displayed feathers in the Sierra Quad for the millions of natives who died during the exploits of European explorer Christopher Columbus.
AISA was involved with Indigenous Awareness Month in November and hosted four guest speakers for the event.
AISA currently has about 15 active members, Diego said. About half of the members joined simply because they were interested in American Indian culture, she said.
Belfield says that funding is the greatest problem for AIS, and that the best way to increase American Indian involvement on campus is to generate more money for the program.
AISA currently hosts all of its guest speakers in exchange for gift baskets, Diego said. There are plans to host another guest speaker this semester and the usual compensation will be provided, Diego said.
Mike Siciliano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.